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Durham University

Postgraduate Module Handbook 2021/2022

Archive Module Description

This page is for the academic year 2021-22. The current handbook year is 2022-23

Department: Theology and Religion

THEO44230: Death, Sacrifice, and Prayer

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Not available in 2021/22


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To provide an advanced level introduction to the phenomena of Death, Sacrifice and Prayer from an approach grounded in social anthropology and the sociology of religion while entertaining a strong conversational dialogue with Christian and some other theological and secular traditions.


  • Death and funerary ritual as expressions of core cultural values and theological doctrines, in a variety of ecclesial, world religious, spiritual, and secular contexts.
  • Death rites in contemporary Africa, South Korea, India, and Japan; also Muslim death in several world contexts, including Europe.
  • Contemporary British funerary innovations in cremation, woodland burial, life-celebration, and other forms of body disposal, noting the place of ecclesial, secular, and other forms of ritual celebrant, and studying developments in theories of grief.
  • To provide an account of theories of sacrifice, using classic ethnographic studies of social anthropology as well as aspects of Eucharistic liturgies (including hymnody) in terms of death and life, and of death-conquest.
  • To discuss suicide and assisted dying in European contexts.
  • To discuss the behaviour of prayer in terms of meaning-making, life-meaning, engagement with visible and invisible ‘others’, interior mono-dialogue, identity and emotions.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Acquisition of knowledge of theories of mortality ritual, grief, and sacrifice, and of prayer in terms of emotion, identity and religion.
  • Acquisition of knowledge of practice of certain death rites and British funerary practices.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • The ability to interpret rites and changing patterns of human behaviour through abstract concepts, and to acquire a competence in relating such theoretical knowledge to practical funerary and other life-contexts.
Key Skills:
  • Advanced research skills in obtaining technical knowledge of ritual processes sustaining funerary and sacrificial contexts.
  • Advanced ability in relating some social scientific and theological modes of thought.
  • Advanced ability in reflexive analyses of emotional domains associated with mortality, private and public prayer.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Teaching is through seminars in which the leader will introduce the topic with students expected to participate fully on the basis of prior work on set-reading and thought.
  • Tutorials (on a one-to-one basis) will offer an opportunity for feedback on assigned work.
  • Essays will require students to investigate particular topics, to present their findings in a clear and concise manner and to cite their sources properly, displaying their subject-specific knowledge, subject-specific skills, and key skills.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 10 5 in term 1, 5 in term 2 2 hours 20
Tutorials 4 2 in term 1, 2 in term 2 1 hour 4
Preparation and reading 276
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: <enter text> Component Weighting: %
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
<Essay 5000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

One 5000 word essay.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University