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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

THEO44730: Religion in the Neo-Liberal Age

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


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To introduce students to social scientific debates about neo-liberalism and its associated cultural developments.
  • To explore a range of case studies that illustrate how religious organisations and movements have been caught up in these developments and have responded to them.
  • To foster critical reflection on how the cultural embeddedness of contemporary religious phenomena facilitates a constructive, ethical perspective on the future of western societies and the place of religion within them.


  • This module is concerned with neo-liberalism as an account of contemporary society and the relationship of this account to contemporary religious phenomena. It draws on sociological and economic narratives of recent cultural change that foreground the shrinking of the state, increased deregulation of markets and consequent celebration of consumer-oriented capitalism, and traces corresponding social changes that impact upon the construction and negotiation of religious identities within western nations. Conceptually, it begins with Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, whose argument about the relationship between Calvinism and capitalist economics remains relevant to understanding more contemporary patterns of correspondence between consumerism, self-interest and entrepreneurialism on the one hand, and the emergence of particular forms of religious engagement on the other. Beginning with Weber, the module seminars will trace the conceptual debates surrounding the emergence of neo-liberalism as an ideology and as a narrative of social change, reflecting on emerging ethical issues along the way. During the first half of the year, each seminar will focus on a particular theme that represents a cultural development that can be conceived as a corollary of neoliberalism - globalisation, US hegemony, markets and rational choice, populism, securitization – each considered via critical engagement with key scholarly texts. The second half of the year will consider case studies that illustrate how religious movements mirror, embody or challenge these cultural changes, including: US megachurches and business culture; the UK’s Prevent strategy and the political construction of ‘radical’ religion; the Ark Encounter and commercialization of religious pilgrimage; constructions of gender at Hillsong as an expression of evangelical consumption; the Charlie Hebdo and Danish cartoon incidents and their implications for European understandings of citizenship; the support for Donald Trump among white evangelical voters in the US.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Understanding key debates in the sociology of religion relevant to understanding how religious phenomena persist and develop within a neo-liberal age.
  • Understanding recent debates about the changing status of religion within a neo-liberal context.
  • Understanding the complex ways in which a variety of religious phenomena interact with social, cultural and economic developments across the globe.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • The ability to discuss critically the possible relationships between recent cultural developments and expressions of religious identity.
  • The ability to evaluate critically the work of scholars within the social sciences which seeks to make sense of the status of religion within a neo-liberal context.
Key Skills:
  • Communicate complex information and argument in a clear and orderly way.
  • Demonstrate the ability to understand research findings and to contribute to debate at the frontiers of knowledge.
  • Show the capacity to work autonomously and take responsibility for their own learning, including the ability to direct their own study and manage time effectively; and to make critical and discriminatory use of primary research literature.
  • Demonstrate the learning skills needed to undertake original research.

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

  • The seminars will enable students to develop advanced subject-specific knowledge and skills, and in the communication of ideas and critical interpretation of sources. This will be facilitated through peer-group discussion of selected key texts.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 10 1 per fortnight 2 hours 20
Preparation and Reading 280
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 5,000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Contributions to class discussion and informal, short student presentations, short writing exercises.

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