The Sacred in Contemporary Society - TH612

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2019-20
Canterbury Autumn
View Timetable
6 30 (15) MS M Carpenedo







The primary aims of this module are to give students a critical grounding in current cultural theories of the sacred, to provide them with opportunities to explore how these concepts relate to contemporary social and cultural phenomena, and to reflect on how this process might help us to refine cultural theories of the sacred. The module will enable students to distinguish between ontological and cultural theories of the sacred, and will introduce them to key cultural theorists of the sacred such as Durkheim, Shils, Bellah, and Alexander. A range of cases will also be explored to provide students with opportunities to think about how relevant concepts might relate to specific social and cultural phenomena, and to provide a basis for the analytical work they undertake in their assessed work.


This module appears in:

Contact hours

Total contact hours: 40

Method of assessment

Essay (5,000 words) – 50%
Examination (3 hours) – 50%

Indicative reading

Indicative Reading List

Aldridge, A. (2007). Religion in the Contemporary World. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Alexander, J. (2005). The Meanings of Social Life. New York: Oxford University Press.
Durkheim, E. (1995). The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. London: Free Press.
Lynch, G. (2012). On the Sacred. London: Acumen.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module Level 6 students will be able to:

- Demonstrate a critical appreciation of differences between ontological and cultural theories of the sacred in ways that connect systematically with broader theoretical debates in the study of religion;
- Make appropriate use of wider forms of cultural theory (e.g. cultural sociology) to develop nuanced analyses of the nature and significance of the sacred and the profane in the social and cultural conditions of modernity;
- Engage critically with the leading edge of work on the cultural study of the sacred and reflect on its specific strengths and limitations in providing a theoretical framework for analysing contemporary social and cultural life;
- Demonstrate understanding and make use of methodological approaches used by leading theorists of the cultural study of the sacred in ways that both establish their value and limitations for understanding a contemporary cultural phenomenon in terms of the sacred and the profane, as well as the value and limitations of particular methodological approaches more generally.

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