Department of Theology and Religious Studies

MA Church History

An online course with residential options 

1-4 years

This course uses the vast richness of the historical resources of the Christian tradition to explore the interface between history, culture and theology. It is suitable for those who wish to prepare for a research degree and those who would like to enhance and deepen their understanding of the Church’s past.

Dr Frances Knight on 'Why study an MA in Church History at the University of Nottingham': one of the department's innovative range of online videos which are being used as learning resources around the world.



Why Nottingham?

The University of Nottingham is a world-class, research-led university. Every member of staff is active in research, disseminating work with major academic publishers.

In the REF2014 assessment, 97% of research produced by the Department of Theology and Religious Studies was rated of international quality, with 30% considered world-leading in terms of originality and significance.

Why study by distance learning?

Distance learning (also known as online or e-learning) allows you to manage your work/life balance while pursuing your academic and professional interests. You can learn anywhere, anytime, providing you have access to your course materials.

You will receive regular support and be part of an international learning community sharing common interests, knowledge and experience.


What will you learn?

The course allows you to take a range of modules from earliest Christian history to the present, or to specialise in either the early and medieval periods, or the post-Reformation era. 

Modules include:

Research Methods and Resources

This module introduces the skills and resources students will need for academic work at postgraduate level, and introduces students to methodological and theoretical issues which arise in many areas of theology and religious history. Topics to be covered include the critical use of sources, academic presentation, essay writing and research methods approaches. The assignment will require students to discuss developments in scholarship in one particular time period of church history over the last 30 years.



Earliest Christian writings

The module will be a close reading of four or six of the earliest Christian documents of various lengths in their entirety. The concerns of each text will be given priority rather than viewing them as sources for other thematic concerns. This will lead to an examination of how these documents bring before us the history of the earliest churches, and exhibit both their theological concerns and styles of theology. There will be close attention throughout the module to how these texts have been used in theology in the past and how they can be used in theological understanding today.



The arrival of the New Testament Canon

This module will examine those factors in early Christianity which led to certain documents being given special status within the communities’ worship, memory, and theological perception; how this collection of documents expanded and evolved in theological significance until it became generally accepted to be a body of ‘sacred scripture’ which was the Christian analogue of the inherited ‘scriptures’. The module will also explore the impact of the emergence of a Christian canon of theology and its significance for Christianity as a ‘lawful religion’ within the Roman empire.



The Virgin Mary in Christian Tradition: history and doctrine

This module seeks to develop core skills in historical and systematic theology with reference to a particular topic: namely, Christian doctrine and devotion concerning the Virgin Mary. The module will study the historical development of the Marian cult in Eastern and Western Christian traditions, with emphasis on its spiritual, doctrinal, and liturgical importance. It will show how Christian interest in the Virgin Mary increased in the course of the first five centuries of the Church, especially with regard to three main aspects: her central role in the incarnation of Christ, her status as a model of virginal asceticism, and her capacity to act as protector or intercessor for Christians.



Dante, Religion and Culture 

This module offers students the opportunity to read most of the important Italian poet and lay-theologian Dante Alighieri’s works in translation, as well as his sources in medieval theology, philosophy and mystical writings. The cultural background in music, art and politics of the period will also be addressed. Primary texts will include the Vita Nuova (his poetic autobiography) Convivio (invitation to a philosophic banquet), Commedia (his journey to hell, purgatory and heaven) and Monarchia (political theory), and writings by Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, Hugh of St Victor, Bernard of Clairvaux, Mechtild, Aristotle and Dionysius the Areopagite, as well as contemporary scholarship.



Richard Hooker and English Theological Thought

Richard Hooker (1554-1600) is the great theologian of English Anglicanism. This module considers how he has helped shape the development of the Church of England’s self-understanding over the centuries. Particular attention will be paid to Hooker’s own writing – not simply the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity – but also his sermons, and to the many and varied ways in which these have been interpreted. The module will conclude by offering a reading of the ways in which Hooker’s work speaks directly to modern theology.



