Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2020-2021 (archived)

Module THEO45030: Word and Image: Classic Foundations for Christian Visuality

Department: Theology and Religion

THEO45030: Word and Image: Classic Foundations for Christian Visuality

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 recommended.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • to introduce students to issues of visuality that are significant for a theologian or scriptural exegete
  • to involve students in a project of their own
  • to develop students’ ability to integrate the use of visual 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; conversely to develop students’ ability to engage with attitudes to scripture that they find in artistic scholarship


  • Recent decades have seen a rapid growth in interest in visuality across the humanities. However, the Christian tradition has been shaped by a history of controversy over the ‘image’, where issues concerning the ‘image of God’ are a point of doctrinal debate, and a source of division in devotional practice. As a consequence, the ‘visual turn’ in the wider humanities poses particular problems for students of Christianity, and visuality remains an emergent field in the study of Scripture and Theology.
  • This course is particularly geared toward students whose background is in the text-based disciplines of Scripture and Theology, though others are welcome too. It aims to equip students with skills and knowledge to approach the interface between visual, verbal, and theological interpretation, in ways that are culturally, conceptually and exegetically sensitive. Topics covered will vary from year to year, depending on the interests of the students and the specialisms of the course leaders. We will pay particular attention to ancient problems and modern debates. On the one hand, we will explore the roots of the Christian engagement with word and image. This will include study of Christian reception and transformation of Classical and Jewish visual regimes (e.g. ecphrasis; idol-polemic), and investigation of some key issues in the history of Christian visual culture (e.g. Byzantine iconoclasm; Marian theology). On the other, we will read significant modern thinkers and learn about key concepts in contemporary debates about visuality (e.g. visual exegesis). The course will normally be complemented by a series of Art and Theology Research Seminars, in which students are expected to participate. In consultation with the course convenor, students will plan a project of their own that integrates the scripture, theology and visuality.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • key modern thinkers in visual theory
  • key conceptual issues in relationship between word, image, and theology in the Christian tradition
  • in-depth study of a relevant theme of students’ choice
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 for in-depth discussion of issues arising from set readings
  • Individual tutorials to help shape and develop a research project
  • Written essays to show skills in ordering a lucid, written argument
  • Class presentations to assess skills in oral engagement with the student’s independet research theme
  • Attendance at relevant research seminars (as they arise) for engagement with a range of speakers on the cutting-edge of research

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 10 (taught) + 4 (student presentations) 8 in MT; 6 in EpT (including 4 for student presentations – subject to change depending on student numbers) 1.5hrs 21
Research Seminars 6 (depending on departmental funds) 3 per term (MT and EpT) 1.5hrs 9
Tutorials 2 30 minutes 1
Preparation and Reading 269
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:

2000 word critical review, 3000 word research proposal for the student’s summative project

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