THE3195 - Blasphemy and the Abrahamic Faiths

2016/7 Module description

StaffDr David Tollerton - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module description

This module will focus on the evolving concept of blasphemy as articulated in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Attention will be given to exploring how notions of blasphemy have historically interacted with understandings of sacredness, and enabled religious communities to establish boundaries of acceptable speech and action. Focus will also be placed on the changing relationship between blasphemy and law, with consideration given to whether governments should legislate against the religiously offensive. As well as examining such concepts more broadly, later parts of the module will focus in detail on a number of case-studies from the last half-century, such as the controversy surrounding Monty Python’s Life of Brian, the publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and the appearance of cartoons depicting Muhammad in the Danish press.


Module aims

This module aims to provide an understanding of how ideas of blasphemy have developed in relation to the three Abrahamic faiths. Students will explore how religious communities’ interactions with ideas of blasphemy have helped establish what is deemed sacred, where the boundaries of the community lie, and what types of speech and action should be censored. Interconnected with these considerations will be questions of how law and governance should interact with religious ideas of blasphemy. Alongside consideration of these broad conceptual issues the module aims to provide close analysis of several case-study controversies from recent decades, including those related to the release of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, the publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and the appearance of cartoons depicting Muhammad in Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten newspaper.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Critically evalualuate the relationship between ideas of blasphemy and the self-understanding of religious communities;
  • 2. Describe and critically assess the relationships between law, governance and ideas of blasphemy;
  • 3. Demonstrate an extensive understanding of the key dynamics underlying a major modern case study of controversy caused by material deemed offensive to certain religious communities;

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Appraise the role historical context plays in shaping discussions of acceptable expression;
  • 5. Demonstrate a critical awareness of differing models of social cohesion;
  • 6. Evaluate and analyse primary and secondary sources;

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Shape detailed information into a clear written account;
  • 8. Show originality and rigour in argument;
  • 9. Critically analyse written sources;
  • 10. Address controversial topics with sensitivity and nuance.

Syllabus plan

Biblical blaspheming
Blasphemy in pre-modern Judaism, Christianity and Islam
Blasphemy and the law
‘The love that dares to speak its name’
Monty Python’s Life of Brian
Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses
The Jyllands-Posten cartoons of Muhammad
Blasphemy and 21st century Western society

NB – subject to variation

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities22Lectures
Scheduled leraning and teaching activities11Seminars
Guided independent study267Private study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short case study report1000 words1, 3-10Verbal

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay402500 words1-2, 4-10Written and verbal
Essay603500 words1-10Written and verbal

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-2, 4-10Refer/defer period
EssayEssay1-10Refer/defer period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

David Nash, Blasphemy in the Christian World: A History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007);
Malise, Ruthven, A Satanic Affair:
Salman Rushdie and the Rage of Islam (London: Hogarth Press, 1991);
Jytte Klausen, The Cartoons that Shook the World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009);
S. Brent Plate, Blasphemy: Art that Offends (London: Black Dog, 2006);
Richard Webster, A Brief History of Blasphemy: Liberalism, Censorship and The Satanic Verses (Southwold: Orwell Press, 1990);
Leonard W. Levy, Treason Against God: A History of the Offense of Blasphemy (New York: Schocken, 1981).

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Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Key words search

Blasphemy, sacred, law, expression, Abrahamic

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