Every module offered by the Institute for Value Studies is open to all undergraduates at Winchester.

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Our Institute for Value Studies is an extra-departmental space where students and staff from the university's different departments can work together on fundamental questions about ethics, politics, art, religion and education.

The most important task of the Institute is to offer a series of team-taught modules open for all undergraduates. In each Value Studies module students have the opportunity to grapple with fundamental questions about values in an open, undogmatic and probing atmosphere. The modules are team-taught by staff from the various departments in the university who bring different kinds of expertise and experience to bear on questions of general human significance. The format is conversational and the spirit co-operative.

Why choose to study a Value Studies module?

  • First of all, because we deal with important stuff. Every module offered is focused on questions that engage us as human beings no matter what we decide to do for a living. Love, justice, beauty and other ideas about value are significant to us all
  • Our modules run in small conversational seminar groups of up to 12 students. In this context, every voice counts. Here you can think aloud and work with fellow students who also want to make up their minds about some of the fundamental questions we all grapple with
  • Challenge yourself intellectually by entering the world of conversation beyond your own department. You’ll learn alongside students from a variety of courses, and be taught by a module team from across the university who bring diverse perspectives to the conversation
  • Value Studies is recognised on your HEAR record, and, for many courses across the University, the module is worth 15 credits – check here to see if your course is one of them.

Interested in some thoughts from students who have taken one or more modules already? Check out the video below.


Optional modules

Eating Well: Food and Value in the 21st Century*

Module Codes: VA1009, VA2009, VA3009

Offered in Semester 1 

Without nourishing food human beings quickly wither and die. Yet eating is about more than fuelling our bodies. Our eating habits often go unexamined, but in this module, we will try to understand how eating is not only a natural need but also an activity ordered by aesthetic, cultural, moral, religious and political norms and ideals. We will take a close look at contemporary eating orders (and disorders) and consider how we do, could or should make decisions about what, how, where and with whom we eat. Sometimes serious conversation about such issues is rejected as trivial or evaded with the Latin dictum “de gustibus non est disputandum” (in matters of taste, there can be no discussion), but here we will take the delights of the table seriously and see where the conversation can go. Our seminars will take place in the company of texts and works of art by some of the thoughtful eaters who have struggled with questions about food before us and who might be able to help us eat well in the 21st century.

Displaced: Forced Migration and Refugees Today*

Module Codes: VA1011, VA2011, VA3011

Offered in Semester 1 

no one leaves home unless

home is the mouth of a shark

(Warsan Shire, Home) 

How are we to understand and to live with people who have been uprooted from their homes? This question has a claim on us all in a world where more than 60 million people live a life displaced. In this module, we will seek to understand the main causes of forced migration, the experience of displacement and attempts to address the current refugee crisis. Against this background, we will have a conversation about the values that should guide our lives with those displaced. Our engagement with the difficult questions facing us in this territory – about homelessness, nationhood, hospitality, compassion and human rights - will be enriched by texts and works of art by theorists from various disciplines, people who have worked in the field, and by those who have experienced displacement.


Module Codes: VA1014, VA2014, VA3014

Offered in Semester 1

Freedom has a claim on us that few other ideals can match. It has inspired great art, significant events, and foundational laws. The beliefs and actions of people throughout history and today appear to testify that in freedom we find something worth seeking, celebrating and even dying for.

Yet despite the centrality of freedom to human life, it is not clear what it is, why it is worth caring about, and how to safeguard it - if we have it at all. In this module we will encounter thought about the value and kinds of freedom; ask how and why societies might protect particular freedoms; and consider individual experiences of freedom or its loss.

Along the way, we will encounter people and events who have shaped the way we think about freedom today and examine whether there are particular ways freedom is supported – or restricted - by the modern world.

Stories for Children*

Module Codes: VA1016, VA2016, VA3016

Offered in Semester 1

Many of the most captivating children’s stories are loved across generations and by adults as well as children. Often, they deal with themes that seem important at any age. How to face danger and adversity; what a good friend is like; or why truth and goodness matter. In this module we will explore some much-loved children’s stories and the values that are at their heart. In each case we will ask what about the story makes it significant, and what kind of claims it invites us to consider.

Alongside our chosen stories, we will look at other influential thought on the same themes and examine shared insight or disagreement between texts. Together we will discuss how the stories we read can contribute to our understanding of particularly significant values.

Culture: High and Low*

Module Codes: VA1001, VA2001, VA3001

Offered in Semester 2

Ideas about 'culture' play a complex role in contemporary discussions about what matters in life. This module is designed to help students get a grip on this difficult concept and to introduce them to some of the fundamental questions that are being addressed when ideas about culture become central to our theoretical inquiries, practical projects and dramatic disagreements. To this end, we will study some of the thinkers who have shaped current usage and discuss issues that are particularly important today. The distinction between high and low, or highs and lows, runs like a red thread throughout the module and invites us to reflect on our basic assumptions about progress, decadence and hierarchy.

The Values of Nature*

Module Codes: VA1017, VA2017, VA3017

Offered in Semester 2

What is ‘nature’? What does it mean to care about, respect or follow nature? Should ‘nature’ in any sense of the term guide our sense of what is valuable? In this module, we will seek answers to these questions by studying different conceptions of nature. Our inquiries – focusing on both human and non-human nature – will invite us to engage with fundamental issues concerning especially ethics, health, education and ecology: Are human beings good by nature, or evil, or some kind of mixture? Is exposure to wild nature in some way good for us? What can we learn from people and cultures who seem to live close to nature? How might our views of nature help us understand and deal with climate change, the extinction of species or natural disasters? The module will be interesting to students from all disciplines who want to understand better one of the most complex and important concepts we live with today.

