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Study information

The History of Early Christianities

Module titleThe History of Early Christianities
Module codeTHE1110
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Professor Morwenna Ludlow (Convenor)

Professor Emma Loosley Leeming (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This core level 1 module will introduce you to diverse forms of early Christianity (approx. 200-700 CE), both in the Roman Empire and beyond. It will outline a variety of interpretations of Christian beliefs and ways of life, including those which became patterns for later churches and those which did not. You will discover how early Christians disagreed with others and themselves and how they attempted to resolve disagreement.

No prior knowledge is assumed and the module is suitable for anyone interested, particularly those working from historical or literary perspectives in disciplines such as History, Classics/Ancient History, Liberal Arts, as well as in Theology and Religion. All texts are studied in English translation.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to:

  • introduce you to the historical, geographic and cultural contexts in which Christianity developed;
  • introduce you to some important Christian sources from this period (textual and material) and discuss their limitations as evidence;
  • introduce some key figures and outline their significance for later Christianity;
  • outline some of the key theological and philosophical ideas that characterised the early Christian movement and relate them to particular practices and ways of life;
  • enable you to understand something of the diversity of the groups that were part of the early Christian movement(s) and to begin to assess to what extent Christian beliefs and practices were distinctive in their context;
  • outline some of the main contours of scholarly discussion and debate, and introduce you to the disciplines of Patristics, Church History and the study of religion in Late Antiquity through the research findings of the module convenors.

Links to employment: this module will help you develop a response to religious traditions which is supported by appropriate scholarship, but which is respectful of religious and other kinds of diversity. In this way the module will prepare you for the modern work-place in which detailed religious literacy is increasingly prized. By studying early Christianity in a variety of locations (e.g. the Mediterranean, north Africa, the near- and middle-east and the Caucasus), and in contexts both inside and outside the Roman Empire, this module will pay attention to voices and traditions which have not always been part of the European story about Christianity, whilst also assessing that story

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Demonstrate knowledge of key aspects of the emergence of Christianity and its early developments.
  • 2. Demonstrate awareness of key textual and material sources relevant to Early Christianity and issues in their interpretation.
  • 3. Demonstrate understanding of key features of the Christian religion, their diversity and complexity, in this period.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. Demonstrate awareness of the issues involved in using historical sources to understand religion.
  • 5. Demonstrate awareness of how multiple factors influence the historical development of a religion.

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 6. Communicate information about primary sources and their interpretation in writing.
  • 7. Show sensitivity to the diversity of possible interpretations of religiously significant topics.
  • 8. Work collaboratively as part of a group and present a group’s discussions fairly and concisely.
  • 9. Use both textual and material sources.

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, this module will typically cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Christianity’s response to external opposition: the Apologists;
  • Internal tensions: Irenaeus and the Gnostics - orthodoxy and heresy;
  • Persecution: what we do know and what we don’t;
  • The development of the New Testament canon; non-canonical books (e.g. apocryphal Acts);
  • Varieties of Christianity in North Africa: Tertullian and Origen;
  • What difference did a Christian emperor make?
  • Making the desert a city: the beginnings of Christian asceticism;
  • Trying to understand God as three: the doctrine of the Trinity;
  • Augustine and the development of Latin Christianity;
  • Writing, preaching, singing: different ways of addressing your audience: Chrysostom (Antioch, Constantinople) and Ephrem (Syria);
  • How to make a saint: the development of Christian hagiography (esp. Simeon Stylites);
  • Trying to understand Jesus as human and divine: the Christological controversies and their aftermath;
  • Christianity in Palestine (Peter the Iberian; monasteries eastern and western).

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 Teaching33Lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching1Tutorials
Guided Independent Study116Private study and preparation

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group-work in preparation for synchronous teaching sessions At least 6 x 100 word wikis/comments/ contributions to posters1-8Spoken feedback in synchronous teaching sessions

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
Case-study401000 words1-9Written
Essay601500 words1-9Written

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Case-studyCase-study1-9Referral/Deferral period
EssayEssay1-9Referral/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

Basic reading:

  • R. Wilken, Christianity the First Thousand Years: a global history of Christianity (Yale, 2013) e-book 

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Christianity, Late Antiquity, God, Trinity, Jesus Christ, asceticism, pilgrimage, creed, heresy

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


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NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date