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Study information

The Medieval Reformation: Context

Module titleThe Medieval Reformation: Context
Module codeHIH3278
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Professor Sarah Hamilton (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks



Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

The profound political, religious, social and economic changes Western Society and the Church underwent in the years between 900 and 1215 are described as the ‘Medieval Reformation’; the lives of the clergy and of ordinary lay people were transformed as the Church became a separate entity. This module explores the modern debates about the nature of these changes in how men and women across the Latin West experienced Christianity. Topics considered include heresy, clerical and monastic reform, saints’ cults, crusades, pilgrimage and heresy.

No prior knowledge is required.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module investigates the changes which occurred in how Christianity was delivered to, and practiced by the laity, and the role which the laity played as active agents in promoting such changes, in the European Latin West in the period c.900-c.1215. These years have variously been described as the medieval reformation or even the first European revolution. They are ones in which both the lives of the clergy and those of ordinary lay people were transformed. It will explore the debates in the modern historiography surrounding key issues including the reform of the lives of both priests and monks; the creation of parish communities; saints’ cults, pilgrimage and crusades; and the heretical movements of eleventh and twelfth centuries.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Evaluate the different complex themes in the history of the medieval reformation and to assess the importance of the medieval reformation in the development of European history and culture
  • 2. Make close specialist evaluation of the key developments within the period, developed through independent study and seminar work

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 3. Analyse the key developments within a particular historical environment
  • 4. Focus on and comprehend complex issues
  • 5. Understand and deploy relevant historical terminology in a comprehensible manner
  • 6. Develop a detailed awareness of the complex reasoning inherent in the discourse of the period

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 7. Conduct independent and autonomous study and group work, including presentation of material for group discussion, developed through the mode of learning
  • 8. Digest, select and organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment
  • 9. Present complex arguments orally

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:

  • Introduction (to the main developments of the period)
  • What do we mean by reform? (ideas of reform and revolution)
  • Parish church and local community (policing the local community; foundation of local churches)
  • Reform of the pastoral clergy (distinguishing the clergy from the laity: clerical celibacy and other expectations of clerical behaviour; clerical roles in secular life)
  • Reform of the regular clergy (monastic and canonical reform; new orders; hermits; nuns)
  • Lay piety (public rites; private prayers; confraternities)
  • Lay enthusiasm (cult of saints; pilgrimage; crusade)
  • Discipline and belief (heretical beliefs; penance and excommunication)
  • Lateran IV and conclusions

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 teaching4422 x 2 hour seminars.
Guided independent study256Reading and preparation for seminars, coursework and presentations

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Seminar discussionOngoing through course1-7, 9Oral feedback from tutor and fellow students

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
Portfolio of two assignments70Combined total of 4000 words1-8Oral and written feedback
Assignment302500 words1-8Oral and written feedback

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Portfolio of 2 assignments (totalling 4000 words)Portfolio of 2 assignments (totalling 4000 words)1-8Referral/Deferral period
Written assignment (2500 words)Written assignment (2500 words)1-8Referral/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

  • John Arnold, Belief and Unbelief in Medieval Europe (London: Hodder Arnold, 2005).
  • Brenda Bolton, The Medieval Reformation (London: Edward Arnold, 1983).
  • Giles Constable, The Reformation of the Twelfth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996).
  • Kathleen G. Cushing, Reform and the Papacy in the Eleventh Century: Spirituality and Social Change (Manchester: Manchester UP, 2005).
  • Heinrich Fichtenau, Living in the Tenth Century: Mentalities and Social Order (Chicago: Chicago UP, 1991).
  • Sarah Hamilton, Church and People in the Medieval West (Routledge: Abingdon, 2013).
  • R. I. Moore, The First European Revolution c.970-1215 (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000).
  • André Vauchez, The Laity in the Middle Ages: Religious Beliefs and Devotional Practices (London: University of Notre Dame Press, 1993).

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

At least 90 credits of History at level 1 and/or level 2

Module co-requisites

HIH3277 The Medieval Reformation (Sources)

NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date