Blasphemy: Sex, Scandal and Religion - TH646

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2020 to 2021.


In this module we will be looking at famous and obscure blasphemy cases, and asking why an old concept like 'blasphemy' continues to be so powerful today. We will analyse a range of recent cases in a variety of media, including Monty Python's Life of Brian; The Satanic Verses; the Danish Cartoon Affair; Visions of Ecstasy; the Charlie Hebdo massacres in 2015; public Femen demonstrations; Pussy Riot; Bezhti; and the Gay News controversy over the homoerotic poem 'The Love that Dares to Speak its Name’. But we will also be looking at blasphemy in historical and global contexts. How have old British colonial laws been developed in Pakistan and India, for example? When was the last execution and imprisonment for blasphemy in the UK? ‘Blasphemy’ will be explored as a flashpoint for major controversies at the heart of modern democracies. These include the conflict between freedom of religion and freedom of speech, and the conflict between religion and sexual freedom.


This module appears in the following module collections.

Contact hours

Total Contact Hours: 30

Method of assessment

This module will be assessed by 100% coursework.
• Essay 1 (1,000 words) – 25%
• Essay 2 (3,000 words) – 75%

Indicative reading

Indicative Reading List

Asad, Talal, Wendy Brown, Judith Butler and Saba Mahmood, 2009. Is Critique Secular? Blasphemy, Injury and Free Speech. New York: Fordham.
Butler, Judith, 1997. Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative. London: Routledge.
Grenda, Christopher, Chris Beneke and David Nash (eds.), 2014. Profane: Sacriligeous Expression in a Multicultural Age. Oakland: University of California Press.
Lawton, David, 1993. Blasphemy. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Levy, Leonard, 1995. Blasphemy: Verbal Offense Against the Sacred From Moses to Salman Rushdie. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Nash, David, 2010. Blasphemy in the Christian World: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Plate, Brent, 2006. Blasphemy: Art that Offends. London: Black Dog.
Taylor, Joan, 2015. Jesus and Brian: Exploring the Historical Jesus and his Times via Monty Python's Life of Brian. London: Bloomsbury.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module Level 5 students will be able to:
8.1 Demonstrate an understanding of the key dynamics underlying public cases of 'blasphemy';
8.2 Demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between ideas of blasphemy and the self-understanding of religious communities;
8.3 Demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between ideas of blasphemy and secularity, especially freedom of speech;
8.4 Evaluate the relationship between historical context and (changing) ideas of acceptable expression;
8.5 Demonstrate an understanding of the changing legislation on blasphemy and hate speech.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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