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Unit information: Sex, Marriage, and Deviance in the Medieval and Early Modern Eras in 2020/21

Unit name Sex, Marriage, and Deviance in the Medieval and Early Modern Eras
Unit code THRS30077
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Balserak
Open unit status Not open




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


This unit explores aspects of Western understandings of human relationships: marriage, family, sex, divorce, celibacy, and social notions of ‘deviance’ and the ramifications of all of these ideas. It examines sex as conceived of by the church, the law, and civil society in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. In considering views and practices which deviated from what was deemed appropriate, this unit will explore issues related to cross-dressing, gender, homosexuality and the like, and will examine how such conduct was dealt with by both church and state.

Intended learning outcomes

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

  1. Demonstrate critical understanding of the sexual lives of Early Modern Europeans;
  2. Articulate in-depth understanding of the religious, cultural and institutional contexts informing this;
  3. Analyse and evaluate competing perceptions of this topic;
  4. Identify and evaluate pertinent evidence/data in order to formulate thoughtful and sophisticated questions and arguments;
  5. Demonstrate skills in the research, reading and presentation (in writing) of complex materials on these discussions, appropriate to level H/6
  6. Communicate understanding of a topic in an informal or conversational style.

Teaching details

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.

Assessment Details

1 x 2000 words portfolio (formative) [ILOs 1-5] 1 x 3000-word summative essay (100%) [ILOs 1-5]

Reading and References

William Naphy, Sex crimes: from Renaissance to Enlightenment (Tempus, 2002).

Jeffrey Richards, Sex, Dissidence and Damnation; Minority Groups in the Middle Ages (Routledge, 1991).

Sex, Marriage, and Family in John Calvin's Geneva, eds John Witte Jr and Robert Kingdon (Eerdmans, 2005).

Robert Kingdon, Adultery and Divorce in Calvin’s Geneva (Harvard University Press, 1995).