The World Transformed: The Enlightenment and Its Critics

The details
Philosophical, Historical and Interdisciplinary Studies (School of)
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 4
Monday 15 January 2024
Friday 22 March 2024
07 September 2023


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

This interdisciplinary module explores the Enlightment period so that we can better understand our world today and bring about the world we want tomorrow.

The module will focus on debates surrounding knowledge, censorship and freedom of speech, the state of nature of the scope of political authority, and colonialism. Graduating students often rank it among the most useful modules they've taken.

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To demonstrate to students that some of the most powerful discourses of the Enlightenment period and the reactions to the discourses are relevant to our present situation and remain powerful tools to analyse and understand the world we live in.

  • To provide students with a framework and background knowledge to navigate successfully their studies in future years.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, students will be expected to be able to:

  1. To read, assess and summarise the arguments of challenging texts.

  2. To learn the conventions of an academic writing including structure, quotation, reference, and bibliography.

  3. To show the ability to work from particular questions on a specific text, and to write a coherent essay in response.

  4. To assess and evaluate specific arguments and texts and write a critical analysis.

  5. To compare and contrast two or more selected texts in one particular aspect, and express their similarities and differences.

  6. To explicate a set passage from one of the texts on the programme, to relate it to rest of the text and to fit it in the contextual, conceptual and comparative framework, the Enlightenment itself, established during the module.

  7. To test the ability to respond to general, thematic questions that demand a broad grasp of the intellectual and historical developments considered in the module.

  8. To analyse types of language of a set passage and to relate that language to historical and discursive factors.

Module information

Ours is a world that seems to be shaking at its very foundations. Ideas that have shaped the way we see ourselves and the world around us – ideas like democracy, free speech, citizenship, political authority, individualism, free markets, and human rights – are contested at every turn.

These ideas took their definitive modern form during a period of political and intellectual upheaval known as the Enlightenment. If we want to navigate our way through the chaos of today, then we need to return to the roots of our contemporary world – the Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment (roughly 1650-1800) was a politically and intellectually revolutionary period of history that defined the ideas that continue to shape the way we see ourselves and the world we live in - ideas like democracy, free speech, political authority, individualism, egalitarianism, scientific evidence, feminism, and cultural relativism.

By examining this period, this interdisciplinary module provides students with a crucial framework for understanding today's dominant intellectual currents - a framework that proves remarkably useful for students in their second and third year coursework. Indeed, graduating students often rank it among the most useful modules they've taken. Built on a spine of lectures delivered by staff from across the Faculty of Humanities, this interdisciplinary module covers topics such as the aftermath of the Scientific Revolution, free speech, the English civil war, social contract theory, and the great age of discovery and exploration. We will draw on artworks, poetry, novels, political pamphlets and speeches, as well as philosophical texts.

The module will be divided into three thematic blocks. The clusters offered may change from time to time.

The module will demonstrate how all of these topics remain central to our experience today, and how we can learn from past discourses how to understand the present.

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be delivered via:

  • One 1-hour lecture per week.
  • One 1-hour class/seminar per week.

There will also be a Reading Week when no teaching will take place, exact week to be confirmed.


The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course.
The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students.
Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Reading Quizzes Total    30% 
Coursework   Essay (1500 words)    70% 
Exam  Main exam: Remote, Open Book, 24hr during Summer (Main Period) 
Exam  Reassessment Main exam: Remote, Open Book, 24hr during September (Reassessment Period) 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
50% 50%


Coursework Exam
50% 50%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Prof Fabian Freyenhagen, email: ffrey@essex.ac.uk.
PHAIS General Office - 6.130; isugadmin@essex.ac.uk.



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
Of 27 hours, 25 (92.6%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
2 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s), module, or event type.


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