Postgraduate Diploma in Parish Church Studies: History, Heritage and Fabric

An online study programme

The postgraduate diploma in Parish Church Studies offers a unique opportunity to gain detailed and practical knowledge of the history, use, care and conservation of parish churches. The online format offers you the opportunity to study in your own home and somewhat at your own pace, extensively supported by an expert in the field, and learning as part of an active online community.

The diploma enables students to enhance their understanding of local sites of importance in order to develop new areas of expertise or those involved in the design and implementation of conservation techniques. It is equally valuable for lay staff, volunteers and those simply with a general interest in the parish landscape.

The programme starts in late September/early October, concurrent with each new academic year – places are limited to ensure a constructive atmosphere for discussions.

This is a two-year, part-time, postgraduate-level programme delivered wholly online in a fully-supported learning environment. Students can exit with a Postgraduate Certificate after successful completion of the first year if their circumstances change.

This Diploma is recognised by the Institute of Historic Building Conservation for Continuing Professional Development purposes.



  • To provide students with a comprehensive knowledge of the sources on which to draw for the study of parishes and parish churches
  • To provide students with knowledge of the issues within parish history and current academic debate
  • To provide the students with an understanding of the development of the parish system and its role in everyday life from the early medieval period to the present day
  • To provide students with knowledge of how churches and their churchyards developed and changed over time and the current debates around ecology, maintenance and continued use
  • To provide students with an understanding of the changing nature of the relationship between a parish church and the community it serves through time
  • To demonstrate the complexity and diversity of events in the past, and the range of problems involved in the interpretation of complex, ambiguous, conflicting and often incomplete material
  • To equip students with the analytical tools necessary to interrogate effectively the worth of primary and secondary source material pertaining to the history of parish churches
  • To encourage students to develop their own views on different historical debates in the academic literature and to think creatively about the topics they are studying
  • To provide a supportive and stimulating postgraduate environment enabling students to work independently within a clearly defined structure of regular discussion and supervision
  • To underline for students the importance of objectivity in research and to be aware when their own views or feelings are unbalancing and objective argument
  • To explore the changing practice of public worship and private devotion and their interaction with art and architecture
  • To stimulate students to explore the use, care and changing of church buildings and to understand the complex issues and emotions which surround debates in this field.




This part-time two-year programme will comprise six 20-credit modules:

1. Sources and Issues
This module introduces the key sources for and issues in studying parishes and parish churches. It focuses on issues which arise not only from the nature, extent and survival of evidence, but also those relating to the study, care and understanding of churches and interaction with specialist and statutory bodies. It also introduces the skills and resources students will need for academic work at postgraduate level such as formatting and referencing, critical analysis, annotated bibliographies, library resources, and use of and researching the web in relation to the study of parish churches.

2. Objet D’art, Objects of Faith
This module is the second part of an introduction to the subject but continues with the study of various art, fixture, fittings, furnishings and objects, their legislative framework and overview of current issues.

3.Worship & Ritual
This module introduces students to the history and practice of worship and religious ritual in parishes and parish churches from the Anglo-Saxon period to the present day and how these practices and the ideology behind them has shaped church buildings, both internally and externally, and in turn been shaped by them.

4. Parish & Community
This module studies the relationship between clergy, congregations, parish communities and wider society, principally in the medieval and early modern period but with an exploration of the concept of a ‘parish’ and the varying social and cultural structures inherent in that following the Reformation and its continuity into later periods.

5. Church & Churchyard
This module engages students with the fabric of a church building in its social and physical context. In particular, topics covered include how to ‘read’ a church building just from assessing its fabric and how that fabric relates to its locality in terms of raw materials, economy, skills; the ecology and management of the churchyard; how varying ideas and perceptions of sacredness have influenced the way churchyards and church buildings have been used/re-used, viewed and managed; and, finally, the relative regulations and legislation pertaining to both.

6. Use, Conservation & Change in Church Buildings
This module engages students with the issues and demands facing church congregations today with regard to questions of sustainability and maintenance, the creative use of buildings, their potential role in mission and community cohesion, and it addressed the specifics of practical conservation issues.