Other Animals: Contemporary Moral Frontiers*

Module Codes: VA1003, VA2003, VA3003

Offered in Semester 2

The relation between humans and other animals constitutes one of the frontiers of moral life today. Qualms about factory farming and meat-eating are widespread. So are worries about animal experimentation and zoos. In this module, these various moral anxieties provide starting points for a series of inquiries into the current lives of non-human animals and their relation to us humans. How, and to what extent, do we understand other animals? What do we owe other animals, wild and tame? Is it true, as the animal rights movement insists, that we stand in deeply flawed relations to the other animals? And if so, what should we do about it? How, in a (more) ideal world, would humans and other animals relate to one another? What, in other words, are the values that should guide our relations to the other animals in the future?

The Brain, Human Nature and Ethics*

Module Codes: VA1007, VA2007, VA3007

Offered in Semester 2

While many sciences investigate aspects of human nature, none seems to come as close to home as the study of the human brain. A growing number of books and documentaries on the brain suggest that neuroscience will sooner or later tell us who we really are. Some claim that mysteries like consciousness, the self and free will, which have (supposedly) eluded philosophy and religion for centuries, are about to be solved by scientific discoveries. Along with this knowledge (it is said) will come power to change who we are and how we behave: not only to treat neurological disorders, but also to modify and enhance our brain functions using drugs or other technologies. Maybe this knowledge will be used to influence customer choices in marketing, or to interrogate criminal suspects. We might be able to enhance our cognitive abilities, our mood, and our moral qualities. Perhaps we will be able to upload our minds to supercomputers and break free from the limits of our flesh-and-blood bodies altogether. This module will critically explore claims like these and the ambitions that go along with them, drawing on the work of neuroscientists, philosophers, theologians and others. For example: how much – and what – can neuroscience really tell us about what it is to be human? How feasible and how coherent are proposals for brain reading, cognitive enhancement or mind uploading? And even if such things can be done, should they? Is a cognitively enhanced or posthuman future one that we should hope for, or fear?


Module Codes: VA2020 / VA3020

In this module we will study and discuss forms and values of activism. Our central focus will be on contemporary activism concerned with environmental crises: climate change, mass extinction and other ecological threats. We are currently confronted with a fast-developing plethora of eco-activisms, individual and collective. Our aim in the module is to understand the ends and means of the most significant ecologically oriented activists and movements today. What do eco-activists work for? And how do they mean to achieve their ends? What works and what does not work? What forms of activism are legitimate and which ones are morally problematic? These are our guiding questions as we study the various forms of eco-activism prominent now.


Module Codes: VA2021 / VA3021

What is empathy? What role does it, and should it, play in human life? If empathy is important, how do we develop it? In this module, we will explore possible answers to these questions in the company of thinkers from a variety of disciplines. Many of them will, in some way or other, confirm the common view that empathy is of vital importance for mutual understanding and for our ability to live well together, but we will also study arguments according to which empathy is less important or less obviously good that one might think. As we grapple with fundamental questions about empathy, we will consider related phenomena such as sympathy, attention, pity, compassion, care and solidarity. The module does not assume any prior knowledge of the field and should be interesting to students from any programme who wants to think about how we most fundamentally relate to one another.


Module Codes: VA2023 / VA3023

The notion of rights is central in contemporary moral, political and legal thought. But what are rights? And how significant are they? In this module, we will investigate the historical background for the contemporary prominence of rights and examine some of the central difficulties and disagreements that define conversations about rights today. We will focus primarily on the idea of human rights, but also consider the possible rights of specific groups – e.g. children or refugees – and consider the possibility of extending the notion beyond the human. The aim of the module is to introduce students to a concept widely used in public debates, but also contested and criticized, and so invite them into the fundamental discussion about the value of rights.

What is Love?

Module Codes: VA2024/VA3024

Love seems to be a crucial value—a value that may even be synonymous with what it means to value anything at all. Yet this general truth raises serious difficulties: not only is the potential range of love objects bewilderingly vast, but what it means “to love” is a question with many competing answers. In this module, we will examine a variety of views about love: ancient and modern, western and non-western, some that confirm the high value commonly placed on love and some that invite us to be sceptical about the emphasis on love in our culture. The aim of the module is to introduce students to the great human conversation about the meaning of love and to be a forum in which we, students and staff, can continue this conversation ourselves.

*These modules are running in the 2019/20 academic year.

How to Register

The modules offered by the Institute for Value Studies are open to all undergraduates at Winchester. Many programmes allow students to take the modules for credit.

There are limited spaces, but we accommodate as many as we can according to the first come, first served principle.

If you would like to take a module for credit (i.e. it will count towards the completion of your programme), please contact your programme leader to see if your programme allows you to take the modules for credit. Each module is worth 15 credits.

What Winchester Students Say About Value Studies...

"The content was incredibly interesting..."

"The content of the module was extremely interesting (...) The module was also well-organised as each week we knew what to prepare and discuss."

"The tutor did a great job at allowing everyone to input their ideas and opinions and challenged us in the sense of discussion topics and broader thinking. Conversation was brilliant."

Contact us

Institute for Value Studies
The University of Winchester
SO22 4NR
Tel: +44 (0) 1962 826359