This introduces various aspects of Christianity during the first seven centuries of its existence. Although this course focuses to a certain extent on the development of what would later become “orthodox” Christianity within the bounds of the Roman Empire, this is not to the exclusion of rival forms of early Christianity. Considerable attention will also be given to the spread of Christianity along the fringes and outside the borders of the Roman Empire. We will concentrate especially on the historical diversity of the early Christian tradition, in an effort to understand better its contemporary complexity. In the course of the term, students will read and write reflective essays on several primary sources, each selected to represent the historical and confessional diversity of Christian traditions, as well as to present certain basic problems from the history of Christianity. We will conclude in the middle of the seventh century, a period often considered “the end of antiquity,” and while this periodization is not unproblematic, the Arab conquests of the eastern Mediterranean that would follow indeed mark a significant historical change.
REL 407/507: Mary in Early Christianity (new course)
This course will analyze a wide range of scattered and often overlooked evidence for early Marian piety, which demonstrates, contrary to a prevailing narrative of ancient Christian history, that Marian devotion was in fact a vital part of early Christianity’s development. The course covers the period from the beginnings of Christianity up through and including the events of the Council of Ephesus (431), the Third Ecumenical Council, where Mary was famously proclaimed as “Theotokos,” that is, the one who gave birth to God. Nevertheless, since there is practically no evidence of any Christian devotion to Mary prior to 150 CE (or, for that matter, to any other figure besides Jesus), as a practical matter the study focuses primarily on the period from the latter half of the second century to the first half of the fifth. By evaluating devotion to Mary within the broader context of the emergent Christian cult of the saints, one can see that it was a phenomenon of particular significance within this broader development in Christian piety. Marian piety in fact took a great diversity of forms in ancient Christianity, and exploring these variations will be an important focus of this class.
This course provides students with a basic working knowledge of the various religious traditions of Near Eastern origin. Although we will devote considerable attention to the three numerically largest Western traditions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, we will also discuss, however briefly, various other related traditions that are also deserving of our attention, including several religious traditions that have now become extinct. Students will read numerous primary texts from each of these traditions, which will be discussed in smaller groups. Finally, students will write a reflective essay requiring them to process and synthesize several key concepts from these religious traditions.
This course covers the history of Eastern Christianity from the beginnings of the Christian Roman Empire under Constantine to the Fall of Constantinople in the 15th century. The course will focus on the eastern Mediterranean but will also cover the history of Christianity in medieval Asia and Africa and the missionary expansion of Christianity to the Slavic lands. Students will learn to appreciate the diversity and importance of the Eastern Christian tradition, and will write papers on various topics using primary texts to investigate an issue central to understanding Eastern Christianity.
This course covers the history of Eastern Christianity from the fall of Constantinople in the 15th century until the fall of European Communism in the late 20th. The first part of the class will focus on Christianity in the Ottoman Empire, which took the place of the Byzantine Empire after the latter’s fall. The second half of the class will focus on the history of Christianity in Russia and, to a lesser extent, Eastern Europe. In the course of the term, students will write reflective essays on several primary sources, each selected to represent the historical diversity of the Christian traditions, as well as to present certain basic problems and issues from the history of Christianity.
This course introduced students the history of the Christian traditions in Western Europe during the middle ages, from ca. 400-1500. We will focus especially on the development of Christian thought, the structures of the medieval church, and the interplay of church and politics. We will also concentrate on the historical diversity of the early Christian tradition, in an effort to understand better its contemporary complexity. In the course of the term, students will read and write reflective essays on several primary sources, each selected to represent the historical and confessional diversity of Christian traditions, as well as to present certain basic problems from the history of Christianity.
This course will introduce students the history of the Western Christian traditions in Europe and America from 1500 to the present. We will focus especially on the development of Christian thought, the structures of the modern church, and the interplay of church, culture, and society. We will also concentrate on the historical diversity of the Christian tradition, in an effort to understand better its contemporary complexity. In the course of the term, students will read and write reflective essays on several primary sources, each selected to represent the historical and confessional diversity of Christian traditions, as well as to present certain basic problems from the history of Christianity.
