Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2010-2011 (archived)

Module THEO42030: Theology and Ascetic Practice in the Ancient Catholic Tradition

Department: Theology and Religion

THEO42030: Theology and Ascetic Practice in the Ancient Catholic Tradition

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2010/11 Module Cap None.


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To introduce students to a range of forms of ascetic practice and literature
  • To provide students with an awareness of continuities and shifts in the development of ascetic practice in the early church
  • To provide students with an understanding of the relationship between ascetic practice and the development of doctrine, particularly during the 3rd – 5th centuries
  • To provide students with the advanced skills necessary to read texts historically
  • To help students to understand the relevance of early Christian asceticism for contemporary Christian practice


  • This module will explore the development of ascetic and monastic practice from earliest Christianity through to Benedict. The module is organized around historical and geographical points of reference, and pays close attention to differences in the articulation of Christian doctrine as well as the distinct practices of ascetic communities. The course begins in earliest Christianity and moves historically through the major challenges the church faced, including persecution from without as well as heresy from within. Major figures will include Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, Jerome, Augustine, John Cassian and Benedict of Nursia. The module will explore the development of ascetic communities in Syria, Egypt, Palestine and Asia Minor.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • An understanding of the development of ascetic practice, and of the continuities and differences between the various contexts in which asceticism has been practiced.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • An ability to analyse and write about religious texts and practices with intellectual rigour and historical depth.
  • An ability to reflect on continuity and change with reference to theology and practice.
  • A capacity to perceive and interpret relationships between elements of early Christian theology and practice, and their relevance for Christian practice today.
Key Skills:
  • An ability to read sophisticated and multivalent texts with intellectual nuance. Research, presentation, and writing skills.
  • An ability to understand arguments in historical context.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Seminars enhance subject-specific knowledge and understanding both through preparation and through interaction with students and staff, promoting awareness of different viewpoints and approaches, as well as affording developmental opportunities for skills in theological reflection, critical research, and oral presentation.
  • Formative essays develop subject-specific knowledge and understanding, along with student skills in the acquisition of information through reading and research, and in the structured presentation of information in written form.
  • Summative essays assess subject-specific knowledge and understanding, along with student skills in research, analysis, and argumentation, including the written presentation of information in the written form of an argument for a field-advancing thesis.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 16 weekly 1.5 hours 24
Preparation and Reading 276
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Written seminar presentation Component Weighting: 20%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Written seminar presentation 100%
Component: Essay Component Weighting: 80%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 5000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Preparation for seminars and one 5000 word essay.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University