Year 1

Compulsory modules: 

Introduction to the Study of Religion A and B (10 credits and 10 credits)

These modules seek to introduce students to a range of questions, theories and methods in the inter-disciplinary study of religion, focusing especially on the social and cultural analysis of religion. A range of contemporary topics will be used to explore how different aspects of religion can be explored as forms of social and cultural experience and practice. Examples of this in module A might include debates about faith schools, women’s leadership in religious institutions, sectarian violence in football, belief in the supernatural. In module B, examples of this include the ways in which religion and media interact, the place of visual and material culture in religion, the relationship between religion and popular culture, and the nature of religious experience, ritual and sacred space as lived phenomena. An introduction is also offered to wider theories and debates in sociology, cultural studies and anthropology as a basis for the study of religion.

Problems of Philosophy A and B (10 credits and 10 credits)

This module introduces a range of key philosophical problems most of which practically everyone with a philosophical temperament has puzzled over before:

  • Scepticism (how can I know anything at all about the world?);
  • Free will (how can I think and act freely, if all my thoughts and actions are determined by the laws that govern the Universe?) The existence of God (does S/He exist?);
  • Realism vs antirealism (to what extent is reality distinct from how it appears?);
  • The mind/body problem (is the mind just the brain?);
  • Personal identity (what is it about you that makes you the same person as you were years ago?);
  • Utilitarianism vs. Deontology (are actions morally right and wrong ‘in themselves’, or are they so just because of the effects they have on people’s happiness, etc.?);
  • Ethical obligation (how much should we help people much worse-off than ourselves?);
  • Moral relativism (are moral values absolute or do they vary from one culture/person to others?);
  • The requirements of justice (Who should have what?).

Understanding Politics (20 credits)

This is an introductory course designed to familiarise students with a broad spectrum of theories, approaches and issues related to the concept of power and contemporary political ideas. The aim is to provide students with a solid foundation of key skills and knowledge upon which they can build their own perspectives on a number of themes and issues which they are likely to encounter over the course of their degree programme. The course is divided into two main parts - the first part looks at different conceptions of politics and power, whilst the second half of the course examines a number of contemporary ideas and political issues.

Optional modules may include:

(choose 20 credits in each group) 

Group A (Theology and Religion):

Introduction to Islam (20 credits)

The module examines Islam both as a religious tradition and also as a political and social reality. In semester 1, the main topics surveyed include: Islamic history in the early and classical period, the Prophet Muhammad and the first Islamic community, the Qur’an, the Prophet’s Hadith, early religious and political developments, Sunni and Shi’i Islam. In semester 2, the main topics surveyed include: Islamic history in the early modern and modern period, women in Islam, Islam in the modern world, radical and militant Islam and particular issues associated with Muslims, such as apostasy and radicalisation.

Political Theologies: Wealth, Race and Gender (20 credits)

This new optional first year module provides students with an opportunity to explore the ways in which theologies have understood the character and meaning of political life, including pressing contemporary issues of wealth, race and gender. Students will gain an understanding of the various ways that politics and political community are conceived theologically, and the ways that critical commentators have identified and responded to concrete threats to community formation from contemporary ideologies. A key question which students will explore is “what builds or destroys communities?” and student learning will include addressing specific issues in order to explore underpinning theoretical concerns in theological political philosophy.

How Do We Know What (We Think) We Know About the Holocaust? (20 credits)

