Theology and Religion postgraduate modules

Indicative module descriptions

Approaches to Studying Islam (modern)

Module convenor: Dr Yafa Shanneik

This module focuses on 19th and 20th century trends in the study of societies and politics of the Muslim world, including debates around orientalism and women’s studies. Through the study and discussion of key texts, you will engage with significant traditional and modern scholarship, be able to navigate critically through the relevant academic literature, and be able to argue coherently for your own particular points of view.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Approaches to Studying Islam (traditional)

Module convenor: Professor Jorgen Nielsen

This module focuses on the core disciplines of traditional Islamic religious thought: Qur’an, Hadith, sira, tafsir, Shari’a and fiqh. It also examines modern academic critical approaches to them. Through the study and discussion of key texts, you will engage with significant traditional and modern scholarship,  be able to navigate critically through the relevant academic literature, and be able to argue coherently for their own particular points of view.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Auschwitz in History and Memory

Module convenor: Dr Isabel Wollaston

This interdisciplinary module explores Auschwitz in history and memory.

The history of KL Auschwitz: topics covered may include the evolution and multi-functionality of the site; the experience of non-Jews (Poles, Sinti and Roma, Soviet POWs and British POWs); gendered experiences; the nature of survival; the nature and extent of resistance; the Sonderkommando; perpetrators and perpetrator texts.

Auschwitz in memory: we focus on the cultural and symbolic ‘afterlife’ of the site and ongoing debates over what ‘Auschwitz’ means today both as a physical location/memorial and as a symbol, and controversies between different communities of memory over who ‘owns’ Auschwitz (i.e., whose experience and sensitivities should take precedence there). Topics covered may include visual representations of Auschwitz (art, photographs, film); memorialisation of the site; the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oświęcim with particular reference to its evolution over time, and to permanent and national exhibitions there; Auschwitz as a site of pilgrimage and (contested) sacred space, and/or as a site of mass/dark tourism, and as a site of pilgrimage.

Assessment: 1,000-word critical reflection and 3,000-word essay

Contemporary Issues in Sikhism

Module convenor: Dr Jagbir Jhutti-Johal

This module explores the workings of the Sikh religion and Sikhism in the contemporary world with particular reference to Sikhs in the Diaspora and in the Punjab. Examples of issues discussed include: attitudes towards caste, dowry and arranged marriages; questions of adaptation and dialogue in a new environment with particular emphasis on second and third generation Sikhs; and changing traditions.

The module looks at legal case studies affecting the diasporic Sikh community, including issues surrounding Kirpan, Turbans etc. The consequences of the play Behzti will be considered. Reference is also made to some of the religious, ethical and moral issues confronting Sikhs, e.g. abortion, homosexuality and gender issues.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Feminism in the Muslim World

Module convenor: Dr Haifaa Jawad

This module explores the development of feminism in the Muslim world, in particular the feminist movements active in countries such as Turkey, Egypt, and Iran, considering the aims and objectives and methodologies of these movements. Different perspectives and ideological narratives and discourses are explored, such as Muslim secular feminism and the development of Islamic feminism. Particular feminist writers and scholars are critically evaluated within these movements, such as Nawal Al-Sadawi, Fatimah Mernissi and Amina Wadud. The impact of feminism on Muslim societies is explored and evaluated during the course.   

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

God in Christian Philosophy

Module convenor: Professor Nicholas Adams

This module provides an introduction to understandings of God in the classical Christian traditions. It covers the foundations in ancient philosophy (principally Plato and Aristotle) and then its development in the later period (Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Scotus, Meister Eckhart) before the advent of modern philosophy in the seventeenth century. This is ideal preparation for those intending to undertake advanced research in the philosophical and theological traditions.

The first four weeks will cover texts by Plato and Aristotle, to be selected each year. Indicative texts include Republic, Meno, Phaedo, Timaeus; Aristotle will typically be Metaphysics; other texts may be chosen.

Latter weeks will cover texts from the Christian tradition. Texts will be selected year by year, and will vary. Indicative texts include Confessions, De Libero Arbitrio, Proslogion, Cur Deus Homo, Summa Theologiae, Summa Contra Gentiles, Ordinatio, Parisian Questions. Others of this kind may be selected.

Assessment: Two essays or commentaries, one of 1,500 words and one of 2,500 words

Historical and Contemporary Debates on the Holocaust

Module convenor: Dr Isabel Wollaston

The module introduces you to a range of historical and contemporary debates on the Holocaust. The focus is methodological, focusing on how this historical period is conceptualised, interpreted and studied, both as events were unfolding and subsequently.