Revivalism and Reform in Britain and America 1730–1850

This module investigates the twin themes of revivalism and institutional ecclesiastical reform in Britain and America, with some reference to European parallels. The period covered is from the outbreak of evangelical revival in the 1730s, to the last major transatlantic revival of 1859–60. Topics include: the roots of global evangelical revival; consolidation, development and renewal within the evangelical tradition; national variations of evangelicalism, with particular reference to England, America and Wales and Catholic revivalist movements. The final units of the module are concerned with the institutional reform of the established Churches in Britain from 1730 to 1860, with a consideration of the extent to which this can be viewed as a process of revival.



The Churches and Social Action in Britain 1815–1914

This module investigates differing Christian perspectives on social questions in Britain from the end of the Napoleonic Wars to the beginning of the twentieth century. The structure is chronological, and topics include: the legacy of Malthus: Sumner, Chalmers and other political economy theologians; mid-nineteenth century crises and responses: Chartism, Irish Famine, early Christian Socialism and the Condition-of-England question; Jesus as a social reformer: nineteenth century perspectives; Christian social critique and action: Andrew Mearns, Charles Booth, William Booth; Lux Mundi and its legacy; Fin de siècle social Christianity: Cardinal Manning and the Nonconformist Conscience.



Christianity in twentieth-century Britain

This module investigates mainland British Christianity over the course of the twentieth century. The structure is chronological and topics include: new century, old faith 1900–1914; the First World War and beyond 1914–1939; disruption and reviva: 1939–59; reinvention and renewal? 1960–1975; the millennium ends 1975–2000. 

There is an emphasis on attempting to understand religion’s regional varieties in England, Scotland and Wales, but this module does not include Ireland.



Reading Medieval Theologians from Anselm to Ockham

This module will examine a range of primary texts, in translation, that extend in time from Anselm (c.1033–1109) to William of Ockham (c.1285–1347). Moreover, the texts will also vary in genre from formal academic works to liturgical texts composed in the period. Through a close reading of these texts students will come to understand how Anselm’s theological method marked a break with the past; how the rise of the university affected theology; how the recovery of Aristotle and reception of Islamic thought affected theology; and how will look at some texts exhibiting the characteristics of ‘scholasticism.’


You may also opt to take some modules from the MA in Systematic and Philosophical Theology, and, with the consent of the course director, you may be allowed to take a 'Directed Reading' module. You will complete your studies with a 15,000-word dissertation.

See the course handbook (pdf)

How do you access study materials?

Distance learning students have access to high quality course content in Moodle, our virtual learning environment, and a wide range of introductory and in-depth videos.

However, distance learning is not exclusively online; you will receive all your primary course materials in printed form as well as electronically, and you will also make use of libraries for learning and research.

You are also strongly encouraged to come to the residential seminar held annually in the spring semester.

What about employability?

This programme develops skills of research, analysis and critical thinking which are relevant to a broad range of careers.

Many students pursue this course as preparation for a research degree (MPhil or PhD).

Others pursue it as part of their development within the teaching profession or religious organisations or purely for personal interest.

What are the entry requirements?

2:1 or above (or its international equivalent) in religious studies, theology or a related subject such as philosophy or history.

Applications will also be considered from those who, while not possessing a first degree in a cognate discipline, can demonstrate a work or voluntary commitment to the subjects included in this programme.

What funding is available?

For up-to-date information and application forms for funding opportunities please visit the Department of Theology and Religious Studies funding webpage.

What are the fees?

The fees for 2016 entry are:

  • £6,220 (HEU)
  • £15,140 (International)

2016/17 fees



Who teaches on this course?

