MA Theology, Imagination & Culture Modules

Both the core module and mandatory module in the MA in Theology, Imagination and Culture run every year with optional modules running every other year in rotation.

All of our MA modules are open to all, so anyone may enrol in a module as an “auditorwithout registering for the full MA programme. An auditor participates in a module in exactly the same way as students on the MA, but does not prepare an essay at the end of it.

See all forthcoming modules in the MA in Theology, Imagination and Culture

Core Module

Theology and Human Culture

This module will engage with the ‘texts’ and practices of human culture and encourage students to explore the nature of the relationship between theology and culture through creative and critical perspectives. Students will be given the opportunity to refine and update their knowledge of theologians and key theological debates as they relate to human culture, show how central themes in theology are expressed through different forms of culture in history and today, and be given the opportunity to critically reflect on human culture through a variety of interdisciplinary perspectives. Students will be introduced to the interface between the divine and human culture and become familiar with the distinct methodological approaches taken within the sociological, philosophical, and theological studies of culture. Students will attend to the interdisciplinary nature of the study of culture from the 17th century to the present day and as such gain an appreciation of the creative interactions between different ways of understanding culture. As the core module, students will also be introduced to relevant research methods and skills as part of their induction to the programme.

Mandatory Module

Text, Interpretation and Imagination

The images, stories, myths and teachings of the Bible have served as a foundation for the Western cultural imagination. The Bible, when read in each new cultural context, both challenges the readers’ cultural assumptions and is challenged by new ways of reading which spring forth from the readers’ distinct perspective. The discipline, art and craft of hermeneutics require that one become sensitive to both the reading of the text and the act of being read by the text. Students will engage in critical and creative hermeneutics as well as a deeper and closer reading of the Biblical texts themselves, and see how these texts inform, and are informed by human creativity. Students will pursue inter textual analysis and offer the opportunity to make comparisons between different types of text (sacred and otherwise) and be encouraged to explore a variety of original and imaginative interpretations of certain biblical texts.

Optional Modules

Relocating Religion: Cultural and Spiritual Realignments (New for 2016/17)

In a so called ‘secular age’ has religion and more specifically Christian faith and belief simply disappeared from public view altogether? Do modern people no longer require the ‘sacred canopy’ of religion to feel at home in the world? Has the idea and practice of religion become so tarnished with notions of religious fundamentalism and extremism or institutional irrelevance and corruption that by and large, in Europe at least, most people leave it to a small minority of others to be religious on their behalf? Or is it the case that spirituality and religion have simply re-located elsewhere? Has popular culture become a more convenient and comfortable location for religion than our institutional churches? Do secular people now find religion in aesthetic experiences or in consumerism? Is it the new technologies of robotics, cybernetics and artificial intelligence where people locate religious motifs and future hopes? Or is secularism itself a by product of Christian freedom and responsibility in the world? In this new module we will examine these and a range of other questions as we seek to examine the equivocation and uncertainty that now surrounds the modern experience and practice of religion in the 21st century.

Re-imagining Church in a Changing Culture

Much has been written about the dramatic decline in Church membership and attendance as evidence of ‘the death of Christian Britain’ since the 1960s to the present day, raising questions about the future of the institutional church in particular and ‘organised religion’ in general. This module aims to go beyond such ‘headlines’ to equip students to understand and critique patterns of decline and growth which are characteristic of the church in the 21st century using both theological and sociological tools. The Church in the UK will be ‘read’ in the wider context of social, religious and cultural change, and compared with the situation in Europe, America and the developing world. Both the challenges facing the contemporary church, and the responses offered, will be critically examined; with particular reference to patterns of community, mission and ministry. This module will enable students to acquire the necessary tools to understand the Church in mission in contemporary culture. It will offer the opportunity to appraise new ways of being Church and assess different types of Church growth both past and present. Students will be encouraged to learn about different cultures and explore different theologies in relation to mission e.g. liberation theologies, black theologies green theologies and the contemporary missional conversation.

