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Unit information: The Thought of John Calvin in 2014/15

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Unit name The Thought of John Calvin
Unit code THRS10048
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Balserak
Open unit status Open




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


This unit examines the life, teachings and legacy of the Sixteenth-century reformer, pastor, theologian, biblical interpreter, lawyer, social visionary, and humanist, John Calvin. One of the most significant thinkers in the Western tradition, Calvin has been called profoundly forward-looking, hopelessly conservative, shamefully licentious, ruthlessly dictatorial. Whatever he was, his thought has had a massive impact on our society and on us. The unit will examine Calvin's context and seek to understand his theology: both its broad contours and the positions he takes on a range of subjects—doctrine of God, creation and the fall of humankind, predestination and soteriology, the church, etc. It will also consider his thinking on government, economics and other "secular" subjects.


To introduce students to the thought of John Calvin, to Protestant theology more broadly and to the religious, cultural and institutional contexts informing them.

To provide a framework for analysing and evaluating a variety of perceptions of these topics.

To develop critical interaction with primary and secondary materials.

To develop written presentation skills through the course assessment.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have (1) developed a detailed knowledge and critical understanding of the thought of John Calvin and (more broadly) Protestant theology; (2) in-depth understanding of the religious, cultural and institutional contexts informing this; 3) demonstrated the ability to analyse and evaluate competing perceptions of this topic; (4) demonstrated the ability to identify and evaluate pertinent evidence/data in order to illustrate/demonstrate a cogent argument.

Teaching details

1 lecture and 1 seminar per week

Assessment Details

One summative coursework essay of 1500 words (50%) and one unseen examination of two hours comprising 2 questions out of 6 (50%). Both elements will assess ILOs (1) (2) (3). The coursework essay in particular will offer students the opportunity to demonstrate ILOs (4).

Reading and References

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 vols, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960).

T.H.L. Parker, Calvin: An Introduction to His Thought (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1995).

Alexandre Ganoczy, The Young Calvin, trans. David Foxgrover and Wade Waldo (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1987).

Charles Partee, The Theology of John Calvin (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 2008).

François Wendel, Calvin; Origins and Development of His Religious Thought, trans. Philip Mairet (New York: Harper & Row, 1963; repr: Durham, N.C.: Labyrinth Press, 1987).

W. Fred Graham, The Constructive Revolutionary; John Calvin and his Socio-Economic Impact (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1971; repr: Grand Rapids: Michigan State University Press, 1989).