We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

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

THEO45715: Researching Religion and Belief: Reflexivity, Ethics and Identity

Type Open Level 4 Credits 15 Availability Available in 2021/22


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules


  • To familiarise students with the distinct questions and challenges that arise from the social scientific study of phenomena understood as religious, or oriented around faith or belief.
  • To develop skilful critical engagement with a selection of social scientific scholarship on movements of religion and belief.
  • To develop a capacity for negotiating the challenges associated with researching religion and belief, focusing on questions of method, reflexivity and ethics.


  • This module focuses on the distinct challenges of researching human experiences commonly classified in terms of religion, faith or belief. It rests on the observation that the study of movements founded on value convictions or worldviews outside of the dominant mainstream present particular challenges for research. Proceeding from debates within sociology and anthropology, it addresses how social scientific methods may be applied to these experiences and how challenges related to ethical responsibility, researcher identity, and embedded assumptions about truth, knowledge and reality might be best managed within the context of an empirical research project. In pursuing these questions, the theme of reflexivity remains central, and students are encouraged to reflect critically on how studying religion and belief phenomena demands consideration of how competing assumptions and identities may be responsibly handled. Case studies will be drawn from research undertaken by teaching staff, including such topics as religion and postcolonial encounter; the relationship between theology and ethnography; ‘belief’ as a category of research; the social construction of religious deviance; and making sense of spiritual experience.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • A critical understanding of the issues involved in the social scientific study of religion and belief.
  • An awareness of the methodological challenges associated with this task.
  • An understanding of debates about ethics and responsibility relevant to this task.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • The ability to read scholarship in the social scientific study of religion and belief critically.
  • The ability to engage in empirical research involving religious communities, places and artifacts.
  • The ability to write about religious/belief-based phenomena ethnographically.
Key Skills:
  • Development of analytical insight, the ability to engage critically with written, visual and auditory presentations of research.
  • The ability to both engage with communities and reflect on their own practice of engagement.

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

  • Seminar-style lectures so as to enhance subject-specific knowledge and understanding through engagement with primary texts, promoting awareness of different approaches and hermeneutical perspectives, improving skills in the analysis of texts, concepts and arguments.
  • Summative essay assesses subject-specific knowledge and understanding by engaging carefully with primary material and relevant secondary literature.
  • Formative assessment portfolio enables students to gather, organise and present primary data.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lecture/Seminar 5 1 per fortnight 2 hours 10
Preparation and Reading 140
Total 150

Summative Assessment

Component: Summative Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay (Epiphany Term) 2,500 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Students will be asked to submit a log (either video, photographic or textual) of their own research ethnographic exploration.

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