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Unit information: Magic and the Abrahamic Religions in 2021/22

Unit name Magic and the Abrahamic Religions
Unit code THRS20222
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Burberry
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Religion and Theology
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

This unit will explore the practice of magic – including ritual healing, love-charms, exorcism and beliefs about evil spirits, divination, wonder-working, etc. – in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Alongside this, it will consider theoretical questions about the nature of magic, principally what it is (e.g. the problem of essentialist definitions, emic and etic perspectives, ‘magic’ as a pejorative or othering category) and how it works (e.g. speech-act theory, magic as a technology).

The unit aims to familiarise students both with relevant primary sources from each religious tradition, including written amulets, magic recipe-books, and narrative or didactic descriptions of magic activity; and with the history of the treatment of magic in modern scholarship, tracing the story of how a subject once widely dismissed as unworthy of serious study is now receiving the scholarly attention it deserves.

The unit will largely focus on the Eastern Mediterranean region from antiquity to the mediaeval period, as this will facilitate fruitful comparisons between magic in each religion, and also make the most of current scholarship.

Each week will focus on a different theme, for example: definitions of magic, religious prohibitions against magic, or magic and medicine. The theme will be introduced in a lecture, and then more in-depth study of particular relevant sources will take place in a seminar. Students will thus have the opportunity to work on their seminar skills, and also, through the summative assessment, on their written skills.

This unit therefore aims to:

  • Give students a solid understanding of magical practices within Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the ancient and medieval periods.
  • Give students a broad awareness of the ways in which magic has been addressed in recent scholarship.
  • Introduce students to a range of sources which shed light on magic, and develop their ability to analyse them.
  • Further develop students’ abilities to express their ideas orally and in writing

Intended Learning Outcomes

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

  1. Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of concepts and practices of magic in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
  2. Use primary and secondary sources to critically analyse and compare the nature and role of magic in these contexts.
  3. Apply and evaluate scholarly definitions and theories of magic.
  4. Demonstrate skills in reading, researching, and presenting complex material relating to these matters.
  5. Demonstrate an independent approach to designing, researching, and completing an essay.

Teaching Information

Classes will involve a combination of long- and short-form lectures, class discussion, investigative activities, and practical activities. Students will be expected to engage with readings and participate on a weekly basis. This will be further supported with drop-in sessions and self-directed exercises with tutor and peer feedback.

Students will have the opportunity to practise their oral presentation skills, to work on their seminar skills, and also, through the summative assessment, on their written skills. 

Assessment Information

Formative assessments where completion is required to award credit:

1 x 2000 word portfolio [ILOs 1, 3, 5]

Summative assessments:

1 x 2500 word essay (100%) [ILOs 1-5]


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. THRS20222).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.