Credit points


Campus offering

No unit offerings are currently available for this unit



Unit rationale, description and aim

From its inception, western intellectual and cultural life has been shaped by both Greco-Roman mythology and the history, narratives and doctrines of the Abrahamic religions. Polytheistic Greco-Roman religious symbolism and narratives have had a lasting influence on the western imagination, and this unit will begin by exploring key texts that exemplify this heritage. However, in focusing primarily on the Judeo-Christian tradition, students will explore the vast influence of Biblical texts, theological doctrines, Church history, and devotional practices on the politics, art and intellectual life of western culture from ancient to modern times. They will study profoundly influential texts by seminal figures such as Augustine, Benedict, Aquinas, Julian of Norwich, Martin Luther, and Ignatius Loyola, as well as other texts that relate to the historical interconnections and tensions between Church and state. These span the period from the Christianisation of the late Roman empire, to the investiture controversies, the Crusades, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, to the abolitionist and civil rights movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The unit will highlight ways in which western Christianity has developed in continuing dialogue with non-western forms of Christianity — in Africa, Byzantium, and later in the Global South — as well as with other faiths, and it closes with a focus on some of the ways Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have engaged with Christianity since 1788.

The unit aims to equip students with knowledge of the major texts, ideas, and means by which Christianity and western culture have deeply intersected over two millennia.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Describe the sources and origins of religion in the West, drawing on mythological, scriptural and patristic texts in the Hellenistic and Roman Mediterranean world (GA4, GA8.) 

LO2 - Discuss the great works of Christian authors in their relation to the evolution of Christianity and the intellectual tradition of Western society and culture (GA4) 

LO3 - Analyse and evaluate texts in theology and religious practice and history related to, the development and influence of Christianity in Western Europe, North America, and Australasia (GA1, GA4, , GA6, GA7, GA9) 

LO4 - Evaluate knowledge from diverse sources and communicate complex ideas and findings with confidence to a range of audiences (GA2, GA3, GA4, GA7, GA8, GA9) 

LO5 - Apply disciplinary knowledge and skills to understand complex, real-world issues, informed by western and other traditions, including the perspectives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and to formulate intellectually-grounded, evidence-based judgments about history and the modern world (GA2, GA3, GA4, GA7, GA8, GA9). 

Graduate attributes

GA1 - demonstrate respect for the dignity of each individual and for human diversity 

GA2 - recognise their responsibility to the common good, the environment and society 

GA3 - apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA6 - solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives into account

GA7 - work both autonomously and collaboratively 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 


Topics may include: 

  • Greco-Roman polytheistic religions, narratives, and myths, and their ongoing legacies in Western culture.
  • The socio-cultural and political establishment of Christianity in late antiquity and medieval Europe.
  • Distinctives and connections between Western Latin Christianity and North African and Byzantine Christianity, and between Christianity and Islam.
  • Augustine of Hippo’s work in its religious and intellectual context.
  • The contribution of monasticism in medieval society.
  • The context and legacy of influential theological and devotional texts.
  • Major developments in the interconnection of Church and State.
  • Religion’s relation to Western European conquest of the Americas.
  • The causes and impacts of the European reformations (magisterial, radical and Catholic).
  • English-speaking Protestantism’s spread and impact via colonialism.
  • Slavery, abolitionism and African American engagement with Christianity including through the civil rights movement.
  • Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ experiences of and engagements with Christianity.

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

Taught face-to-face in small groups with a Socratic method of teaching that stresses interaction and lively debate to facilitate deep learning, this unit proceeds by inquiring into the meaning and significance of seminal texts in the history of Christianity’s relationship with Western Civilisation. To meet the learning outcomes, the unit moves chronologically through a selection of textual case studies, aiming to set each one in wider context in at least three ways: 

  1. The text’s engagement with and use of original sources, such as the Bible, or Greco-Roman sources. 
  2. The text’s connection to intellectual and historical currents contemporary with its authorship, (for example, receptions of Plato and Aristotle, the conquest of the Americas, the emergence of the middle class, the scientific revolution etc)  
  3. The legacies and impacts the text may have had—either as formative of or as critical of Western Civilisation, or both.  


