Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST31H1: The Divine and The Diabolical: Apocalypticism, Mysticism, and Heresy In Late Medieval Europe

Department: History

HIST31H1: The Divine and The Diabolical: Apocalypticism, Mysticism, and Heresy In Late Medieval Europe

Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap 50 Location Durham


  • A pass mark in at least ONE level 2 module in History


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To give students an in-depth understanding of the major intellectual and spiritual controversies in the late medieval church.
  • To have students explore important currents in apocalyptic and mystical thought, as well as intellectual heresies in the late Middle Ages.
  • To familiarise students with key spiritual texts in the history of late medieval religion.


  • The thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries witnessed a rich flowering of new religious ideas and spiritual currents, many of which were embraced and supported by the Church. At the same time, these centuries witnessed the emergence and development of inquisition, increasing regulation of texts and intellectual activity, and a growing suspicion of visions and divine revelations. This powerful and contradictory mix of innovation and repression boiled over into spectacular showdowns between religious orders, mystics, visionaries, prophets, and a church increasingly worried about dissent and diabolical influences. This module looks at these late medieval currents and controversies and the effects they had on late medieval spirituality and intellectual activity in the late Middle Ages. By using particular incidents as case studies, the module will touch upon major anxieties and debates within the late medieval Church around such issues as licit and illicit knowledge, the power of the written word, expectations of the apocalypse, how to distinguish divine visions from diabolical deceptions, and the limits of humans’ ability to experience the divine. The module will also urge students to think about the underlying ‘big questions’ that transcend historical eras: questions about belief, religion, persecution, and the universal desires and impulses that have driven human behaviour across the centuries.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • A knowledge of major religious controversies of the late Middle Ages
  • An understanding of particular currents of apocalyptic, mystical, and prophetic thought in late medieval Europe
Subject-specific Skills:
  • An ability to work with multiple kinds of religious sources: mystical treatises, biblical commentaries, polemical tracts, inquisitorial depositions;
  • an awareness of the historiography of late medieval religious history;
  • acquisition of skills relevant to working with manuscript and archival sources;
  • reading and use texts and other source materials critically and analytically, addressing questions of content, perspective and purpose at an advanced level;
  • handling and critically analysing varying interpretations of a given body of historical evidence;
  • managing a body of evidence or information, particularly gathering, sifting, synthesizing, organising, marshalling and presenting information consistent with the methods and standards of historical study and research;
  • assembling evidence to address issues, constructing an argument and supporting it with evidence to permit and facilitate the evaluation of hypotheses;
  • Intellectual independence and research, including the development of bibliographical skills, the ability to research, use, evaluate and organise historical materials, and to present independent research in written form;
Key Skills:
  • Self-discipline, self-direction, initiative, the capacity for extended independent work on complex subjects, the development of pathways to originality, and intellectual curiosity;
  • discrimination and judgement;
  • ability to gather, organise and deploy evidence, data and information, and familiarity with appropriate means of identifying, finding, retrieving, sorting and exchanging information;
  • analytical ability, and the capacity to consider and solve complex problems;
  • structure, coherence, clarity and fluency of written expression;
  • intellectual integrity, maturity and an appreciation of the validity of the reasoned views of others;
  • imaginative insight.

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

  • Teaching and Learning;
  • Student learning is facilitated by a combination of the following teaching methods:
  • lectures to set the foundations for further study and to 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 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.
  • 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 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. In addition, seen Examinations (with pre-released paper) are intended to enable Level 3 students to produce more considered and reflective work;
  • 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. enter text as appropriate for the module

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 21 1 hr 21
Seminars 7 1 hr 7
Preparation and Reading 172
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Exam Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
2 hour exam 2 Hours 100%
Component: Essay Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay/Assignment 3,000 words 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