Students will be required to complete all these modules in the first instance, though additional modules may be added in the future to accommodate future programme growth and offer a broader learning experience.

Assessments will comprise a balance of short and long critical essays, book reviews, short research projects and other similar tasks.

Full details of programme structures and the modules which comprise individual awards can be found at Postgraduate Programme Specifications.

Online Study

What's involved?

Our approach to e-learning is distinctive and may be different from your general perceptions about online study:

  • Flexible, fully supported, modular delivery
  • Taught exclusively online
  • Two stages: Certificate and Diploma. Each stage typically takes 12 months
  • Comprises six distinct modules
  • Part-time study (approximately 15 hours per week) allows participants to structure their learning around the other life circumstances


Key points

  • These are not self-study programmes which leave you on your own, nor are they Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). You will be part of an active learning community with regular contacts and activities.
  • The technology-based approach means that our programmes are highly flexible, and you can study from anywhere at a time convenient to you. They are however carefully structured and you will be asked to participate in tasks and activities every week.
  • The programme is highly interactive and comprises numerous blog-driven tasks and exercises. You can engage with the tasks at any time during the week, and you don’t ever have to be online at the same time as other people, but can engage through a simple commenting function.
  • The learning takes place within a reflective and supportive environment, providing all the benefits of studying as part of a community but without having to be in a physical classroom
  • As well as interacting with your fellow students, you will also have regular discussions with a dedicated and friendly academic and administrative team at York.
  • The programmes are situated within a Virtual Learning Environment called Blackboard. This is a user-friendly integrated website that provides access to study resources, discussion forums, the University of York Online Library and your University email account.


The York Team

A key feature of our programme is the availability and quality of support that we offer through module tutors, pastoral support and a dedicated administrative and technical support team.


Residential Weekends

We hold an optional two-day Residential Weekend at York each year. Each event is an opportunity to meet your fellow students and staff, engage in discussion and share your knowledge of parish church history. These events are free of charge, though students are expected to meet the costs of their travel, accommodation and sustenance. 

Entry Requirement & Costs

Who is the programme for?

The programme is aimed at anyone with an interest in Parish Church History.


Admissions Criteria

Normally students will be expected to hold a Bachelor’s Degree in a related subject area. CLL will also favourably consider any student previously awarded a BA/BSc in any subject, and with evidence of recent HE level study in this area.

As a Centre based upon the cornerstone of open access, CLL will also seek to ensure that those without the qualifications highlighted above, but with the obvious ability to succeed, have the opportunity to engage.

In such instances, the presentation of a critical essay in the field of Parish Church Studies may be requested and considered by the admissions panel; CLL reserves the right to ask any student for academic work to support their application.

Any student may be called to interview.

Students must have an IELTS score of 7.0 overall, with no less than 6.5 in Writing (or equivalent). Details of the requirements for distance learning students can be found at English language requirements: distance learning 2017/18

  • Sufficient study time: approximately 15 hours per week including the capacity to take part regularly in the online weekly tutorial group discussions. These are an essential part of the study process.
  • A willingness to share your experience and be an active member of your tutorial group.
  • A personal computer with a broadband internet connection and Office software suite, compatible with Word and Excel formats. 


Programme Cost

The online postgraduate diploma in Parish Church Studies is priced in line with other University postgraduate programmes, details of which can be found at

For 2018/19, the cost of the first year will be £3,030. Fees in subsequent years are subject to confirmation.

Students can spread the cost of their tuition fees. More information can be found at Finance and financial support for distance learners.

If you've successfully completed an undergraduate degree at the University of York, you could be eligible for a 10% discount on your tuition fee. See more information about the York Graduate Loyalty Discount.


How to apply

You can apply for this course using our online application system.

If you've not already done so, please read the application guidance first so that you understand the various steps in the application process.



Amanda Pauw: 
Postgraduate Administrator 
Tel: +44 (0)1904 32 8482

Dr Emma Wells 
Associate Lecturer


‌‌‌View the Parish Church Studies blog, written and curated by students from the University of York for prospective applicants and all other simply interested parties.

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