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Study information

Philosophers, Prophets, and Mystics in French Culture

Module titlePhilosophers, Prophets, and Mystics in French Culture
Module codeMLF3078
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Professor Hugh Roberts (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

On the night of 23 November 1654, one of the most brilliant mathematicians and scientists of all time, Blaise Pascal, had a vision that he recorded in a short note: ‘Fire – God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and the scholars’. This intense religious experience altered the course of Pascal’s life and led him to write his celebrated Pensées. You will study an eclectic range of texts that engage with philosophy, prophecy, and mysticism, including two wide-ranging chapters from Montaigne’s Essais, Pascal, Diderot’s exploration of human consciousness through dreaming, Le Rêve de d’Alembert, and selected works by the twentieth-century philosopher, activist and mystic, Simone Weil. Your studies conclude with Verne’s playful yet scientifically prescient account of a manned trip to the moon, De la terre à la lune.

Module aims - intentions of the module

  • To explore an eclectic range of French texts, to study how they deal with related themes.
  • To develop research and critical reading skills, including an awareness of historical context.
  • To gain an understanding of relevant philosophical and theological issues, as well as of debates surrounding prophecy.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Demonstrate in-depth knowledge of a selection of French texts and their exploration of related themes
  • 2. Make comparisons between French texts from different historical periods
  • 3. Show understanding of early modern French language

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. After initial input from the course tutor, apply and evaluate critical approaches to the material under analysis independently
  • 5. Argue at length and in detail about an aspect of the topic, supporting the argument with evidence from the text and with opinions from secondary literature
  • 6. Use a range of literary-critical terminology, applying it to independently researched material as well as to material introduced by the course tutor
  • 7. Access and use critically printed and, where appropriate, electronic learning resources identified as useful by the course tutor; find independently and evaluate critically other relevant resources
  • 8. Analyse texts in the TL, showing awareness of their relation to the social, historical and generic context in which they were written, and present the results orally/in writing

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 9. Undertake independent researches on the basis of a taught course
  • 10. Adopt a critical approach to the selection and organisation of a large body of material in order to produce, to a deadline, a written or oral argument of some complexity
  • 11. Present a cogent and sustained argument orally / in writing on an aspect of the subject of the student's own choosing, and selecting appropriate methods of exposition
  • 12. Using bibliographical material provided, select, plan and carry out a programme of study leading to an essay / presentation on a chosen topic, to a specified length and deadline

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:

Lectures will introduce you to the authors, themes and historical context. Seminars will involve in-depth study of selected passages from the primary texts. An indicative plan would be: an introductory lecture, followed by 2 weeks on selected essays by Montaigne; 2 weeks on Pascal’s Pensées; 2 weeks on Diderot’s Le Rêve de d’Alembert; 2 weeks on works by Simone Weil; 1 week on Verne’s De la terre à la lune; 1 week for 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 Teaching16Lectures, seminars and conclusion
Guided Independent Study134Private study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay plan750 words1-12Written and oral feedback

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
Essay1003000 words1-12Written feedback

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-12Referral/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

  • Michel de Montaigne, ‘Du repentir’ and ‘De l’experience’, Essais, book III (first published 1588) [ chapters available via ELE]
  • Blaise Pascal, Pensées (first published1666), ed. by Philippe Sellier and Gérard Ferreyrolles (Livre de Poche, 2000)
  • Denis Diderot, Le Rêve de d’Alembert (1769), ed. by Carlos Duflo (Flammarion, 2003)
  • Simone Weil, ‘Réflexions sur le bon usage des études scolaires en vue de l’Amour de Dieu’ and ‘Autobiographie spirituelle’ (1942) and other short texts [made available via ELE]
  • Jules Verne, De la Terre à la Lune (1865) (Livre de Poche, 2001)  

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

  • The library has good resources for secondary reading; in addition, selected chapters and articles will be made available via ELE.

Key words search

consciousness; dreaming; attention; meditation; philosophy; religious experience

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

MLF2001 or equivalent or native-speaker competence

Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date