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Themes & Approaches in the Historical Study of Religious Cultures (HI993)


Peter Marshall

Seminar Time: Mondays, 10.00-12.00, Room TBC

Context of Module
Module Aims
Intended Learning Outcomes
Preliminary Bibliography
Context of Module

This team-taught 1-term option complements other modules by focusing on the meanings and significance of 'religion' in a variety of historical settings. Rather than following a chronological structure or dealing with individual denominations, it examines religious issues through (a) the perspectives of different academic disciplines and (b) coverage of key themes. Students will be able to engage with the multiplicity of approaches pursued in the field more generally and by members of the History department in particular.

Module Aims

This postgraduate option aims to:

- widen and deepen students’ understanding of themes in the study of religious cultures across space and time;
- help students develop a conceptual and practical understanding of the skills required by historians and scholars from neighbouring disciplines;
- foster students' ability to undertake critical analysis and formulate hypotheses;
- enable students to produce a piece of critical and reflective historiographical writing.

Intended Learning Outcomes

After completion of this option, students should be in a position to:

- understand the pervasive significance of religion in past societies;
- place European developments into a wider global perspective;
- recognize key approaches and interpretations which different disciplines can bring to the study of religion;
- demonstrate a conceptual and practical understanding of the skills required by Humanities scholars;
- formulate and test hypotheses in a piece of critical and reflective writing.


Week 1: Introduction to the Study of Global Religions

Week 2: Religion and Sociology

Week 3: Sources and Concepts

Week 4: Gender and Religion 

Week 5: Religion and Science

[Reading Week]

Week 7: Religion and Violence

Week 8: Religion and Imperialism

Week 9: Tolerance and Intolerance

Week 10: Conclusions

Illustrative Bibliography

Week 1: Introduction to the Study of Global Religions

Alkhateeb, Firas, Lost Islamic History (London, 2014).

Armstrong, Karen, The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam (London, 2004).

MacCulloch, Diarmaid, A History of Christianity (London, 2009).

Nirenberg, David, Neighboring Faiths, Christianity, Islam and Judaism in the Middle Ages and Today (Chicago, 2014).

Week 2: Religion and Sociology

P. Berger, The Social Reality of Religion (1969).

J. Bossy, Christianity in the West (1985)

P. Collinson, ‘Religion, Society and the Historian’, Journal of Religious History 23 (1999), 149-67

E. Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life: A Study in Religious Sociology (2nd edn, 1976)

K. Marx and F. Engels, On Religion (1974)

M. Weber, ‘Protestant Asceticism and the Spirit of Capitalism’, in W.G. Runciman (ed.), Weber: Selections in Translation (1978), 138-73.

Week 3: Religion and Anthropology

A. Chau, Miraculous response: Doing popular religion in contemporary China (Stanford University Press, 2008)

H. Geertz, ‘An Anthropology of Religion and Magic’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History 6 (1975), 71-89.

C. Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller (English trans., 1980).

M. Jaschok & Shui Jingjun, The history of women's mosques in Chinese Islam (London: Routledge, 2013)

Week 4: Religion and Science

K. Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971)

A. Thomson, The Body of Thought: Science, Religion and the Soul in the Early Enlightenment (2008)

Week 5: Gender and Religion

S. Apetrei, Women, Feminism and Religion in Early Enlightenment England (2010)

S. Morgan, Women, Religion and Feminism in Britain 1750-1900 (2002)

Week 7: Sources & Concepts for Pre-Modern Religion

T. Johnson, ‘Religion’, in: G. Walker (ed.), Writing Early Modern History (London, 2005), 139-58

P. Marshall, ‘Religious Cultures’, in: B. Kümin (ed.), The European World 1500-1800 (2nd edn, London, 2014), 134-45

L. Sangha & J. Willis (eds), Understanding Early Modern Primary Sources (London, 2016)

H. Schilling, ‘Confessionalization’, in his: Religion, Political Culture and the Emergence of Early Modern Society (1992)

Week 8: Communities, Sites and Practices

W. Coster and A. Spicer (eds), Sacred Space in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, 2005)

S. Karant Nunn, The Reformation of Ritual: An Interpretation of Early Modern Germany (1997)

R. von Glahn, The Sinister Way: The Divine and the Demonic in Chinese Religious Culture (2004)

M. Wiesner-Hanks, Christianity and Sexuality in the Early Modern World (2000)

Week 9: Tolerance and Intolerance

O.P. Grell & R. W. Scribner (eds), Tolerance and Intolerance in the European Reformation (2002)

B. Kaplan, Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in Early Modern Europe (2007)


One 6000 word assessed essay, to be submitted by Wednesday 24 April 2019.

Tutors: Peter Marshall,
Term: Spring Term
Day: Monday
Time: 10:00-12:00
Room Tutor's Offices (see Outline Syllabus for room details)