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Unit information: Belief in Contemporary Society in 2015/16

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Unit name Belief in Contemporary Society
Unit code SPAI30030
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Dan Whillis
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law

Description including Unit Aims

According to postmodernism we are no longer credulous; we no longer believe in big stories. Incorporating elements of the sociology of religion, critical theory, theorisations of late/postmodernity, and the burgeoning field of ‘non-religious spirituality’, this course will ask whether that is true today. Has there been a ‘return of religion’ or, perhaps, an ‘Easternization of the West’? Or are people looking for something like ‘religion without religion’? But, then, why do some think belief is inherently dangerous? And what about the role of bodily practices and emotions in shaping worldviews? Perhaps capitalism is a kind of religion – with money as God and the market as source of divine wisdom? And what role does belief play in resisting capitalism? These are the kinds of questions addressed in this unit. Underpinning it all is a key sociological – and existential – concern with how we believe after postmodernism.

Unit aims:

  • To put contemporary debates about religion, secularism, and belief in context of sociological literature on modernity, postmodernity, neoliberal capitalism, and beyond
  • To introduce questions associated with how people believe in a world of rapid change and increasing uncertainty
  • To develop critical awareness of the persistent ideological underpinnings of contemporary social life

Intended Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of the unit, students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate understanding of the challenges to conventional modes of belief posed by modern and postmodern thought
  • Critically engage with contemporary approaches that problematize belief or a focus on belief alone
  • Apply advanced analytical skills to particular forms of belief in contemporary society
  • Demonstrate appreciation of the role belief can play in enabling social order or social change

Teaching Information

One hour lecture and two hour seminar per week

Assessment Information

Formative assessment

1500 word essay

Summative assessment

3000 word essay

Summative assessment assesses all learning outcomes; formative assessment for student development

Reading and References

Colin Campbell (2007) The Easternization of the West: A Thematic Account of Cultural Change in the Modern Era, Paradigm

John D. Caputo (2001) On Religion, Routledge

Richard Flory & Donald E. Miller (2008) Finding Faith: The Spiritual Quest of the Post-Boomer Generation, Rutgers UP

Philip Goodchild (2002) Capitalism and Religion: The Price of Piety, Routledge

Philip Mellor & Chris Shilling (2014) Sociology of the Sacred: Religion, Embodiment and Social Change, SAGE

Charles Taylor (2007) A Secular Age, Harvard UP