The module begins by considering when these events first began to be spoken of as ‘the Holocaust’; the range of possible definitions of ‘the Holocaust’ (e.g., in relation to the experience of non-Jewish victims of Nazi persecution and ‘other’ genocides), and issues relating to language, terminology and the naming of these events. Consideration will be given to evaluating the range of sources and the perspectives they embody (often conceptualized as those of ‘victims’, ‘survivors’, ‘perpetrators’, ‘bystanders’, etc.), and whether it is possible to construct an ‘integrated’ history of the Holocaust. 

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Holocaust and Genocide: Comparative and Interdisciplinary Perspectives

Module convenor: Dr Isabel Wollaston

This module explores the complexities and challenges of defining and studying the ‘Holocaust’ and ‘genocide’, both on their own terms and comparatively. Attention will be paid to ongoing disputes over what constitutes appropriate terminology in this subject area. This discussion will be contextualised within the emerging and developing fields of Holocaust studies and genocide studies and the complex and contested historiography of ‘Holocaust’, ‘genocide’ and their interrelationship.

Topics covered may include: ‘the politics of uniqueness’; interpretations of the Holocaust as ‘a mosaic of victims’; the relationship between Holocaust/genocide and war; the complexities of categories such as ‘victims, perpetrators and bystanders’; the significance of gender (e.g., ‘gendercide’); genocide and ‘prevention’; prosecuting war crimes and crimes against humanity; different manifestations of denial; and the growing phenomena of memorial museums and the controversies surrounding ‘exhibiting’ atrocity.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Islam in Europe

Module convenor: Professor Jorgen Nielsen

This module studies contemporary Muslim communities in Europe with a view to understanding the key sociological and theological dynamics of these communities in terms of how they interact and relate to each other and wider European society.

The module explores the historical establishment of Muslims in eastern and western Europe; the cultural and theological dimensions to development of religious identity and political involvement; and the development of community services such as halal food and halal regulation, mosques and funeral services.

The module also examines particular issues relating to popular perceptions and media portrayal of Islam and the impact on Muslim communities in the last quarter century.

There is a focus on the experience of specific countries, including Britain.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Islamic Philosophy

Module convenor: Dr Richard Todd

The module traces the major developments in philosophical thinking through the classical period of Islamic thought. It includes such topics as the emergence of Islamic philosophy and its connection with Greek and Hellenistic learning, the flowering of a distinctive systematic discipline in the Islamic world, the relationship between philosophy and theology, the influence of Islamic philosophy on Jewish thought, and the transmission of philosophical method from the Arab to the European world.

Emphasis will be placed upon the study of particular contributions to learning, and discussion will centre on the works of such masters as al-Kindi, al-Farabi, Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd, as well as al-Ghazali and his critique of falsafa. 

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Jewish Religious Responses to the Holocaust

Module convenor: Dr Isabel Wollaston

This module analyses a range of Jewish responses to the Holocaust, both as events were happening and subsequently. These responses fall into three broad chronological and/or thematic groupings: orthodox responses; Holocaust theology which emerged in the mid-1960s; post-Holocaust responses.

We focus on the contribution of key thinkers (e.g., Ephraim Oshry, Elie Wiesel, Richard Rubenstein, Emil Fackenheim, David Blumenthal, Melissa Raphael) and the evolution of their thought, as well as on recurrent themes or controversies (such as the Holocaust as punishment for sin, the relevance of kidush hashem or ‘martyrdom’ as a response during the Holocaust; Holocaust testimony as sacred text; how to appropriately memorialise the Holocaust within the Jewish calendar and the relationship between Jewish commemoration of these events and national and international Holocaust Memorial Days; the mythologisation and ‘sanctification’ of the Holocaust, the Holocaust and civil Judaisms).

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Muslim Thinkers of the Western World

This module is not available in 2018/19

It is frequently claimed that Muslims in the West are silent on matters of sociological and political importance. It is alleged they are unwilling to engage with the modern world, and more damningly are failing to ’speak out’ against terrorism, female genital mutilation, or offer a defence of human rights. However, the 21st century has produced a vibrant literature by western Muslims reflecting on issues in Islam in new, distinctively western ways in relation to gender, secularism, faith, Islamophobia and multiculturalism as well as other matters. The purpose of this module is to highlight that Muslim response and to assess their arguments. Our readings will include works by some of the most noted western Muslim contemporary leaders, writers and intellectuals, which may include: Saba Mahmood; Tariq Ramadan; Sherman Jackson; Reza Aslan; the novelist Michael Mohammad Knight; Mohammad Arkoun; Bassam Tibi; and graphic novelist Willow Wilson.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay 

Political Islam

Module convenor: Dr Haifaa Jawad

This module is a detailed study and critique of the rise and development of political Islam or Islamism in the Muslim world and beyond. As such, it critically examines and evaluates the origins, roots, theory and history of Islamism. The course assesses the impact and effects of this trend on contemporary Muslim thought. Also, it investigates the causes that have led to the emergence of political Islam, its nature, agendas and role in domestic, regional and international politics. Special emphasis will be placed on the distinction between the worldviews of radical Islamism and moderate Islam. The course will be approached from three angles: governments and their Islamic oppositions, Islamism in power, and the global aspect of political Islam.  

