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A Global Reformation? - HIS00006I

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Simon Ditchfield
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2020-21

Module summary

The election of Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis I on 13 March 2013 has been seen by many as a new chapter in the history of Roman Catholicism. Yet the advent of the first pope from the New World was anticipated ca.1500-ca.1700 by a period which, for all its incompleteness, saw the making of Roman Catholicism as a world religion. Missionaries such as the Portuguese Jesuit Manuel de Nóbrega (1517-70) in Brazil, for whom famously ‘One World is not enough’, brought Christianity to the four inhabited continents of the world for the first time in history. Although scholars no longer see this in such one-way terms as ‘spiritual conquest’, but rather as negotiated two-way outcomes, where the role of ‘go-betweens’ and the reciprocal dynamics of ‘cultural encounter’ need to be taken into account. Accordingly, this module looks not only at the Roman Catholic response to the Protestant Reformation – the so-called ‘Counter Reformation’ - but also at how Roman Catholicism adapted itself to local conditions from Rome to the River Plate; Milan to Manila (via Mexico). Among the concepts and topics to be considered are: confessionalisation; censorship & inquisition; social discipline; language and communication (including catechisms and preaching); liturgy and the cult of saints. Since early modern Catholicism engaged all the senses, the lectures will deal with music, art and architecture as well as written and printed sources, while the weekly discussion groups give students the opportunity to engage with a correspondingly broad selection of primary sources in translation.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2020-21

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To introduce students to important specific historical themes and topics with a clear chronological or geographical focus;
  • To enable them to work on those topics by combining access to the specialised expertise of staff through lectures with their own close study and discussion of issues and reading;
  • To deepen students’ understanding and appreciation of a range of historical subjects and issues; and
  • To support students’ progression from the broad chronological and conceptual work undertaken at Stage 1 of their programme to more detailed and rigorous study of particular topics.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Have a broad overview of specific historical themes and topics with a clear chronological and geographical focus;
  • Be able to evaluate different interpretations of the subject matter and approaches to it;
  • Gain a critical awareness of the primary material and secondary works used in these interpretations and approaches; and
  • Be able to synthesise information from lectures, discussion groups and reading to make evidence-based arguments both orally and in writing

Module content

Teaching Programme:

This 20-credit module consists of sixteen twice weekly lectures delivered in weeks 2-9 plus one round-up session in week 10, and eight 90 minute discussion groups.  

Understanding practice: what was ‘local religion’?

Understanding theory: the Council of Trent

The setting: Rome as ‘theatre of the world’

The papacy and the papal court

The missionary enterprise outside Europe I: going west

The missionary enterprise outside Europe II: going east

The missions to ‘the other Indies’: methods & outcomes

Some local protagonists I: bishops

Some local protagonists II: the female religious

Some local protagonists III: the laity

Drawing boundaries I: making sinners

Drawing boundaries II: making saints

Persecution and identity I: 17th century Japan

Persecution and identity II: 16th century York

Conclusion: confessionalisation and its limits

‘Trent and All That’: recap and revision


Task Length % of module mark
Short Essay: 2,000 words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students will be required to write a 2,000-word procedural essay for formative assessment, due in either week 5 or week 7 of the autumn term. They will then complete a 2,000-word essay for summative assessment, due in week 1 of the spring term.



Task Length % of module mark
Short Essay: 2,000 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will receive written feedback that will include comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission.

Work will be returned to students in their seminars and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their procedural work during their tutor’s student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline unless submitted in week 5 of the summer term, in which case these are available within 25 working days. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

Preliminary Reading:

EITHER: Robert Bireley, The Refashioning of Catholicism 1450-1700, (Palgrave Macmillan, 1999)

OR: R. Po-Chia Hsia, The World of Catholic Renewal, 1540-1770, 2nd edition, (Cambridge University Press, 2005)


Simon Ditchfield, ‘Catholic Reformation and Renewal’, in Peter Marshall ed., The Oxford Companion to the Protestant Reformation, (Oxford University Press, 2015) - downloadable at:

(You need to register at but it is free of charge)


See also one of my  lectures on Youtube that is relevant to the module:

’Translating Christianity in an Age of Reformation’ - Ecclesiastical History Society Presidential Address, July 2015:

Material in other media:

M     Sarah Dunant, Sacred Hearts [an historical novel], Virago, London, 2009

Finally, there are now two treatments of Endo Shusaku’s novel about the persecution of Christians in Japan by the Tokugawa regime - SILENCE (1966) - the first a poem of sight and sound by the masterly Masahiro Shinoda with atmospheric music by Toru Takemitsu from 1971 and the second, directed by Martin Scorsese with Liam Neeson, from 2017.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): changes to courses

The 2020/21 academic year will start in September. We aim to deliver as much face-to-face teaching as we can, supported by high quality online alternatives where we must.

Find details of the measures we're planning to protect our community.

Course changes for new students