This module explores the ways in which those who lived and died through what is now known as ‘the Holocaust’ or ‘Shoah’ often fundamentally disagreed over how to interpret the meaning and significance of events, and what constituted the most appropriate way(s) to respond. Similarly sharp disagreements between scholars researching and writing about Nazism, the Third Reich and the Holocaust with the benefit of hindsight, even to the extent of disputing the meaning and significance of key primary sources. A sound grasp of the history (‘what happened’) is a necessary foundation for studying the Holocaust, but it is also important to bear in mind the impact of context (e.g., geographical, political, religious). During the module we will explore topics such as the ‘politics’ of defining ‘the Holocaust’, the nature of non-Jewish victimhood; policies of inclusion and exclusion in the Third Reich, Nazi eugenics and the ‘racial state’; the ‘Holocaust by bullets’ and the role of the Einsatzgruppen in the occupied Soviet Union; the role of the Judenräte (Jewish councils) in German-occupied Poland; how ‘the Holocaust’ was understood differently from the perspective of victims and perpetrators, both at the time and with the benefit of hindsight; the ‘grey zone’ and whether it is possible to be both a victim and a perpetrator. This module seeks to develop students’ ability to read texts (both written and visual) critically yet sensitively. In evaluating sources it is important to ask who produced them and why. We will analyse a range of primary sources, which may include written texts (in different genres, produced by a range of participants, for a variety of purposes), photographs, art, film, memorials; the challenges in ‘reading’ and/or interpreting them, and ongoing controversies over how they are used and ‘misused’. 

Life After Death: What Happens When We Die? (20 credits)

Life after death is a perennial interest but especially for religious communities. Who doesn’t want to know what happens when they die? And, for many, the whole point of being religious is in order to gain access to heaven. This class will look about the development of ideas about the afterlife in a variety of ancient and modern religions. It will look at how what people think about immortality is reflective of their social and cultural values, legislative and ethical systems, and social hierarchies. Examining what people say about life after death can tell us a great deal about how people respond to crisis and process grief; it reflects how various groups value (or not) gender, disability and race; and can tell us about our own anxieties about who we are and who we want to be.

Truth, Deception and Ethics in Philosophy and Film (20 credits)

This module addresses central issues at the intersection of philosophy, religion and ethics. These include the impact of faith and trust on action, the problem of being deceived (by religious and governmental institutions, or by oneself), the possibility of ethics under conditions of radically incomplete knowledge, and the role of revelation in moral choices. The class is structured around three philosophical texts and four films. These will vary from year to year. Indicative texts are excerpts from Plato's Republic, Descartes' Meditations, Kierkegaard's Concluding Unscientific Postscript. Indicative films include Twelve Monkeys, Dark City, The Matrix, Memento. The themes explored may include illusion, appearance and reality, perception, deception, memory, trust, and faith - although these may vary from year to year. The themes in the philosophical classic texts will be analysed in the films, and students will produce film reviews that correlate the texts and the films through the themes. The module will incorporate an ‘essay skills’ component, which will include exercises in précis, referencing, structure, first and second drafts, among others. Students will have an opportunity to present drafts or rough cuts for class discussion, which will neither be compulsory, nor summatively assessed.

Group B (Politics):

Debates in World Politics I and II (10 credits and 10 credits)

This module aims to provide students with an applied understanding of prominent ideas and debates within current comparative world politics and international relations. It focuses on the latest dilemmas confronting policymakers, experts and activists, including cooperation and conflict, technological change, social forces and movements, institutions, policies and practices. Students will develop a variety of skills, particularly with regard to case studies and comparative analysis, and offers the necessary grounding for further study in politics, international relations and political economy.
Debates in World Politics I will explore the ability of states to make decisions in an increasingly globalised world, and will consider contemporary challenges to governance.Debates in World Politics II will explore the idea of order and will consider the development of the concept of security, and the shift in discussion from territorial to human security.

Global History (20 credits)

This module introduces students to some of the principal events, problems and actors in the history of global politics. It enables students to analyse and contextualise some of the significant milestones which have influenced the trajectory of international relations. The module also encourages students to contemplate constructive ways to reflect on global history and on what it means for the present and future of international politics.By the end of the module students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate a familiarity with a number of key historical events and/or periods;
  • Engage with key debates pertaining to global history;
  • Show an ability to set these topics in global context;
  • Critically analyse and evaluate the significance of selected historical episodes.

