Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST30B3: Burning Hearts: Inquisitors and missionaries in a global age, 1550-1700

Department: History

HIST30B3: Burning Hearts: Inquisitors and missionaries in a global age, 1550-1700

Type Open Level 3 Credits 60 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap Location Durham


  • A pass mark in at least TWO level two modules in History.


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To contribute towards meetings the generic aims of Level III study in History.
  • To enable students to understand and analyse a variety of primary sources and genres.
  • To gain a better understanding of how historiographical traditions have shaped the field of religious and cultural history.
  • To explore comparative historical approaches and intercultural questions concerning the early modern Catholic world.
  • To enable students to identify and criticize the various approaches applied in the study of the early modern Catholic world.


  • The Catholic world of the post Reformation period has long been left to the device of apologetic Catholic Church historians, but over the last decades the situation has profoundly changed, and from Cinderella-like obscurity, the “Counter-Reformation” has been transformed into the hot topic of contemporary historical research. This renewed interest is greatly indebted to the perspectives brought in by social and cultural historians who have highlighted that under the banner of “tradition” not only the Church institutions were re-organised but importantly, too, people’s lives changed. Religious change, they argued, was not only about “religion”; it also involved and affected social and political hierarchies as well as cultural practices. The debate has centred on the question of agency and the direction of change, on aspects of repression and control, and on the social and geographic diversity of Catholic cultures across the globe. More recently, the trend of global history, abandoning the euro-centric perspective of traditional mission history, has focused on the Catholic world as a dynamic transnational space, in which religious contents and artefacts were produced, distributed, appropriated, transformed and re-exported to the centre, creating a new globalized religion that understood itself as such. On the background of these lively scholarly discussions this special subject asks, how doctrinal and social change are connected and how the tensions between local and global religion and culture played out. We will look at the trends towards standardizing practices, behaviour and thought, but also at factors of resistance and creative negotiations over what it meant to be a “good Catholic”. The course will initially focus on the council of Trent, its genesis and outcome and its controversial appreciation from the seventeenth century to our present day. We will then move on to explore the impact of the council decrees on religious practices, mainly focusing on the changing meaning of sacraments, the cult of saints and relics, and devotional art. Subsequently, we will investigate the relation between centre and periphery and the tension between the local level and Rome in the post Tridentine period in order to evaluate the significance and independence of different agents. How did the papacy reinvent itself, and what how did this alter political theory and practice on an international level? How was Catholic self-understanding transformed through the contact with non-European populations, but also with what the Jesuits used to call “our Indies over here”, i.e. with local populations across Europe? From here we will take a further step and examine the sources of dissent within early modern Catholicism, and to what degree mechanisms of repression and control intended and failed to create a compact Catholic identity. Profiting from the variety of source material available we will study papal decrees and regulations, prayers, sermons, inquisition trials, hagiographies, painting and architecture, missionary reports, theatre, and political thought. Last but not least we will examine how and why, in the eyes of its critics, the Catholic world gradually morphed into a museum of curiosity of so-called “superstition”.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • A deep understanding of the institutional and dogmatic changes triggered by the Council of Trent and its social and cultural effects on Europe and the wider world (1550-1700).
  • A critical engagement with historical theories and models that have been used to explain social change in the early modern Catholic world, and to test and apply them on historical evidence.
  • The development of a comparative perspective on historical processes in the early modern Catholic world.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Challenging students’ assumptions about the past and reflecting on the nature of the discipline (and, where appropriate, interdisciplinarity) at an advanced level
  • Appreciating how historical knowledge is produced, what forms it takes, and the purposes it serves
  • Reflecting on students’ own historical consciousness and practice.
Key Skills:
  • The ability to employ sophisticated reading skills to gather, sift, process, synthesise and critically evaluate information from a variety of sources (print, digital, material, aural, visual, audio-visual etc.)
  • The ability to communicate ideas and information orally and in writing, devise and sustain coherent and cogent arguments
  • The ability to write and think under pressure, manage time and work to deadlines
  • The ability to make effective use of information and communications technology.

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:
  • Seminars to 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 students' 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, whilst recognising the value of working with others and, occasionally, towards shared goals;
  • Tutorials either individually or in groups to discuss topics arising from prepared work, allowing students the opportunity to reflect upon their personal learning with the tutor.
  • Assessment:
  • Examinations test students' ability to work under pressure under timed conditions, to prepare for examinations and direct their own programme of revision and learning, and develop key time management skills. The unseen 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;
  • Summative essays remain a central component of assessment in history, due to the integrative high-order skills they develop. Essays allow students the opportunity to recognise, represent and critically reflect upon ideas, concepts and problems; students can demonstrate awareness of, and the ability to use and evaluate, a diverse range of resources and identify, represent and debate a range of subject-specific issues and opinions. Through the essay, students can synthesise information, adopt critical appraisals and develop reasoned argument based on individual research; they should be able to communicate ideas in writing, with clarity and coherence; and to show the ability to integrate and critically assess material from a wide range of sources;
  • Assessment of Primary Source Handling Students are assessed on their understanding of original primary sources, usually in print, their character varying according to the nature of the subject, and the students' ability to bring that knowledge to bear on 'cutting edge' research-based monographs and articles. Students are given the opportunity to discuss and articulate an understanding of changing interpretations and approaches to historical problems, drawing evidence from a body of primary source materials. Students are required to demonstrate skills associated with the evaluation of a variety of primary source materials, using documentary analysis for a critical assessment of existing historical interpretations.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Tutorials 2 Termly in Terms 1 & 2 30 mins 1
Seminars 19 Weekly in Terms 1 & 2 3 hours 57
Revision Sessions 1 Term 3 2 hours 2
Preparation and Reading 540
Total 600

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 1 3000 words, not including scholarly apparatus 34%
Essay 2 3000 words, not including scholarly apparatus 34%
Source Analyses 3000 words, not including scholarly apparatus 32%
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Seen open book examination 3 hours 100%

Formative Assessment:

One formative essay of not more than 2500 words (not including footnotes and bibliography); preparation to participate in seminar and tutorials; at least one oral presentation, and practice source/gobbet work.

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