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Unit information: Early and Modern Paganism in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Early and Modern Paganism
Unit code HIST20121
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Hutton
Open unit status Not open




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

Description including Unit Aims

The unit considers what is known of the pre-Christian religions of the British Isles, and the impact which they have had on the imagination of the British in modern times.

The main purpose of the first few weeks is to consider what is actually known of these religions in late prehistoric and historic times, from the eve of the Roman invasion of Britain until the conversion to Christianity, examining the evidence for beliefs and practices among the Iron Age British through to the later Anglo-Saxon and Viking settlers.

The unit then surveys the impact made by the imagery and texts associated with the pagan religions of the ancient British Isles on the imagination of the medieval and modern British. The issues studied include the question of how far paganism survived within an officially Christian society, reinventions of the image of the Druid by writers and artists, the changing depictions of pagan deities, and the tensions between a Christian and a classical education. Finally, it considers the reasons for the appearance of a group of revived or reinvented pagan religions in twentieth-century Britain.

The unit aims to train students in the study of historical phenomena for which primary evidence is unusually susceptible to differing interpretation. Both prehistorians and scholars of pagan antiquity have often emphasised the exceptional difficulty of reconstructing religious beliefs and ritual behaviour, and the unit encourages students both to recognise this difficulty and to celebrate the range of individual insight and subjective reconstruction which it makes possible. Students will also be taught ways in which the evidence of material remains, inscriptions, documents and literature can be combined to provide insights into religious history.

The principal intellectual aim of this part is to enhance the sensitivity of participants to the ways in which the historical past is constructed by posterity, and the dynamic uses to which those reconstructions of the past can be put.

Intended Learning Outcomes

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

  1. Identify and analyse key themes in early and modern paganism in various contexts
  2. Understand and use historical methods specific to the study of early and modern pagaism.
  3. Discuss and evaluate the historiographical debates that surround the topic
  4. Understand and interpret primary sources and select pertinent evidence in order to illustrate specific and more general historical
  5. Evaluate the relationship between cultural pasts and cultural presents.
  6. Present their research and judgements in written forms and styles appropriate to the discipline and to level I.

Teaching Information

1 x 2hr Seminar per week

1 x 1hr Seminar per week

Assessment Information

  • Portfolio Part 1: 750 word primary source analysis [10%] (ILOs 1-3)
  • Portfolio Part 2: 750 word broad question [10%] (ILOs 1-3)
  • 4000 word research project [80%] (ILOs 1-6)

Reading and References

Ronald Hutton, Pagan Britain

G. Wait, Ritual and Religion in Iron Age Britain.

Ralph Merrifield, The Archaeology of Ritual and Magic.

Miranda Green, The Gods of the Celts

Miranda Green, The Celtic World.

Hilda Ellis Davidson, The Lost Beliefs of Northern Europe