Blasphemy and the Abrahamic Faiths

Module titleBlasphemy and the Abrahamic Faiths
Module codeTHE2195
Academic year2018/9
Module staff

Dr David Tollerton (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

This module will focus on the evolving concept of blasphemy as articulated in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Attention will be given to exploring how notions of blasphemy have historically interacted with understandings of sacredness, and enabled religious communities to establish boundaries of acceptable speech and action. Focus will also be placed on the changing relationship between blasphemy and law, with consideration given to whether governments should legislate against the religiously offensive. As well as examining such concepts more broadly, later parts of the module will focus in detail on a number of case-studies from the last half-century, such as the controversy surrounding Monty Python’s Life of Brian, the publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and the appearance of cartoons depicting Muhammad in the Danish press.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to

  • Provide an understanding of how ideas of blasphemy have developed in relation to the three Abrahamic faiths
  • Explore how religious communities’ interactions with ideas of blasphemy have helped establish what is deemed sacred, where the boundaries of the community lie, and what types of speech and action should be censored
  • Examine questions of how law and governance should interact with religious ideas of blasphemy
  • Provide close analysis of several case-study controversies from recent decades, including those related to the release of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, the publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and the appearance of cartoons depicting Muhammad in Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten newspaper.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Evaluate the relationship between ideas of blasphemy and the self-understanding of religious communities
  • 2. Describe and assess the relationships between law, governance and ideas of blasphemy
  • 3. Demonstrate an understanding of the key dynamics underlying a major modern case-study of controversy caused by material deemed offensive to certain religious communities

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Show an appreciation of the role historical context plays in shaping discussions of acceptable expression
  • 5. Demonstrate an awareness of differing models of social cohesion
  • 6. Evaluate and analyse, with limited guidance, primary and secondary sources

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. Shape detailed information into a clear written account, with some guidance
  • 8. Show coherence and rigour in argument
  • 9. Analyse written sources, with some guidance
  • 10. With guidance, address controversial topics with sensitivity and nuance

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Biblical blaspheming
  • blasphemy in pre-modern Judaism, Christianity and Islam
  • blasphemy and the law
  • ‘the love that dares to speak its name’
  • Monty Python’s Life of Brian
  • Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses
  • the Jyllands-Posten cartoons of Muhammad
  • blasphemy and 21st century Western society

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching22Lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching11Seminars
Guided independent study267Private study


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short case study report1000 words1, 3-10Oral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay402500 words1-2, 4-10Written and oral
Essay603500 words1-10Written and oral


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-2, 4-10Referral/Deferral period
EssayEssay1-10Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • David Nash, Blasphemy in the Christian World: A History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007)
  • Malise, Ruthven, A Satanic Affair: Salman Rushdie and the Rage of Islam (London: Hogarth Press, 1991)
  • Jytte Klausen, The Cartoons that Shook the World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009)
  • S. Brent Plate, Blasphemy: Art that Offends (London: Black Dog, 2006)
  • Richard Webster, A Brief History of Blasphemy: Liberalism, Censorship and The Satanic Verses (Southwold: Orwell Press, 1990)
  • Leonard W. Levy, Treason Against God: A History of the Offense of Blasphemy (New York: Schocken, 1981)

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Blasphemy, sacred, law, expression, Abrahamic

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date