Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2020-2021 (archived)

Module THEO44530: Scripture, Art and Theology

Department: Theology and Religion

THEO44530: Scripture, Art and Theology

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Not available in 2020/21 Module Cap None.


  • Undergraduate level study in a relevant subject (probably Theology, though students of Visual Arts who would like a deeper grounding in their relationship to theology are most welcome).


  • None, but for those without previous training in Visual Arts, MELA45360 (Visual Arts and Culture: Theory and Practice) is strongly recommended.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • to introduce students to issues of dealing with art and visuality as a theologian or scriptural exegete
  • to involve students in a project of their own
  • to develop students’ ability to integrate the use of visual and artistic resources into their theological or exegetical work, and vice versa
  • to develop students’ ability to engage critically with attitudes toward the visual that they find in theological and biblical scholarship outside the arts; conversely to develop students’ ability to engage with attitudes to scripture that they find in artistic scholarship


  • For centuries the study of art and visuality was largely kept apart from the study of theology and scripture. In recent decades, this has begun to shift toward greater integration. However, the long history of division continues to shape the academic practice of theology, art history and biblical exegesis in manifold ways. This module takes a three-pronged approach to move beyond the divisions.
  • Firstly, the module charts a history of controversy about the role of images in religion, and how this shaped the emergence of biblical studies and art history as academic disciplines. We read and discuss some key theoretical approaches in the field from antiquity to the present day. These may include portions of Plato, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, John, Paul, John of Damascus, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Kant, Hegel, Merleau-Ponty, as well as more modern visual theorists such as Baxandall, Bal, Morgan, Elkins, among others.
  • Secondly, the module introduces a range of modern research methods that respond to issues of visuality. We discuss the strengths, limitations, and interrelationships between them. Topics may include sociological study of visual practices in religion; empirical studies of the relationship between visual, verbal and other sensual cognition; the philosophy and phenomenology of the imagination; beauty and aesthetics in art and piety; rhetorical and art-historical exploration of the relationship between image and text; theological reflection on the ontology and epistemology of images; the role of imagery and allegory in traditions of scriptural study.
  • Thirdly, the module provides a structured opportunity for participants to develop a research project of their own. Each participant chooses a theme or item from Christian art, and prepares a presentation and an essay on the theological and exegetical issues that it raises.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • key contributors to history of image in theologically resonant contexts; chronological sense of the development of the debate about images in Western Christianity, and of the entanglement of the intellectual debate in culture and religious practice
  • key conceptual issues in relationship between scripture, art and theology
  • in-depth study of a relevant artistic theme of students’ choice, in a way that contributes to scriptural or theological understanding
Subject-specific Skills:
  • ability to integrate visual and verbal material into theological or scriptural discussion, in a way that respects both media, their relationships and differences
  • ability to integrate theological reflection into discussion of visual media
  • appropriate use of different methods for handling visual issues
Key Skills:
  • critical use of textual and visual media
  • advanced research, finding own material, articulate presentation of ideas, oral presentation and discussion

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

  • Weekly seminars where we discuss key theorists (Michaelmas) and key methods and issues (Epiphany Term).
  • Class presentations
  • Close study, individual projects.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 19 weekly 1.5hrs 28.5
Preparation/Reading 271.5
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Presentation and class discussion Component Weighting: 20%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Presentation and class discussion 20 minute presentation + 20 minutes guided discussion 100% Yes - presentation and discussion with the module convenor or an appropriate audience
Component: Essay Component Weighting: 80%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 5000 words 100% Yes - Essay

Formative Assessment:


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