Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2012-2013 (archived)

Module THEO56930: Theology, Ethics and Medicine

Department: Theology and Religion

THEO56930: Theology, Ethics and Medicine

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2012/13 Module Cap


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • to consider the methodological strategies of theological ethicists in relation to bioethics;
  • to examine fundamental issues raised by modern medicine from a theological perspective;
  • to relate these issues to some specific topics prominent in current bioethics.


  • Since modern medical ethics emerged as a distinct field of enquiry thirty or forty years ago, it has become one of the most important and yet most controversial areas of moral investigation. In its early years it was marked by significant contributions from theological ethicists, but over time these began to be marginalized in favour of secular philosophical bioethics. More recent writing has suggested a 'discontent with secularism' and a renewed search for a distinctive theological contribution to thinking about medicine.
  • This module addresses three areas. First, it considers the different strategies theological ethicists are adopting in relation to the secularizing trend in bioethics, from acceptance of a religiously neutral common morality through to a theologically distinctive rejection of secular medical ethics. Second, it examines from a theological perspective some of the fundamental issues raised by modern medicine: the nature of health, the meaning of embodiment, the question of the sanctity of life, the significance of technological manipulation of nature, and the proper response to suffering and death. Third, it relates these issues to some specific topics prominent in current medical ethics, such as assisted reproduction, abortion, genetic engineering and cloning, euthanasia, mental health and illness, research ethics, and allocation and distribution of resources. The choice of topics in this section will be determined largely by student preference.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • an understanding of a range of theological approaches to issues in the ethics of medicine and the life sciences.
  • an appreciation of some of the fundamental issues about health, embodiment, technology, suffering and death which lie behind bioethics.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • an ability to relate a range of disciplines (including theology, philosophy medicine, biology, social sciences) to issues in bioethics.
  • an ability to articulate theologically-grounded responses to specific topics prominent in current bioethics.
Key Skills:
  • development of skills in understanding, communication and argument, both orally in small group contexts, in the interpretation of texts, and in writing.
  • development of advanced research skills.
  • development of interdisciplinary skills.

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

  • seminars, which include extended presentations, provide both subject content but also the opportunity for discussing subjects and issues, and the context for developing skills of understanding, communication and argument.
  • tutorials give the opportunity to give and receive feedback on the course and on formative essays.
  • formative and summative assessments provide subject knowledge and understanding and abilities for presentation.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Tutorials 1 as required 1 hour 1
Seminars 10 fortnightly 2 hour 20
Preparation and Reading 279
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