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Religion in Contemporary Global Politics I

Module convenor: Professor Francis Davis

This module focuses on theoretical and conceptual debates about the role of religion in contemporary global politics. Traditionally, the study of political science and international relations has framed the understanding of religion within the context of secularisation and the nation-state. This interpretation is being increasingly contested by the impact of globalisation and the rise of anti-secular movements.

The module critically examines the secularisation thesis as applied to the ‘West’ (developed countries) and the ‘East’ (underdeveloped countries) and evaluate the impact of globalisation on collective religious identities.

Following an introduction to the theoretical perspectives, the module will focus on three particular themes: religious nationalism; religious identities and mobilisation; and religious transnationalism. The module concludes by reflecting on the wider implications for the study of politics and international relations of organised religious movements today.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Religion in Contemporary Global Politics II

Module convenor: Professor Francis Davis

This module examines the public policy responses to the global religious revival since 1989. Although traditionally organised religions have been viewed as the source of intractable political conflicts, in the last decade there has been an increasing recognition of the need to manage religious differences and to utilise religious resources for conflict resolution. Theoretically and conceptually this departure is anchored in the inter-related debates on multiculturalism, pluralism and the need for religious dialogue among the world’s great religions.

Following an examination of these debates and the assumptions underpinning them, the module will evaluate policy response in three contexts: the United Nations system; transnational organisations; and national and local public policy agendas. The module concludes by reflecting critically on the achievements and the limitations of integrating organised religions into public policy implementation. 

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Religious Nationalism

Module convenor: Dr Katherine Brown

This module examines how religious ideologies, practices and institutions have been politically mobilised in the public sphere of states. Divisive social conflict and communal violence have resulted from this mobilisation, challenging conventional secular notions of national identity and political community.

This module asks a series of important questions: How have nationalist, developmental and democratic agendas in the post-colonial era contributed to the emergence of assertive, contentious religious identities? How have religious beliefs, communities, and historical memories been transformed by this mobilization? In what ways have these visions of religious nationalism transformed political, economic and social dynamics?

We will examine a variety of cases to give greater substantive understanding and analytical focus. An indicative but not exhaustive range of examples are the Hindutva and communal violence in India, Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar, and ethno- Islamic radicalism and pogroms in Indonesia, gender and sexual violence of Catholic nationalism in Poland, and the ethno-religious civil war in the Balkans.

Assessment: One 3,000-word essay and one 1,000-word critical evaluation piece

Sikh Perspectives on Interreligious Relations

Module convenor: Dr Jagbir Jhutti-Johal

This module begins by looking at key concepts within Sikhism: God, Guru, Gender Equality, Salvation and Liberation. These concepts will be considered in relation to attitudes to other religions and, what might be called ‘alien contexts’. There will be a special concentration on Sikhism in diasporic contexts, particularly in the British context.

Assessment: Written assignment

The Bible and Sacred Space

Module convenor: Dr Karen Wenell

This module examines spatial concepts within biblical texts (primarily the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, with some reference to other Second Temple and early Christian literature) and critique them using spatial-critical theory. There is an emphasis on the original settings of the texts and related archaeological findings, and also on the history of their interpretation in different contexts, with a focus on contemporary interpretation (including virtual sacred space). Key spatial themes may include, but are not limited to: land, temple, city, country/agricultural space, and empire. The module also deals with the ethics of examining biblical space in light of contemporary political conflicts (Israel/Palestine and Jerusalem in particular).

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

“Women” and Wellbeing: Soulful Dimensions

Module convenor: Dr Deryn Guest

This module explores how women’s wellbeing is compromised by the way ‘woman’ and ‘women’s bodies’ have been defined, constructed and regulated. You will engage with queer and gender theorists in order to analyse how the positioning of ‘woman’ and the construction of associated gendered norms creates docile, subservient bodies and internalised scripts that are contrary to wellbeing.

The module pays specific attention to the spiritual and mental health dimensions of wellbeing and draws on the work of Jungians such as Clarissa Pinkola Estes and Murray Stein, thealogians such as Carol Christ and Melissa Raphael, witches and druids such as Starhawk and Emma Restall Orr, and post-Christian philosophers such as Mary Daly to examine how these voices offer alternative and potentially transformative ways of doing ‘women’.

It should be noted that while ‘women’ are the main focus of the module, the scare quotes indicate that this term is problematised and destabilised. There is no assumption that biological sex determines who counts as ‘woman’.

Assessment: One 4,000-word essay


Please note that the optional module information listed here is intended to be indicative, and the availability of optional modules may vary from year to year, and depending on your programme of study. Where a module is no longer available we will let you know as soon as we can and help you to make other choices.