Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2014-2015 (archived)

Module THEO56730: Ritual, Symbolism and Belief in the Anthropology of Religion

Department: Theology and Religion

THEO56730: Ritual, Symbolism and Belief in the Anthropology of Religion

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2014/15 Module Cap


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To introduce students to selected theories and theorists in social-cultural anthropology that relate to key aspects of the interplay of religious thought and practice.
  • To enable students to develop a critical distance in relation to religious organization and belief
  • To develop a competence in interdisciplinary conversation between the above aspects of anthropology and theology


  • This module takes the form of an exploratory conversation between theology and social anthropology on certain key issues of religious belief and practice
  • Theological ideas concerning human nature, creativity and worship, for example, are related to anthropological theories concerning self, society, symbol and ritual, and the fundamental anthropological phenomenon of 'merit making', framed by social rules and reciprocity as a mode of human relationship, is discussed in relation to theological ideas of grace. Similarly, anthropological theories of embodiment, death and sacrifice are explored in relation to theological reflection on incarnation and salvation. Many epistemological and methodological questions are raised throughout this engagement of theological and anthropological themes, as are questions about the contextualising and decontextualising of religious belief, the relationship between systematic theology and the practical theology of church members, and the possibility and the nature of a practical or empirical theology which uses information derived from social scientific research. Particular attention will be paid to selected studies of Christian groups as a means of discussing these issues

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Critical appreciation of the nature of anthropological approaches to belief and practice
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Demonstrate an overview of anthropological theories as they relate to aspects of religion and to issues of reflexivity raised within the study of religious groups
Key Skills:
  • Developing a sense both of critical distance and of issues aligned with participant knowledge of a group. Also of the nature of cumulative competence in working with groups

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

  • Tutorials (on a one-to-one basis) will offer an opportunity for feedback on assigned work.
  • The weekly seminars will enable students to develop advanced subject-specific knowledge and skills in the communication of ideas and critical interpretation of sources. This will be facilitated through peer-group discussion of selected key texts, moderated by the module leader.
  • Formative essays develop subject-specific knowledge and understanding, and the skills of written presentation. These skills and the knowledge and understanding they serve are assessed in the summative essay.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Tutorials 4 as required 1 hour 4
Seminars 20 weekly 2 hours 40
Preparation and Reading 256
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