BA History and Spanish

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Christianity, Modernity, Tradition

Course unit fact file
Unit code RELT20131
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 5
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course provides an overview of the theological, historiographical, and philosophical theories which broach the fruitfully fraught relation between Christianity, modernity and tradition in the western world. Among the theories we will consider include Yves Congar’s conceptualisation of tradition as a dynamic force within modern society, recent historiographic challenges to narratives of modernist disenchantment in the work of James Chappel, Eugene McCarraher and Sarah Shortall, and philosophical reflections on sacred space during the 20th century. In the first part, we will examine the dynamics between tradition and modernisation processes reflected on in the works of authors including Max Weber, Marcel Gauchet and Charles Taylor. In the second part, we will dissect Christian political, economic and social theory, by zooming in on the major challenges that Christian thinkers and institutions faced amidst rapid societal changes during the 19th and 20th centuries. Finally, we will explore how theoretical attempts to integrate Christian frameworks within modernity became manifested in innovative church design in specific case studies in the U.K., France and the U.S.A. after World War II.


 - Introduce students to a wide range of theories and methods to understand the dynamics between key Christian ideas and modern political concepts. 

 - Critically evaluate the impact of religious interventions in the public sphere (human rights institutions, Christian Democratic parliamentary parties, modernist buildings, social action, etc.) 

 - Explore both the convergences and the discontinuities between traditional Christian ideas and modern political concepts. 

 - Show how architecture as a medium can be the physical manifestation of concepts derived from modern religious formulations of the sacred in a number of ways and forms. 



Part 1: Narratives of modernity and tradition from Christian and secular vantage points

  1. Introduction: key concepts, contexts and themes
  2. Max Weber on Protestantism and capitalism
  3. The disenchantment of the world: Marcel Gauchet on the political history of Christianity
  4. Yves Congar on Tradition and traditions
  5. Charles Taylor: A Catholic Modernity?
  6. Part 2: Economy, Politics, Society

  7. Christianity and capitalism I (Europe): Charly Coleman on the political economy of French theology
  8. Christianity and capitalism II (U.S.A.): Eugene McCarraher on capitalism as religion in the U.S.A.
  9. Human rights, personalism and totalitarianism
  10. Part 3: Christianity and Modernist Architecture

  11. Liturgy, labour and the philosophy of history 
  12. Transatlantic encounters between Catholicism and modernist architecture
  13. Modern Catholic churches in post-war Britain

Teaching and learning methods

There will be 11 two-hour lectures covering the historical horizon and key concepts involved. The lectures will be thematically organised and will be integrated with tasks for the students throughout (every 15 minutes). There will be 11 one-hour seminars, which will include a class discussion of a text based on the theme/author of the given week. The tutor will offer questions and prompts which will help guide the students in their reading in advance of the seminars on Blackboard. Students will have the opportunity to consult the tutor during office hours to discuss essay topics and further reading.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Demonstrate an understanding of how religious ideas and historical events are interrelated. 
  • Understand how traditional Christian notions, groups and thinkers influenced both political thought in a modern setting, and transformed that into the built environment. 
  • Gain an understanding of the plurality of intellectual sources which underpin the ‘modern’. 

Intellectual skills

  • Ability to extrapolate different intellectual trends within a given historical paradigm. 
  • Refine skills of critical analysis by writing convincing, cogent essays reflecting on the convergence of different cultural and political conjunctures. 
  • Analyse the relationship between politics, economics, religion and architecture. 
  • Assess the inherent value of different religious, philosophical, historiographic, and aesthetic standpoints. 

Practical skills

  • Enhance research skills by following up on relevant references in the secondary literature and ordering according to relevance of chosen topic. 
  • Time management skills and an ability to prioritise tasks.
  • Develop an ability to compose academic bibliographies.
  • Develop a competence in academic essay writing.
  • Inter-disciplinary research skills.


Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Effectively articulate complex ideas in a concise way in written and oral contexts.
  • Filter relevant information from a variety of disciplines (theology, history, political theory, art history) for specific ends.
  • Work as a part of a team based on group exercises.
  • Enhance capacity for independent research.
  • Visual analysis.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Critical thinking and logical analysis: Ability to extrapolate broader tendencies and see patterns based on an array of specific instances;
Group/team working
Working as a part of a team;
Independent thought;
Research skills;
Ability to reflect on own personal development and dynamically adopt measures based on performance.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 50%
Written assignment (inc essay) 50%

Feedback methods

Written and verbal feedback on essay draft/plan: Formative

Written and verbal feedback on essay and exam: Summative

Additional one-to-one feedback (during the consultation hour or by making an appointment): Formative

Recommended reading

  • Charly Coleman, The Spirit of French Capitalism: Economic Theology in the Age of Enlightenment (Stanford: California University Press, 2021)
  • James Chappel: Catholic Modern: The Challenge of Totalitarianism and the Remaking of the Church (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2018).
  • Marcel Gauchet, The Disenchantment of the World: A Political History of Religion, trans. Oscar Burge (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997).
  • Eugene McCarraher, The Enchantments of Mammon: How Capitalism Became the Religion of Modernity (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2019).
  • Catherine Osborne, American Catholics and the Churches of Tomorrow: Building Churches for the Future, 1925–1975 (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2018).
  • Robert Proctor, Building the Modern Church: Roman Catholic Church Architecture in Britain, 1955 to 1975 (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014).
  • Sarah Shortall, Soldiers of God in a Secular World: Catholic Theology and Twentieth Century French Politics (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2021).
  • Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (Routledge: London and New York, 2001).

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Samuel O'Connor Perks Unit coordinator

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