Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2019-2020 (archived)

Module MELA42630: Religion, Ethnicity and Otherness

Department: Modern Languages and Cultures

MELA42630: Religion, Ethnicity and Otherness

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Not available in 2019/20 Module Cap


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To present key debates, past and present, about concepts of religion and ethnicity insofar as they are relevant to the more general themes of identity and alterity.
  • To explore the issues thrown up by these debates on both theoretical and practical levels through a consideration of selected case studies.
  • To explore how themes of religion and ethnicity have been depicted in film, fiction and/or the media/popular culture.


  • The module will provide an in-depth study of religious and ethnic alterity that will typically cover the following topics:
  • Ethnicity. These seminars will discuss concepts of identity and ethnicity from a theoretical point of view, as derived from a multiplicity of markers, including common ancestral origin; racial or physical characteristics; social memory and material culture; language, religion etc. The concepts of identity and ethnicity will then be further explored through a number of case studies illustrating aspects of these concepts on a political and social level, including ethnic conflict in Lebanon, the Balkans, Afghanistan etc.
  • Religion. These seminars will discuss religion from a number of theoretical viewpoints, including religion as faith; religion as ethnic or identity marker; religion as a system of ethics and values etc. They will also explore the relationship of religion to ethnicity and concepts of religious ‘exclusivity’ (‘Chosen People’ etc.), through consideration of a number of particular case studies, e.g. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Amish, Jews, Muslims etc.
  • ‘Otherness’ in an ethnic and religious context. These seminars will explore a number of current and historical issues related to alterity in a cultural, religious and ethnic context, including (i) European views of the ‘East’ as expressed in Turcomania, Egyptomania, etc. (ii) Said’s Orientalism and the subsequent debate surrounding it; (iii) Huntington’s theory of the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ (iv) anti-Semitism in its historical context(s) (including the Holocaust), and its relationship to the ongoing Palestine/Israel dispute;(v) ‘Islamophobia’ in contemporary Western society, particularly post-9/11.
  • Each of the above three seminar series will require the student, first, to engage in a critical reflection on a selection of theoretical texts and, second, to apply the theoretical knowledge acquired to the analysis of a literary work, a film, or a current debate in the press or audiovisual media (as appropriate).

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Have a broad knowledge of a range of theories concerning ethnicity and religion in their relationship to alterity and identity.
  • Understand how these theories have been used to construct or deconstruct narratives.
  • Be able to evaluate these theories as competing theoretical frameworks for the study of ethnicity and religion.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Be able to reflect critically on the changing function and status of religion and ethnicity in the modern world.
  • Be able to apply the above knowledge/understanding to the analysis of a selection of literary and cinematic works or in the media/popular culture today.
  • Be able to engage in the textual study of primary sources and advanced secondary literature in the above areas.
Key Skills:
  • Essay writing, theoretical reflection and discourse analysis.
  • Independent learning.
  • Techniques of information retrieval.
  • Presentation of written work to high editorial standards.
  • Time management.

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

  • The module will be taught by means of 10 seminars in the Epiphany Term. Students will be required to prepare specific tasks and questions in advance of each seminar, and play an active role in discussing the issues that arise. Assessment will test students’ ability to understand and analyse critically the key areas of debate.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 10 weekly 2 hours 20
Preparation and Reading 280
Total 300

Summative Assessment

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

Formative Assessment:

Seminar presentation; feedback on a plan and sample piece of writing relating to the summative assignment.

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