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SP30264: Understanding religion in the contemporary world

[Page last updated: 15 October 2020]

Follow this link for further information on academic years Academic Year: 2020/1
Further information on owning departmentsOwning Department/School: Department of Social & Policy Sciences
Further information on credits Credits: 6      [equivalent to 12 CATS credits]
Further information on notional study hours Notional Study Hours: 120
Further information on unit levels Level: Honours (FHEQ level 6)
Further information on teaching periods Period:
Semester 2
Further information on unit assessment Assessment Summary: ES 60%, PR 40%
Further information on unit assessment Assessment Detail:
  • Presentation 40% (PR 40%)
  • Essay 60% (ES 60%)
Further information on supplementary assessment Supplementary Assessment:
Like-for-like reassessment (where allowed by programme regulations)
Further information on requisites Requisites:
Description: Aims:
1. To give an introductory grounding into the sociology of religion, and more generally the public role of religion in the contemporary world.
2. To give a historical overview of the influence of religion on social and political life in both developed and developing country context.
3. To analyze how religion and its public role is understood by religious actors.
4. To illustrate these debates in the contemporary world globally.

Learning Outcomes:
As a result of this unit students will be better able to:
1. Distinguish the key approaches that inform key debates in the sociology of religion and the debates surrounding its public and private role.
2. Understand the historical role of religion in shaping public policy, social policy and welfare state development in an international comparative perspective
3. Assess key policy challenges in relation to the role of religion in contemporary society around the world
4. Assess the extent to which religion has been a positive or negative force for human civilisation generally.


* To think creatively and analytically;
* To communicate an argument;
* To evaluate others' arguments and research;
* To learn independently and be able to assess own learning needs (i.e. identify strengths and improve weaknesses in methods of learning and studying);
* To critically evaluate and assess research and evidence as well as a variety of other information;
* To gather information, data, research and literature from a number of different sources (i.e. library, web-based, archives etc.);
* To select appropriate and relevant information from a wide source and large body of knowledge;
* To synthesise information from a number of sources in order to gain a coherent understanding;
* To utilise problem solving skills;
* To analyse and evaluate innovative practices in students' relevant degree discipline;
* To effectively and efficiently apply principles of sociological/social policy analysis within a variety of environments;
* To develop study & learning skills (note taking, avoiding plagiarism, using the library, gathering and using information, constructing a bibliography, referencing);
* To develop basic information and computing technology skills (word processing, email, using the web to search for information);
* To develop inter-personal and communication skills;
* To develop essay research, preparation and writing skills;
* To be able to construct a bibliography of varying complexity;
* To develop time-management and administrative skills;
* To develop team and group working skills;
* To reflect upon his/her own academic and professional performance and take responsibility for personal and professional learning and development;
* To solve problems in a variety of situations;
* To manage time effectively and respond to changing demands;
* To prioritise workloads, and utilise long- and short-term planning skills.

