Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2020-2021 (archived)

Module THEO45430: Christian Fundamentalism and the Modern World

Department: Theology and Religion

THEO45430: Christian Fundamentalism and the Modern World

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2020/21 Module Cap None.


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To introduce the history of conservative Protestant Christianity in western cultures since the onset of the modern age
  • To place these developments within their cultural contexts.
  • To describe and critically engage with key theorists of conservative Protestantism from the social sciences.
  • To enable critical reflection on the concepts inherited from this scholarship, asking how far they illuminate or obscure our understanding of contemporary religious phenomena.
  • To develop understanding of Christianity as a cultural phenomenon.


  • This module begins with the seminal work of Ernst Troeltsch in setting out a framework for understanding how Christian tradition gives rise to particular forms of community. Beginning with Troeltsch also allows us to consider the relationship between theology, history and social scientific understandings of religion, the intention being to keep these three in tension rather than collapse emerging ideas into one at the expense of the other two. This initial theoretical framework (which leads into discussions of Bryan Wilson on sectarianism and Roy Wallis on world-rejecting movements) will be augmented by consideration of two other major thinkers: Alexis de Toqueville, whose reflections on religion and American culture set the tone of a debate that continues to this day, and Karl Mannheim, whose work on ideology and utopia offers valuable insights into how religious groups respond to cultural change and retain their quest for an ideal society. These thinkers provide the sociological and historical context for the module, especially as they emerge out of, and speak to, modernity, and offer strategies for understanding religion’s status within it. A second lecture on the The Evolving Contexts of Modernity focuses on changing visions of culture and its relationship to religion, from the optimistic progressivism of Victorian thinkers like James Frazer and E.B. Tylor, to the postmodernism of Zigmunt Bauman and the challenges of the 21st century context.
  • The remainder of the module will cover a range of different topics, such as the following, roughly proceeding in a historically linear fashion up until the present day: The Restorationist Impulse (including Protestant separatism and the quest for an alternative society); The Rise of Modern Apocalyptic Movements (including the Brethren, Jehovah’s Witnesses and rise of rapture fiction); The Fundamentalist Controversy (the Scopes Trial and its aftermath in culture and popular imagination); Creationism and Intelligent Design (Creationist science in 1960s to ID and current debates on the legitimacy of different forms of knowledge); Political Engagement and the Christian Right (from the Moral Majority to British Israelism and white supremacist movements); Revolution, Protest and Violence (Dominion Theology and Liberationist movements, and violence as counter-cultural protest); White Christian Nationalism and Populist Politics (including the re-framing of Christianity as a racialised political resource). Appropriate examples from Christian movements will be considered along the way.
  • Alongside the coverage of the above via a series of interactive lectures, students will take part in regular seminars focused on specific thinkers in the sociology of religion, examining critically key published scholarship relevant to the module topics. Students will take turns to lead discussion arising from this pre-set reading. This will feed into research for the formative essay.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
    Subject-specific Skills:
    • A systematic understanding and a coherent knowledge of the work of key sociologists of religion and its significance for understanding late modern Christianity.
    • Knowledge of several influential religious movements that have shaped the relationship between Christianity and western culture during the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.
    • Awareness of the major contours of cultural change that have most impacted upon the status and expression of Christianity during this period.
    Key Skills:
    • The acquisition and analysis of information through reading and research.
    • The structured presentation of information in both written and oral form.
    • The generation of insight through both individual reflection and group discussion.
    • The development of key research skills.

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

    • Through interactive lectures, class discussion and (summative) essays students will acquire understanding of the concerns and methods of the sociology of religion. The lectures will convey information and exemplify an approach to the subject-matter, enabling students to develop a clear understanding of the subject and to improve their skills in listening and in evaluating information.
    • Formative seminars will enhance subject-specific knowledge and understanding both through preparation and through interaction with students and staff, promoting awareness of different viewpoints and approaches. The use of student–led seminars enables students to develop transferable skills in communication and dissemination of ideas to specialist and non-specialist audiences, as well as methodological familiarity and the development of independent learning strategies.
    • Summative essays will assess subject-specific knowledge and understanding, along with student skills in the acquisition of information through reading, research, and working with their peers (in the seminars), and in the structured presentation of information in written form.

    Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

    Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
    Interactive Lectures 20 Weekly across two terms 2 hrs 40
    Seminars 6 3 x each term 90 minutes 9
    Tutorials 2 2 in second term 30 minutes 1
    Preparation and Reading 50
    Preparationa nd reading in association with formative summative assignments 200
    Total 300

    Summative Assessment

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

    Formative Assessment:

    One 3,000 word critical essay on the work of a specific thinker

    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