“In the thirteenth century, the height of medieval Christian civilization in Europe, there may have been more Christian believers on the continent of Asia than in Europe, while Africa still had populous Christian communities” (P. Jenkins, The Next Christendom). In its early history, Christianity was far more “global” than we often realize. And this is not just a matter of numbers: in nearly every area the Christians of Asia outshone their European brothers and sisters during the first millennium of Christian history. Due in large part to the preservation of the classical heritage of Greece and Rome, Asian Christian culture was far more sophisticated than the West in the areas of theology, philosophy, and literature, as well as science, math, and medicine. Indeed, the well-known intellectual renaissance of medieval Islam under the Abbasids was largely facilitated by the learned Asian Christian scholars who served as important teachers and translators in this movement. Perhaps even less well known is the fact that Christianity reached China by the early seventh century, leaving behind numerous original theological works written in Chinese during the seventh through ninth centuries. Nor is it widely recognized that millions of Christians in southern India today belong to communities that were first established during the second century, if not even as early as the first century! Christianity also has a rich history in medieval Central Asia, where it was an important part of a complex religious landscape that included Buddhism, Islam, and Manichaeism, among other religious traditions. In the middle ages, these diverse manifestations of Asian Christianity were united in a single “Church of the East” whose headquarters were in Baghdad. A small remnant of this once great church still exists in the modern day Church of the East, most of whose members live in Iraq. This course aims to fill in this important gap in our knowledge of the Christian (and human) past. It will explore the complex and varied history of Christianity as it developed across the Asian continent, beginning with the initial (and apparently “unorthodox”) spread of Christianity eastward from Jerusalem and ending in 1500, before the onset of European colonization.
Countless college textbooks and biographies of Muhammad present the beginnings of the Islamic religious tradition as it were a relatively straightforward affair. All too often they relate the events of Muhammad’s life and the genesis of his religious community straight out of the traditional Islamic sources, bringing only a modicum of criticism to this traditional narrative. Yet such confidence in these traditional accounts it largely unwarranted, and scholars of early Islam have long recognized that the earliest sources for the beginnings of Islam were arrestingly late in forming. The earliest surviving narrative of Islamic origins was composed well over one hundred years after Muhammad’s death, and this narrative is known only as it was revised by Islamic scholars working two to three centuries after the events in question. Moreover, the traditional narratives of Islamic origins are widely acknowledged to present a highly stylized, even mythical account of Islamic origins that was fashioned to meet the needs and interests of the Islamic tradition as it had developed by its second and third centuries. Accordingly, scholars of early Islam have often made an undesirable choice between either accepting the basic outlines of the traditional narrative of origins (as in so many textbooks and biographies) or resigning themselves to relative ignorance about the events of the first Islamic century.
This course, however, pursues an alternative option, by following historical-critical approaches similar to those employed by scholars of biblical studies to illuminate the beginnings of Islam. As such methods have proven highly effective in probing behind the surface of traditional materials to illuminate the origins of Judaism and Christianity, so one imagines that similar perspectives hold great potential for investigating the beginnings of Islam, which has largely been shielded from this critical lens. The course will begin by setting Muhammad’s religious movement within the matrix of religions and cultures in late ancient west Asia. Then we will examine and critique the traditional narrative of Islamic origins given by the Islamic sources and re-presented by many western scholars. As an alternative to this received narrative, we will focus on several specific areas where historical-critical scholarship has met with some success in reconstructing the earliest history of Islam: the geographic location in which Islam had its genesis; the eschatological beliefs of Muhammad and his earliest followers; the formation of a sacred scripture; the establishment of a sectarian identity; and the formation of a sacred geography. Finally, the course will conclude by considering the events of the “Islamic” conquest of the Near East and the process by which this earliest religious community evolved into the “classical Islam” of the Abbasid period that is reflected in most of our historical sources. In all of this the course will pay especially close attention to evidence provided by non-Islamic sources from the period, which all too often have been overlooked in the study of Islamic origins.
Over the centuries, the Christian tradition has repeatedly sought to identify and promote a “true” religious discourse, generally known as “orthodoxy.” Correlate with the production of this discourse of religious truth is the identification and refutation of various “heresies,” that is, theological positions deviant from the truth of Christian orthodoxy. As we will discover, however, heresy is generally not the “perversion” of a more primitive orthodoxy, as our “orthodox” sources would have us believe. On the contrary, it seems that heterodoxy, that is, theological diversity, is the more primitive condition, and the “unity” of orthodoxy is forged only at the expense of this original diversity. In this course we will study a variety of “heretical” beliefs from ancient Christianity, attempting to sift through the often caustic rhetoric of their opponents to recover these alternative visions of Christian truth. In particular, we will focus especially on possible connections between “heretical” forms of Christianity and various other social and cultural forces of early medieval society.
The early Christians developed several highly sophisticated understandings of the body, each of which impacted and was impacted by certain constructions of gender and sexuality. The purpose of this class is to introduce students to the various notions of gender, the body, and sexuality found in the earliest Christian traditions. The course’s main emphasis will be on the cultural construction of these three interrelated categories in early Christian literature. We will focus on how and why certain Christian texts sought to normalize certain constructions of gender, the body, and sexuality, and how these three discourses were constructed in close relation to one another. At the same time, we will also attempt to recover alternative constructions that have survived the establishment of dominant discourses, both in order to manifest the repressed diversity of the early Christian tradition and also to highlight the choices made as “orthodox” views of the body, gender, and sexuality were constructed.