Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST20Y1: Apocalypse Now: Early Christian Approaches to the End of the World

Department: History

HIST20Y1: Apocalypse Now: Early Christian Approaches to the End of the World

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • A pass mark in at least ONE level one module in History


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To introduce students to the phaenomenon of apocalyptic ideas and their impact on societies in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages
  • To sharpen the students’ understanding of how to interpret primary sources and transform an analysis into historiographical writing
  • To engage with debates in research and, based on that, form an independent opinion on the topic in question


  • Was Jesus of Nazareth a radical preacher proclaiming the imminent end of the world, the apocalypse? Were his followers trying to channel apocalyptic frenzy to oppose the Roman Empire? The scholarly opinions as to the character of the early Christian movement are heavily divided. What is clear, however, is that the end of the world played a crucial role in the thought world not only of the direct followers of Jesus, but of Christian communities in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages in general. In this module, which covers roughly the first to the seventh century CE, we will assess apocalyptic thinking in the context of the rise of Christianity from religious minority to the prevalent creed of the Roman Empire. The module combines the critical evaluation of primary sources and a profound engagement with scholarly debates regarding the extent and impact of apocalyptic thinking during the period in question. Our aim will be to investigate different types and traditions of apocalyptic believes and discuss how ideas of the end of the world shaped religious and political communities. We will develop an understanding of the theological, rhetorical and narratological dynamics of apocalyptic literature and trace its development over time. Apocalyptic thinking had not only religious, but also social and political implications, as it flourished especially in times of crisis (when a community was confronted with wars, natural catastrophes, plagues, or threats of other sort); apocalypticism could function as a coping mechanism and means to make sense of disorienting experiences. As we will see, especially marginalized groups like Christian sects or Jewish communities were prone to these kinds of ideas, which gives us the opportunity to discuss various social contexts in the Eastern Mediterranean. The module will allow students to become acquainted with the political and religious history of Late Antiquity and the Early Middles Ages; to immerse themselves into the thought world that shaped Mediterranean realm during these centuries; and to reflect on how to engage with apocalyptic idea in our endeavour to understand the past.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Knowledge of patterns of apocalyptic literature and their foundation in the scriptures (Old and New Testament)
  • Insights into different social, political, and religious contexts in the Eastern Mediterranean in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, and the ways in which communities coped with potentially traumatizing experiences
  • A profound understanding by which social, political, and religious groups apocalyptic ideas where propagated, and in which contexts they came to flourish
  • The ability to critically reflect on ancient texts, their authors, agendas, audiences, and functions in society
Subject-specific Skills:
    Key Skills:

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

      • Student learning is facilitated by a combination of the following teaching methods:
      • Lectures: Lectures will set the foundations for further study and provide the basis for the acquisition of subject specific knowledge. Lectures provide a broad framework which defines individual module content, introducing students to themes, debates and interpretations. In this environment, students are given the opportunity to develop skills in listening, selective note-taking and reflection.
      • Seminars: Seminars will allow students to present and critically reflect upon the acquired subject-specific knowledge, methodologies and theories, and to identify and debate a range of issues and differing opinions. The seminar is the forum in which students are given the opportunity to communicate ideas, jointly exploring themes and arguments. Seminars are structured to develop understanding and designed to maximise student participation related to prior independent preparation. Seminars give students the opportunity to develop oral communication skills, encourage critical and tolerant approaches to reasoned argument and historical discussion, build the ability to marshal historical evidence, and facilitate the development of the ability to summarise historical arguments, think in a rapidly changing environment and communicate in a persuasive and articulate manner, all while recognising the value of working with others and, occasionally, towards shared goals.
      • Assessment:
      • Exam: Examinations test students’ ability to work under pressure, to prepare for examinations and direct their own programme of revision and learning, and develop key time management skills. The examination gives students the opportunity to develop relevant life skills such as the ability to produce coherent, reasoned and supported arguments under pressure. Students will be examined on subject specific knowledge.
      • Essay/Assignment: Summative coursework will test students’ ability to communicate ideas in writing, present clear and cogent arguments succinctly and show appropriate critical skills as relevant to the particular module.

      Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

      Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
      Lectures 17 17 in term 2 1 hour 17
      Seminars 7 7 in term 2 1 hour 7
      Preparation and Reading 176
      Total 200

      Summative Assessment

      Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 40%
      Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
      Essay or equivalent assignment (e.g. source commentaries) 2000 words excluding footnotes and bibliography 100%
      Component: Examination Component Weighting: 60%
      Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
      Seen Open Book Exam 2 hours 100%

      Formative Assessment:

      Formative work done in preparation for and during seminars, including oral and written work as appropriate to the module. The summative coursework will have a formative element by allowing students to develop ideas and arguments for the examination.

      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