Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module CLAS1771: Early Christianity: Experience and Memory

Department: Classics and Ancient History

CLAS1771: Early Christianity: Experience and Memory

Type Open Level 1 Credits 20 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap None. Location Durham



Excluded Combination of Modules


  • To introduce the history and literature of early Christianity of the first three centuries.
  • To consider Christianity’s origins in the Roman world and the influence of that wider context on its development.
  • To assess the difference between Christian experience and Christian records of that experience.
  • To explore and analyse a range of relevant sources and the benefits and difficulties of using them together.


  • This module offers a fresh and accessible introduction to early Christianity, from Jesus in the first century to Constantine in fourth. Students will approach the “rise of Christianity” not from the perspective of Christianity’s later triumph but from its original grounding in the wider religious world of the Roman provinces. Early Christianity will be revealed to be not the monolithic institution later church historians suggest, but a diverse collection of local communities in the provinces jostling for position and resources alongside countless other cults and associations. Students will also consider how that original reality was later written and rewritten by Christians themselves, and thus see how our narrative of early Christian origins emerged. Topics considered may include, for example, the different ways in which key individuals, like Jesus or Paul, were remembered, the forgotten role of women, the evolution of a persecution narrative and the “conversion” of the emperor Constantine. The course’s goal is to use early Christianity as a lens to demonstrate the exoticism and range of Classics as a discipline, showcase the range of material (literary texts, papyri, inscriptions, epigraphy etc) and methods (source criticism, demographics etc) available to the historian, and above all show students that ancient history is still “up for grabs”.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • A basic knowledge of developments in early Christian history.
  • An awareness of the diverse evidence available for studying early Christianity (and ancient history more generally) and the benefits of and problems with using it in combination.
  • An understanding of the process by which ancient events were “written up” and the means by which modern historians seek to mitigate it.
  • An introduction to approaches and debates in both classic and current scholarship on this topic.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • A developing ability to analyse and draw conclusions from a broad range of primary sources from the ancient world, including Greek and Latin writings (in translation) papyri, and archaeological and artistic material.
  • A developing capacity to evaluate the inherent values and problems with particular types of ancient sources and to use them judiciously to construct a careful and nuanced picture of early Christianity.
  • A developing ability to engage critically with modern literature on early Christianity and situate independent thinking in relation to this scholarly “landscape”.
Key Skills:
  • A developing ability to assess and compare a range of different arguments and approaches.
  • A developing ability to use diverse types of evidence to build up a cumulative picture.
  • A developing capacity to produce tight, well-evidenced and clearly expressed arguments in both oral and in written form.

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

  • Lectures introduce students to the topics via case studies. Each topic will be treated over two lectures, with each considering a case study that demonstrates the different ways in which and reasons why early Christians “wrote up” their own experiences.
  • The focus on case studies will enable detailed engagement with evidence to begin to ground students in techniques of source criticism etc.
  • Seminars will treat topics designed to complement the lecture series, guiding students in collectively exploring their own ideas about the courses’ major themes.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 20 Weekly 1 hour 20
Seminars 6 3 per term in Michaelmas and Epiphany terms 1 hour 6
Preparation and Reading 174
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 3000 words 100% Essay

Formative Assessment:

1 essay (c. 1500 words); 1 oral presentation (c. 15 minutes).

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