Religion, Culture and Society

Final year module

Lecturer: Dan Whisker

This module will introduce students to classical and contemporary theories in the study of religion and encourage them to apply these theories to a range of historical and recent religious phenomena.

The module will be taught in four blocks, over two semesters.

  • The first block will address the late 19th and early 20th emergence of the academic study of religion through reading primary texts by and exploring the historical context of theorists such as Auguste Comte, Max Weber, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Emile Durkheim, William James, Sigmund Freud & Carl Jung.
  • The second block will give students the opportunity to apply those classical theories to a range of historically significant religious episodes including the Protestant Reformation, the Jesuit missions to China, the Native American Ghost Dance and the Partition of India / Pakistan.

The second semester will focus on contemporary theoretical debates and empirical research.

  • Block 3 will address debates in sociology around secularisation, fundamentalism, new religious movements and spirituality through the work of authors such as Eileen Barker, Steve Bruce, Paul Heelas, Grace Jantzen, Talal Asad, Jeremy Carrette and Stjepan Mestrovic .
  • Block 4 will explore these debates and connect them to broader issues in sociology around globalisation, power, identity and ethics through empirical studies in sociology and anthropology by Peter Geschiere, Galina Lindquist, Simon Coleman and others.

Learning outcomes 

By the end of the module the student should be able to:

  • Demonstrate an in depth understanding of some of the major theoretical positions in sociological and cultural studies research into religion.
  • Critically engage with a knowledge of sociological and cultural studies (and other social scientific and humanities) literature on particular religious phenomena or episodes.
  • Demonstrate the ability to deploy theoretically informed techniques of analysis to specific case studies.
  • To identify and use appropriate primary sources in constructing and sustaining theoretically informed arguments about religious phenomena.


  • 4,000 word summative essay 50%
  • 4,000 word summative essay 50%