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Unit information: Ancient and Modern Paganism in Britain (Level I Special Field) in 2015/16

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Unit name Ancient and Modern Paganism in Britain (Level I Special Field)
Unit code HIST26002
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Reeks
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

The practical aim of this unit is to make a concentrated study of what is known of the ancient religions of the island of Britain, and the impact that they have had on the imagination of the British in modern times. It opens by considering the evidence for the religious practices of the Iron Age, goes on to those of the Roman province of Britain, and includes those of the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings. It then examines the allegations that ancient paganism survived ‘underground’ in the Middle Ages. The final part of the unit is concerned with the impact of the old religions on the modern literary imagination, and the process by which a group of modern pagan traditions appeared in twentieth-century Britain.

It intellectual aim is to train participants in the study of historical phenomena for which primary evidence is prone to differing interpretation, and to enhance their sense of ways in which the historical past is constructed by posterity. They are encouraged to take a broad approach to the subject but are also permitted to specialise in a particular area if they wish.

Intended Learning Outcomes

  • participants will become effective in dealing with questions and issues on which objective and agreed answers are difficult to obtain, and for which as yet no body of established textbooks and prescribed views exist.
  • They will learn to work with a wide range of primary source material, including archaeological evidence, Roman inscriptions, medieval Welsh tales, Anglo-Saxon poetry, Viking sagas and Victorian novels.
  • They will come to appreciate more than before how much historical hindsight and contemporary preoccupations can prescribe views of the past, even among professional scholars.

Teaching Information

By the end of the unit students should have:

  • identified, analysed, and deepened their understanding of the significance of key themes
  • understood the historiographical debates that surround the topic
  • learned how to work with primary sources
  • developed their skills in contributing to and learning from discussion in a small-group environment

Assessment Information

1 x 2 hour exam

Reading and References

  • Davidson, H., The Lost Beliefs of Northern Europe (1993)
  • Green, M., The Gods of the Celts (1986)
  • Green, M., Exploring the World of the Druids (1998)
  • Henig, M., Religion in Roman Britain (1984)
  • Hutton, R., The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles (1991)
  • Hutton, R., The Triumph of the Moon (1999)