Rather than the unit insisting on a “right” answer, in each of the three areas above students are encouraged, through discussion and debate, individual reading and research, to develop, articulate and defend insights of their own.  

Consistent with the approach of the WCIV course as a whole, the unit achieves its learning goals by facilitating direct student encounter with “great books” and equipping them to analyse and evaluate the blend of religious, philosophical, and ethical ideas in them.  

This is a 10-credit point unit and has been designed to ensure that the time needed to complete the required volume of learning to the requisite standard is approximately 150 hours in total across the semester. To achieve a passing standard in this unit, students will find it helpful to engage in the full range of learning activities and assessments utilised in this unit. The learning and teaching and assessment strategies include a range of approaches to support your learning such as reading, reflection, discussion, webinars, podcasts, video etc. 

Assessment strategy and rationale

There are three types of assessment for this unit, each enabling students to develop a distinct set of skills and body of knowledge contained in the Learning Outcomes. 

  1. A close-reading analysis of a primary text from the first five centuries of Mediterranean Christianity in its context [Augustine’s Confessions or an equivalent text of similar age and significance]. 
  2. A group exercise based around imaginative historical reconstruction and representation of a point of view in a major historical religious debate covered in the unit. Small groups of students are assigned a constituency in a historical debate and research the views of that constituency to present such views as if their own, and in responsive dialogue with other views, in a prepared in-class debate. [For example, Martin Luther, and his allies and critics, or pro- and anti-slavery proponents in antebellum America]. In this task, students develop historical and cultural empathy with views not their own, oral and written communication skills, and complex reasoning using texts related to religion and Western Civilisation.  
  3. An integrative essay that reflects on the relevance of one element of the history of Western Civilisation’s relationship with Christianity for better understanding an ethical or political challenge in the present. This will be presented in mixed mode for different audiences: one-part essay for academic readership; one-part blog, video or podcast for wider popular audience. [Examples of topics might include understanding Christianity and human rights discourses and challenges, the place of Christianity in black civil rights movements, the decolonisation of Christianity and development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christianity in Australia and the Pacific, the relevance of Franciscan thought to present environmental challenges]. 

The assessment tasks for this unit have been designed to contribute to high quality student learning by both helping students learn (assessment for learning), and by measuring explicit evidence of their learning (assessment of learning). Assessments have been developed to meet the unit learning outcomes and develop graduate attributes consistent with University assessment requirements. These have been designed so that they use a variety of tasks to measure the different learning outcomes at a level suitable for [add year of study] in studies of Western Civilisation.  

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Close-reading analysis of primary text [Augustine’s Confessions or an equivalent text of similar age and significance]


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA4, GA6, GA7, GA8, GA9.

Group project: re-construction and re-enactment of historical debate


LO3, LO4

GA1; GA2; GA3; GA4; GA6; GA7; GA8; GA9

Integrative essay in mixed modes (essay + blog or podcast or video)


LO4, LO5

GA2, GA3, GA4, GA7, GA8, GA9,

Representative texts and references

Holy Bible (Douay-Rheims and King James Version). 

Augustine of Hippo, Confessions. 

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica. 

Martin Luther, translation of Galatians. 

John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress. 

Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola 

King, Martin Luther, Clayborne Carson, and Kris Shepard. A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. New York, NY: IPM (Intellectual Properties Management), in assoc. with Grand Central Publ, 2002.  

Indicative secondary texts: 

White, Shane, and Graham J. White. The Sounds of Slavery: Discovering African American History Through Songs, Sermons, and Speech. Boston, Mass: Beacon Press, 2006. 

Taylor, Charles. Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Univ. Press, 2012.  

Noll, Mark A. Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity. Grand Rapids: Baker Pub. Group, 2012. 

Lindberg, Carter. The European Reformations. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. 

McGrath, Alister E. Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.  

McGrath, Alister E. In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture. New York: Doubleday, 2008.  

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