Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2010-2011 (archived)

Module THEO55130: Literature and Religion

Department: Theology and Religion

THEO55130: Literature and Religion

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2010/11 Module Cap


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To introduce students to a wide range of literary texts in the medium of the English language by writers who engage with theological, religious or faith issues or issues relating to spirituality
  • To develop critical confidence in engaging with literary texts at an appropriate level
  • To explore boundary crossing argument and insight enabling creative and confident academic discourse to bridge literary and theological academic preoccupations


  • This module, which takes the form of fortnightly seminars, explores the work of a range of influential writers, from the post-Romantic to the post-Modern periods, from a theological and critical perspective. Attention and debate in seminars is focused on key texts, whether fiction or poetry.
  • In all times, literature, whether oral or written, has engaged with the chief preoccupations of human culture. Extraordinary rich examples in English concern texts written during the Reformation and seventeenth century period, when writers such as John Donne, George Herbert and John Milton engaged explicitly in theologically inspired writing. Since the Romantic period, however, as Iris Murdoch among others argued, literature has tended to take over the work of religion in terms of engagement with orthodoxy outside the framework of faith communities or academic theological discourse.
  • This course focuses on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the first term. The second term however opens up subjects and writers of wider choice in order for students to commit and pioneer new territory.
  • The module is in two parts, corresponding roughly to the first two terms of the academic year. Part One moves through the historical and cultural perspectives offered by several major writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Michaelmas Term sessions will focus on the Brontes, Matthew Arnold, Gerard Manley Hopkins and finally the very different responses to the post-Christian world found in the work of D.H.Lawrence and T.S.Eliot. Part Two aims to engage with writers on whom there is much less critical and academic work available, thus encouraging students to build up their own critical confidence in writing and thinking. The five sessions of the Epiphany Term are likely to focus on writers such as Edwin Muir, Stevie Smith and Elizabeth Jennings, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, R.S.Thomas and Iris Murdoch. Past sessions have considered William Golding, Kazue Ishiguro and Salman Rushdie and there is room for response to interests which may be expressed by the group at the first session before final decisions are made about the end of the module.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Develop mature literary judgement and critical ability to relate theological insight to literary texts
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Demonstrate an ability to write and speak with appropriate critical maturity in the ‘bridge’ area between modern and contemporary serious literary writing and theological academic discourse
Key Skills:
  • Oral skills: Chair a seminar in the second term relating to a writer on whom comparatively little critical background analysis in this area exists to demonstrate: the ability to argue coherently orally.
  • Writing: Producing the set formative and summative work will express sophisticated critical literary skills and the ability to develop mature theological argument in writing.

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

  • Teaching is in fortnightly seminars. During the first term, the course is predominantly ‘taught’ enabling students, particularly those who do not have much literary experience, to follow and model productive literary critical approaches.
  • The formative and summative essays, common to all MATR modules, develop written confidence and mastery of academic and biographical conventions in formal annotation and reference techniques, ultimately developing scope for ideas both synthesised and original.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Tutorials 4 as required 30 minutes 2
Seminars 10 fortnightly 2 hours 20
Preparation and reading 278
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 5000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

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