This unit offers students a challenging and dynamic introduction to the study of religion in relation to social and political action around the world. It combines case studies from both developed and developing countries. It looks at the major world's religions. The way in which religion has either acted as a basis for new value-systems or is in opposition to other worldviews will underpin the general approach to the teaching of this unit. Critical contemporary issues such as social welfare provision, international security and gender politics will thus be explored. The unit teachers are engaged in cutting edge research in these areas and students will benefit from exposure to rich contemporary research material. Thus, the unit will help stimulate students' critical awareness of current issues of our times within a theoretically-informed inter-disciplinary framework.
The unit is divided into two parts: the first gives students the necessary theoretical and historical grounding in order to engage wiith the practical policy implications of the role of religion in public life. The theoretical perspective introduces students to the main conceptual frameworks for defining religion and thinking about its role in social and political action. To this end, the unit introduces students to the key classical and modern theories in the study of religion and how debates about the public role of religion have developed. The argument that we are now entering a post-secular age whereby religion is enjoying a revival both in academic and political circles will be examined. This theoretical perspective also includes a look at the debates about the relegation of religion to the private sphere and the philosophical and practical implications of this division.
The second part of the unit examines the practical policy applications where the role of religion is shown to be a key determinant of or concern for policy. The specific policy areas which will be studied session by session are: health, education, poverty-reduction, international development and foreign aid, international security, social cohesion and multiculturalism. These will offer students a very broad appreciation of how religion continues to have important significance for the most important spheres of human society, posing not only very real challenges but also potential solutions at personal, local, national and global levels.
Myths will be exploded and received wisdom will be challenged in a context whereby students are equipped with solid social science skills to critically examine major social and political issues.
Lecture Topics
Lecture 1-3: Theoretical perspectives on the Sociology of Religion
Lectures 4-5: Historical perspectives on religion and state development/politics; The Private/Public Problematic
Lectures 6-11: each lecture would deal with a key policy area as follows, health, education, poverty-reduction, international development and foreign aid, international security, social cohesion and multiculturalism.
Suggested Reading
* Dinham, A., Furbey, R. and Lowndes, V. (2009) (eds.) Faith in the Public Realm, The Policy Press
* Jawad, R. (2009) Social Welfare and Religion in the Middle East: A Lebanese Perspective, The Policy Press
* Jawad, R. (2012) Religion and Faith-based welfare in the UK: From Wellbeing to Ways of Being, The Policy Press
* Beckford, J. and Demerath (2009) The Sage Handbook of the Sociology of Religion, Sage
* Clarke, G. and Jennings, M. (2008) Development, Civil Society and Faith-Based Organisations, Palgrave Macmillan
* Trigg, Roger (1998) Rationality and Religion: Does Faith Need Reason?, Blackwell, Oxford.
Further information on programme availabilityProgramme availability:

SP30264 is Optional on the following programmes:

Department of Politics, Languages and International Studies
  • UHPL-AYB13 : BA(Hons) French and Politics with Year Abroad (Year 4)
  • UHPL-AYB12 : BA(Hons) German and Politics with Year Abroad (Year 4)
  • UHPL-AYB16 : BA(Hons) Italian ab initio and Politics with Year Abroad (Year 4)
  • UHPL-AYB15 : BA(Hons) Russian ab initio and Politics with Year Abroad (Year 4)
  • UHPL-AYB17 : BA(Hons) Spanish and Politics with Year Abroad (Year 4)
  • UHPL-AFB30 : BSc(Hons) Politics and International Relations (Year 3)
  • UHPL-AAB30 : BSc(Hons) Politics and International Relations with Study year abroad (Year 4)
  • UHPL-AKB30 : BSc(Hons) Politics and International Relations with Year long work placement (Year 4)
  • UHPL-AFB10 : BSc(Hons) Politics with Economics (Year 3)
  • UHPL-AAB10 : BSc(Hons) Politics with Economics with Study year abroad (Year 4)
  • UHPL-AKB10 : BSc(Hons) Politics with Economics with Year long work placement (Year 4)
Department of Social & Policy Sciences
  • UHSP-AFB14 : BSc(Hons) Applied Social Studies (Year 3)
  • UHSP-AFB16 : BSc(Hons) Social Policy (Year 3)
  • UHSP-AKB16 : BSc(Hons) Social Policy with Year long work placement (Year 4)
  • UHSP-AFB05 : BSc(Hons) Social Sciences (Year 3)
  • UHSP-AKB05 : BSc(Hons) Social Sciences with Year long work placement (Year 4)
  • UHSP-AFB04 : BSc(Hons) Sociology (Year 3)
  • UHSP-AKB04 : BSc(Hons) Sociology with Year long work placement (Year 4)
  • UHSP-AFB10 : BSc(Hons) Sociology and Social Policy (Year 3)
  • UHSP-AKB10 : BSc(Hons) Sociology and Social Policy with Year long work placement (Year 4)


  • This unit catalogue is applicable for the 2020/21 academic year only. Students continuing their studies into 2021/22 and beyond should not assume that this unit will be available in future years in the format displayed here for 2020/21.
  • Programmes and units are subject to change in accordance with normal University procedures.
  • Availability of units will be subject to constraints such as staff availability, minimum and maximum group sizes, and timetabling factors as well as a student's ability to meet any pre-requisite rules.
  • Find out more about these and other important University terms and conditions here.