Theology and Film

This course will explore the growing field of theology and film. Students will become conversant in the language and history of cinema, noting specifically the unique ways in which film uses technology, editing, framing, and sound to convey meaning. After a brief introduction to film studies, students will then explore the historical relationship between theology and film, with specific reference to the reception (ranging from prohibition to utilisation) of film by the Christian Churches. Students will spend considerable time looking at and studying selected films, allowing students to develop the critical skills helpful for film interpretation and explore possible theological approaches to film criticism. Students will investigate the claims that contemporary film provides an alternative site or location for religion in the context of modern consumer societies.

God, Beauty and Imagination: Theological Aesthetics

The aim of this course is to explore how God, beauty and the imagination have found expression in art, literature and music and how these themes have been reflected in theology. In so doing the module will provide an introduction to some major art-historical epochs and subjects and examine how artists have engaged with and have rendered Christian dogmas, such as the life, death and resurrection of Christ, the Trinity, Mary, the church etc through various means from the Renaissance to the twentieth century. How to interpret works of art, literature and music from a theological perspective will be a central feature in the course. Students will read and discuss relevant writings by contemporary and past theologians relating to themes in theological aesthetics, such as imagination, beauty, divine revelation, truth and meaning, and artistic forms as a locus theologicus.

The Bible: Cultural Critique and Transformation

The Bible is notably the most translated book in human history. Its worldwide popularity has shaped political, economic and cultural relations in societies where it is read. Its entrenchment in history has made it a language for readers, interpreters and textual critics alike who have found the Bible a useful means to address issues of concern within their contexts and so to voice various calls for social and cultural transformation. Despite the fact that the study of the Bible in its different theological forms and genres in the last two centuries, in Europe and N. America at least, has been dominated by issues of historical veracity, reliability and credibility, none of which are unimportant; biblical interpretation, meaning and function must be linked to the various contexts within which the Bible is read and in light of the readers’ experiences, insights and concerns. This module will explore how various groups, including the biblical writers themselves, have employed the biblical text as a language of liberation, reconciliation and social transformation. The cases that will be explored will include: justice for the earth; poverty and economic justice; justice for immigrants; health; gender and sexual justice as well as postcolonial and postmodern critical interrogation of the biblical text. The modalities used to examine and interpret the text will also include art, film, literature and music.

Mass Culture: Theological Engagement and Spiritual Practice

This module considers the phenomenon of mass culture as that which approximates to the actual ‘lived culture’ of millions of people today. The module will explore and discuss topics such as changing patterns of leisure and travel in today’s world as well as technological and media mediated culture which forms the backdrop to spirituality and ‘doing’ theology in our age. In this respect modern mass culture frequently mimics religious modes of orchestrating emotion and creating identity while at the same time seeking legitimization through a variety of grand narratives such as consumerism, globalization and advances in information technology. Particular attention will be paid to various key elements of the mass media and issues to do with media literacy as well as the views of a variety of sociologists, anthropologists, social critics and theologians that seek to interpret the significance and importance of mass culture for contemporary religion and spirituality. This module eschews the standard way of understanding mass culture as that which is either different from, independent of, or over and against popular, folk or high culture, in favour of viewing mass culture as itself a hybrid form of what is often referred to as ‘late modernity.’ In other words the zeitgeist of our age.

Co-validated Modules

Worship, Art and Architecture

From the MA in Christian Liturgy

The space in which Christian worship takes place is influenced by the culture of the age and place as well as ecclesiology. This module will investigate church buildings and their art in significant historical periods in order to highlight the way each artefact is the result of a confluence of variables. The theoretical notion of ‘sacred space’ will be explored and students will be encouraged to reflect upon the use of liturgical space in specific contexts. There will be a guided tour of the architectural features of a church (e.g. Salisbury Cathedral).

Liturgy and Culture

From the MA in Christian Liturgy

This module will investigate the relationship between liturgy and its changing cultural contexts. This is a topic that has become increasingly important for churches as they reassess their relationship to society and for liturgical studies as churches and scholars recognise the significance of cultural context for liturgical development. The module will introduce students to different ways of understanding the relationship between culture and liturgy, and the implications and theological assumptions of each approach. Reflection on these issues will be in relation to liturgical examples and policy documents of the church and their critics. Students will be encouraged to reflect critically on the implications of the material discussed for their own liturgical context.