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Module

CAH3041 : Gods in the Material World: Religion and Material Culture in Greece, Egypt and Mesopotamia 2000BC-338BC

  • Offered for Year: 2024/25
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Matthew Haysom
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semesters

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System

Aims

Many of the greatest monuments and most familiar images from the ancient world were originally created for the gods. The Classical and Biblical legacy in western culture means that we are sometimes unconscious heirs to the religious traditions of Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece. As a result, modern audiences often find elements of ancient religions superficially familiar on first encountering them. But the religions of the ancient world are a good deal more alien to us than they initially appear. In the modern world we can tend to think of the divine as invisible and ethereal, inhabiting an untouchable spiritual world, if it exists at all. For the inhabitants of Greece, Egypt and Western Asia in the 1st and 2nd millennia BC, however, gods were very much present in the same material world as everyone else. They had bodies and appetites. They owned objects and delighted in physical pleasures. They needed places to live and people to care for them. It is the relics of these material gods that fill modern museums and picture books about ancient civilisation. The focus of this module is on lived religion: the ancient experiences of living in a world inhabited by supernatural beings and on the material culture that formed those experiences.

This module aims to provide students with a critical understanding of the religions of ancient Egypt, Greece and Mesopotamia through the material things (objects, images, buildings, landscapes and bodies) associated with them. Students will be introduced to some of the major interpretive trends in the study of ancient religions and will be encouraged to reflect critically on their applicability to the evidence. By stimulating students to compare religious concepts and material cultures across three different societies the module aims to develop their analytical skills.

Outline Of Syllabus

The first couple of weeks of the module will give students a very general overview of the religious systems of Greece, Egypt and Mesopotamia. At the same time, students will be introduced to the impact of the main schools of thought and major thinkers on modern interpretations of ancient religions. The majority of the module will then be taken up with case studies. Each week a key religious concept or phenomenon will be introduced and the elements of material culture relating to it in the three societies will be compared and contrasted. Precise topics may change from year to year, but typical topics might include: the cosmology of temples, the lives of cult statues, the holy city as a centre, animal relations with the gods, or the experience of supernatural landscapes.

Seminar teaching will be a major focus of the module: each weekly seminar will develop students’ analytical skills by concentrating on the primary evidence and including a comparative component. Some weeks we will look at the material remains of comparable phenomena across two societies. Examples might include: comparing images of violence on Egyptian and Greek temples; comparing examples of the garden-paradise in Mesopotamia and Egypt; or comparing inscribed gifts to the gods across any two of the three societies. In other weeks, we will compare the material and textual evidence for a religious phenomenon within a single society. Examples might include: comparing ritual order in the paintings and laments found in early 18th Dynasty Egyptian tombs; comparing excavated temples and liturgical texts from Old Babylonian Mesopotamia; or comparing divine bodies in sculpture and song, either in a Mesopotamian or a Greek context.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture92:0018:00Thematic lectures
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture31:003:00Introductory lectures
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion661:0066:002 pieces of summative and 1 piece of formative assessment
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading113:0033:00Weekly reading (module reading list)
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities92:0018:00Seminar preparation
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching91:009:00Seminars
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery21:002:00Assessment preparation surgeries
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery11:001:00Feedback surgery
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study501:0050:00Background reading and consolidation activities
Total200:00
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The Lectures introduce students to the religious systems of Greece, Egypt and Mesopotamia and a selection of material religious phenomena found in these religious systems. They will introduce key theories, pieces of evidence (textual, material, visual), and interpretations from the scholarship. This provides the background needed for the students to pursue guided research and independent critical analysis.

The seminars will focus on building the students’ skills in the analysis of primary material, visual and textual evidence. By engaging in discussion of the relative merits of different types of evidence and approach, students’ evaluative, oral and presentational skills will be developed. By discussing comparable phenomena across societies students’ analytical skills in comparison and contrast, will be developed.

The drop-in sessions support students in preparing for assessments and in reflecting on the feedback from assessments.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Poster1M40(1000 words equivalent)
Essay1A602500 words
Formative Assessments

Formative Assessment is an assessment which develops your skills in being assessed, allows for you to receive feedback, and prepares you for being assessed. However, it does not count to your final mark.

Description Semester When Set Comment
Written exercise1MEssay plan (500 words)
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The students will each produce a poster on a selected item of religious material culture from one of the societies covered by the module. This will contextualise it with relation to other related pieces of evidence (textual, material, visual) illuminating an aspect of religion. It will also present the various modern interpretations relevant to the selected item. This will develop and assess the following learning outcomes:
• identify key pieces of religious material culture from each of the three societies;
• distinguish and appraise major approaches to religion in the scholarship on the three societies;
• evaluate the contributions of textual and material evidence to modern interpretations of key religious phenomena across the three societies;
• distinguishing and evaluating key arguments in modern publications,
• identifying and critiquing the links between evidence and higher order interpretations,
• analysing written, visual and material culture from the ancient world,
• succinctly presenting complex ideas in a visual medium.

The second assessment will be an essay comparing an aspect of religious materiality across two or more of the societies covered by the module. This assessment will develop and assess the following learning outcomes:
• give an accurate general description of the religious systems of Greece, Egypt and Mesopotamia, summarising the main characteristics of each;
• identify key pieces of religious material culture from each of the three societies;
• distinguish and appraise major approaches to religion in the scholarship on the three societies;
• evaluate the contributions of textual and material evidence to modern interpretations of key religious phenomena across the three societies;
• compare and contrast elements of religious visual and material culture from Greece, Mesopotamia and Egypt;
• distinguishing and evaluating key arguments in modern publications,
• identifying and critiquing the links between evidence and higher order interpretations,
• analysing written, visual and material culture from the ancient world,
• comparing and contrasting cultural phenomena,
• composing coherent arguments supported by evidence

The formative assessment will support students in formulating an analytical essay, selecting suitable case studies and theories as focal points, and in structuring a coherent argument.

Study-abroad, non-Erasmus exchange and Loyola students spending semester 1 only are required to finish their assessment while in Newcastle. Where an exam is present, an alternative form of assessment will be set and where coursework is present, an alternative deadline will be set. Details of the alternative assessment will be provided by the module leader.

Reading Lists

Timetable