Frances Knight2
Dr Frances Knight
Course Director, MA in Church History

Dr Frances Knight is currently Head of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, and Associate Professor in the History of Modern Christianity. She is also the first port of call for all general academic enquiries about the MA in Church History. Frances studied at King’s College London and the University of Cambridge, and previously taught distance learners at the Open University and the University of Wales, Lampeter. Her area of expertise is Christianity from 1800, with a particular interest in England and Wales. She has written several books on religion in the nineteenth century, the most recent one being Victorian Christianity at the Fin de Siècle: The Culture of English Religion in a Decadent Age (2015). Other recent work has been on cremation and anticlericalism (two separate topics!) and she is currently working on the religious roots of the garden city movement.

Mary Cunningham, Honorary Associate Professor in Historical Theology

Dr Mary Cunningham studied at Harvard University and at Birmingham (England). She has taught in several universities in the United Kingdom. She is a Byzantinist with a particular interest in Eastern Christianity. She is currently carrying out research on the development of doctrine, devotion, and liturgical praise of the Virgin Mary in Byzantium. Her work on early Christian and Byzantine preaching also continues, with a focus on preachers' use of the Bible, interaction with audiences, and rhetorical techniques. Other topics of research include early Christian and Byzantine ideas about the fate of the soul after death, the role of saints in Byzantine and modern Orthodox Christian tradition, and liturgical theology.


Jeremy Gregory, Professor of Theology and Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Faculty of Arts)

Professor Jeremy Gregory studied at the University of Oxford and has previously taught at Newcastle Polytechnic (now Northumbria University) and the University of Manchester.  His research and publications have contributed to the debates concerning the role of the Church of England in particular, and religion in general, in English social, cultural, political and intellectual history from the mid seventeenth to the mid nineteenth centuries. He has also published on the relationship between religion and gender, religion and the wider artistic and literary culture, and on the relationship between conformity and dissent. His current research is on the Church of England in colonial British North America and he is also keen to explore the rich records of the Archdeaconry of Nottingham housed at the University's Manuscripts and Special Collections.


Alison Milbank, Associate Professor in Religion and Literature

Dr Alison Milbank studied at the Universities of Cambridge and Lancaster, and has taught at several institutions in England and the United States. Her research and teaching focuses on the relation of religion to culture in the post-Enlightenment period, with particular interest in non-realist literary and artistic expression, such as the Gothic, the fantastic, horror and fantasy. Her interest in medievalism led to a book on Dante and Victorian theology, history and art. Her study of G. K. Chesterton and Tolkien as theologians, led to a co-written study of contemporary Anglican ecclesiology. She is currently working on an historical study of Gothic fiction from the Reformation to the end of the nineteenth century, aligning its rise and narrative tropes to Anglican theology and historiography.


Tom O'Loughlin, Professor of Historical Theology

Professor Tom O’Loughlin studied at University College Dublin. A specialist in theology written in Latin in the early medieval west, in numerous books and dozens of articles, he has attempted to re-new the relationship between speculative theology and the historical experience of Christians. He considers that experience and believing are not simply a context of theology, but are formative – sometimes for better and sometimes for worse – for theology; and that they contribute to a genetic understanding of where Christianity is today. He taught in Dublin and Lampeter before his move to Nottingham; he is editor of the book-series Studia Traditionis Theologiae; and takes a keen interest in how faith is expressed in churches’ liturgy.


Andrea Russell, Affiliated Lecturer

Dr Andrea Russell originally studied Law at King’s College London, and has completed BA, MA and PhD degrees in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at The University of Nottingham, the latter funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Her research interests are mainly focussed on Richard Hooker and 16th-century theology, and she is particularly interested in seeing how 16th-century arguments work in the 21st-century Anglican Church.  An expert in ministerial education, she is now Director of Studies at the Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham.


Holger Zellentin, Associate Professor in Jewish Studies

Dr Holger Zellentin is course director of the MA in Jewish History and Thought. He has studied in Strasburg, Amsterdam, Jerusalem, Philadelphia and Princeton. He taught Rabbinics and late antique Judaism in New Brunswick, New Jersey and at Berkeley, California, before joining the Department in 2011. His current research projects include a religious pre-history of Islam, and a study of the ways in which the Talmudic rabbis incorporate Christian narratives.



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Department of Theology and Religious Studies

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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