Introduction to Political Theory (20 credits)

Political theory tackles the fundamental questions that underlie our political systems. It examines concepts like freedom, equality, rights, and social justice and looks at how these and other concepts have been framed, and what this means for how real world politics should be understood. This module introduces you to political theory through considering these and other key concepts and ideas. You will explore different ways in which they have been framed. You will use them to examine your own understandings of real-world challenges. You should finish the course ready to look more deeply into political questions and with new conceptual tools to help you in your studies of Politics.At the end of the module the student should be able to:

  • Understand key political theory concepts;
  • Analyse real-world cases using these concepts;
  • Develop their own political theoretic responses to real-world questions and frame these into coherent arguments;
  • Critically analyse and evaluate the significance of selected historical episodes.

Understanding International Relations (20 credits)

In this module, you are introduced to the study of international politics and the main approaches, theories and debates in the discipline of International Relations. The main aims of this module are both to introduce you to some of the main issues of international politics, such as war and peace, development, regional integration and security, and to make you familiar with different ways to conceptualise and analyse these issues. This means that a substantial part of this module is devoted to the introduction of the main traditional theories of International Relations and the concepts they use. Studying international politics is theoretical, one of the central messages throughout the course is that different theoretical approaches generate different images of the world that build on particular assumptions. Therefore, while you may think you know what the current problems of international politics are and how to solve them, one of the aims of this course is to alert you to other ways of seeing things. This should allow you to make a more confident decision about your own stance towards particular issues and to analyse these issues more thoroughly, but it should also make you question both your own as well as others’ representations of the world.

Group C (Philosophy):

The Philosopher's Toolkit A or B (20 credits)

This module will equip you with the tools you need to understand, analyse and respond to different kinds of philosophical argument. In the first half of the module, we will investigate topics such as critical thinking, probability, interdisciplinarity, necessity & analyticity and the nature of explanation. In the second half of the module, it splits into two pathways. Students on one pathway will learn symbolic logic - the formal study of argument, which concentrates on proving things using abstract formulas such as ‘"x[Gx → Fx]’. The other pathway avoids formal proofs, but aims to use ordinary language to introduce students to the logical concepts they will need to understand the more technical philosophy they will encounter later in their degree.

Reasons to Believe (20 credits)

How should we decide what to believe, and what does it take for our beliefs to constitute knowledge? These questions belong primarily to epistemology, and the module covers some quintessential epistemological topics such as the characterisation of knowledge, scepticism, internalism vs. externalism, coherentism vs. foundationalism, perception, testimony and a priority. Another place to look for insights into knowledge is the philosophy of science, and so the module also includes a cursory introduction to the philosophical theory of scientific methodology.One important category of beliefs that is especially difficult to understand in traditional epistemological (or philosophy of science) terms is religious beliefs. Some theists propose theoretical arguments for the existence of god; others maintain that religious belief is a matter not of argument but of faith. The module incorporates critical introductions to both of these approaches to religious belief.

Moral and Political Philosophy (20 credits) 

One half of this module is mainly concerned with normative ethical theories about what is the right thing to do, and what it is to be a good person. Theories covered in the module are likely to include consequentialist theories including utilitarianism, deontological theories including Kantianism, and virtue-based approaches to ethics. The other half is concerned with the question of political obligation: whether there is such a thing as legitimate state power. This question will be approached by studying some of the major philosophers who have tried to provide a justification for state power, such as Plato, Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. It will also look at some critiques of political obligation based on anarchism and/or feminism.

Philosophical Traditions (20 credits)

Most modules taught at philosophy departments in the UK examine the views of contemporary philosophers working in the ‘analytic tradition’. This module breaks this tradition and gives an introduction to alternative views. It also provides students with a taste of different – sometimes less conventional - approaches. The different traditions of doing philosophy that can be discussed on this module include both different historical approaches (including Pre-Socratic and Classical Philosophy, Medieval Philosophy, Early Modern Philosophy, Post Kantian Philosophy) and traditions from different cultures (including Continental Philosophy and various traditions in Eastern Philosophy, African and Latin American Philosophy). Because the module is research-led and because there are so many different traditions, each year the exact content will vary depending upon the module convenor. Normally, the module will focus on one or two traditions in depth. The aim of the module is to introduce to the students the historical and cultural contexts of the relevant traditions, their key figures and texts, and their main questions and central views.