Reading Augustine through the Confessions (THE2180)

StaffProfessor Morwenna Ludlow - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level5
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

You will be supported to develop your knowledge and understanding of Augustine’s thought through a detailed reading of this classic text, using it to stimulate reflection on issues such as:

  • cultural, philosophical and religious context
  • different methods of interpreting of the Bible
  • development of the philosophy of time and of mind
  • literary method and style

The module will conclude with a study of later responses to the Confessions. Most weeks we will focus on one or two books of the Confessions and a small selection of secondary literature. The module will give you an opportunity to study a rich and challenging text in full, giving weight to literary, historical, theological and philosophical methods of interpretation, thus deepening their experience of interdisciplinary study. It will enable you to study a historical text in context and to assess its later readings, hence developing a sense of the complex history of a text’s reception.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate a familiarity with the text of Augustine's Confessions in English translation
  • 2. Demonstrate knowledge of Augustine's theological, literary, philosophical and cultural background
  • 3. Demonstrate a competent understanding of Augustine's theological and philosophical concepts of e.g. God as Trinity; Christ; creation and salvation; time; memory; the soul
  • 4. Demonstrate an understanding of the specific techniques and theological assumptions involved in Augustine's and his contemporaries' readings of the Bible
  • 5. With limited guidance, discuss in a critical, detailed and nuanced manner Augustine's method and his purpose in writing the Confessions and modern/ post-modern responses to the work

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 6. Discuss and demonstrate, with limited guidance, critical comprehension of early Christianity classical sources and their subsequent interpretation in different historical periods and in different social or geographical settings
  • 7. Demonstrate a detailed understanding of the multi-faceted complexity of early Christianity's place in the world, and in particular its relationship with pagan and fringe Christian groups beliefs and texts
  • 8. Make careful use, with guidance, of some core methods of study: philosophical analysis, hermeneutical analysis and critical historical investigation
  • 9. Evaluate and analyse, with limited guidance, a diversity of primary and secondary sources

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 10. Undertake guided work within broad guidelines
  • 11. Make thorough use of selected written sources
  • 12. Discuss texts in a group with appropriate awareness of alternative readings and traditions of reading
  • 13. Develop, with guidance, an awareness of the effect of context on a text's interpretation

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Books I and II: Early years and adolescence (address to God; purpose of Confessions; education; Greek and Latin; the nature of childhood; concept of sin)
  • Books III and IV: Student at Carthage (further education and career; relationships: friends, concubine, mother; philosophies: Cicero, Aristotle, Manichees, astrology)
  • Books V and VI: Carthage, Rome and Milan (career; reading Genesis [Manichees; Ambrose]; eloquence [Faustus, Ambrose]; Monica; friends; concubine and marriage)
  • Books VII and VIII: A Neoplatonic Quest (nature of God, free will; Scripture [John’s Gospel] and Platonism; a vision); The birthpangs of conversion (what was Augustine’s conversion? asceticism)
  • Book IX Cassiacum: to Monica’s death (philosophy and friendship; the Cassiacum dialogues; baptism; Monica’s life and death; the vision at Ostia)
  • Book X Memory (Memory and human identity; the five senses and sin)
  • Book XI Time and eternity (Gen. 1:1 creation and metaphysics: God)
  • Books XII and XIII: Platonic and Christian creation (Gen. 1:1-2 creation of heaven and earth: the metaphysics of the created); Finding the church in Genesis 1 (Gen. 1:2-31: the days)
  • Later readings of Augustine’s Confessions. The  material will be changed by the module tutor from year to year, depending on current research and the interests of students taking the module: examples of readers of the text are: Petrarch; Teresa of Avila; Rousseau; Derrida

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 teaching1111 x 1 hour lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching2211 x 2 hour seminars
Guided independent study267Private study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Commentary (short focussed piece of writing on one book/episode)1000 words1-11Written feedback and group tutorial
Seminar presentation10 minutes1-12Written feedback and further oral feedback on request

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
Commentary (short focussed piece of writing on one book/episode)301000 words1-11Written feedback and further oral feedback on request
Essay704000 words1-11, 13Written feedback and further oral feedback on request

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Commentary (short focussed piece of writing on one book/episode)301-11Written feedback and further oral feedback on request
Essay701-11, 13Written feedback and further oral feedback on request

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  •  Augustine The Confessions tr. Henry Chadwick (OUP, 1991) [Please make sure you have a copy of the Chadwick translation, marked]
  • Robert J. O’Connell St. Augustine’s Confessions. The Odyssey of Soul (Harvard University Press, 1969)
  • Gillian Clark Augustine The Confessions (Bristol Phoenix Press, 2005)
  • James J. O'Donnell Augustine A new biography (Harper Collins, 2006)


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Key words search

Augustine, Confessions, theology, philosophy, reception, Derrida