Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module THEO2521: Medieval Theology and Spirituality

Department: Theology and Religion

THEO2521: Medieval Theology and Spirituality

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To familiarize students with key features of medieval theology and spirituality
  • Through the work and influence of medieval theologians and spiritual authors to make students critically reflect on key theological issues, such as the understanding of God as Trinity and the human person; the Christian life of virtue; the relation between faith and reason, or between theory and practice; the nature of salvation; sanctification.


  • This module will offer an exposition of key aspects of medieval theology and spirituality, ranging from the legacy of Augustine and Gregory the Great via the Carolingian renaissance to the development of systematic theology (e.g., from modest beginnings in Anselm and Abelard, via Peter Lombard to the achievements of high scholasticism) and beyond. Until the time of Meister Eckhart theology and spirituality were not as yet entirely separate disciplines. This course will therefore consider both theology and spirituality. It will study Christian spirituality (e.g., Cistercian spirituality, spirituality of mendicant orders, Rhineland mystics and spiritual authors of the Low Countries,…) from its early-monastic origins the end of the medieval period (Devotio Moderna).
  • The inclusion of spirituality has the added advantage that a selection of women authors (e.g., Hildegard of Bingen, Hadewijch, Beatrice of Nazareth, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Catherine of Siena, the Author of The Evangelic Pearl) can find a legitimate place in the curriculum. Topics to be discussed may include the understanding of God as Trinity; the nature of language about God; union with God; the sacramental understanding of the world; the multifarious ways of reading the Scriptures; the role of Christ; the theological virtues; the radical theocentricity of medieval theology and spirituality.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • A systematic understanding of key aspects of medieval thought and spirituality through exposure to primary texts and engagement with relevant secondary literature.
  • A critical evaluation of the achievements and limitations of medieval thought in light of our contemporary theological concerns.
  • A broader understanding of the development of Christian thought and its significance for the Christian life in the medieval period, and how it is shaped by its historical context.
  • An insight into the significance of medieval thought and spirituality on subsequent Christian thinking.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • An ability to read, interpret and evaluate critically medieval writings on the basis of primary and secondary sources.
Key Skills:
  • Development of the ability to engage critically with theological arguments and be able to situate them in their socio-historical context.
  • Ability to grasp, summarize, and critically evaluate concepts, arguments and knowledge in written form.

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

  • Lectures will be supplemented with seminars, in order to enhance subject-specific knowledge and understanding through engagement with primary texts, interaction with fellow-students and staff, promoting awareness of different approaches and hermeneutical perspectives, thereby enhancing skills in the analysis of texts, concepts and arguments.
  • Formative assignments develop subject knowledge and enhance student skills in the acquisition of knowledge through reading and research, and in the structured presentation of knowledge in written form. This module requires short reading response assignments, which assist students in deepening their subject-specific knowledge by carefully engaging with key texts.
  • Summative essays assess the subject-specific knowledge and understanding by engaging with primary texts and secondary literature.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 22 1 per week 1 hour 22
Seminars 10 1 per fortnight 1 hour 10
Preparation and Reading 168
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Summative essay Component Weighting: 25%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay (Epiphany term) 3000 100%
Component: Written Examination Component Weighting: 75%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Written Examination 2 hours 100%

Formative Assessment:

Students will be required to write one formative essay of 2,000 words (to be submitted by the end of Michaelmas term) on a list of topics that will be made available at the beginning of the module.

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