HUM 102: Medieval Humanities

Medieval Humanities: Heaven and Earth

MWF, 11:00-11:50

Professor: Dr. Stephen Shoemaker
Office:348 Susan Campbell Hall ;  Office Hours:  MW 4-5 (or by appointment)  Telephone: 346-4998; Email: sshoemak (at) uoregon (dot) edu

Course Description and Objectives

This course is designed to provide students with a basic working knowledge of the various cultural developments of the western middle ages.  Although we will devote considerable attention to the history of medieval Christendom, both east and west, we will also engage developments in the Jewish and Islamic cultural traditions.  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.


  • Gillian Clark, Late Antiquity: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press (ISBN 978-0-19-954620-6)
  • Peter Sarris, Byzantium: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press  (ISBN 978-0-19-923611-4)
  • Miri Rubin, The Middle Ages: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press (ISBN 978-0-19-969729-8)
  • Readings in the Middle Ages, edited by Barbara Rosenwein, 2nd ed. University of Toronto Press (ISBN 978-1-4426-0602-9)

Several items are to be found on the internet, as indicated below.  


Assignments and Estimated Workload

Attendance at all class sessions is expected. Students should read all the assignments carefully before coming to class, in order to better understand the lectures and to participate in discussion groups with questions and comments. Assignments will generally involve about 80 pages of reading per week. This should require about four hours of reading per week outside of class. Completion of the writing assignments and preparation for examinations should require an additional thirty hours during the course of the term. Everyone should be prepared to contribute both ideas and questions to the class discussions. Assignments and grading are as follows:

A.  Two exams (50%), 2/12 and 10:15 Friday, March 23

B.  Class attendance and participation (20%)

C. One 5 page essay double-spaced (approx 1300 words), due in class on the respective date and addressing one of the following three questions (30%): To be turned in as hard copy in class and on Canvas. You only have to do one of the three assignments.

1. Due 2/7: Read Augustine of Hippo, The City of God Books 1 and 4 (in Files on Canvasand answer the following questions: “How does Augustine understand the events of the ‘Fall of Rome?’ What role, in his view, does the Christian faith and its God have in these events? What sort of relationship does he seem to envision between the Roman Empire and the Christian faith? What is his theology of history: how do you think Augustine understands God’s relation to the events of human history and human society?”

2. Due 2/21: Read Sura 2, 12, 15, 18, and 19 from the Qur’an (in Files on Canvasand answer the following questions: “Based strictly on these passages from the Qur’an, what would you say are the core beliefs of Muhammad and his followers? What is the nature of their community: what are its rules and its boundaries? What is the relation of this new faith community to Judaism and Christianity? What are its hopes for the future and what is its understanding of the past? What is its theology of history: how do you think this community understands God’s relation to the events of human history and human society?”

3. Due 3/5: Read Anna Comnena’s Alexiad Books 10 and 11 and answer the following questions: “What is Anna’s view of the Roman(Byzantine) Empire? What is its rightful status in the world? What is its status in relation to the Christian faith and its God? How does she view the western crusaders? What, in her view, caused the Crusade? What were the relations between the western Crusaders and the Roman/Byzantine Empire? How do you think she understands God’s relation to the events of human history and human society?”

Format of Essays:

In answering the questions, first of all, briefly summarize the contents of the text(s) regarding the questions asked: what do the texts say?  Then, take a clear position in response to the texts and defend it: imagine that your reader believes the opposite and that you are trying to persuade him or her.  Your assignment for this paper is to write from a perspective outside of the traditions in question.  Do not make the mistake of giving a spiritual autobiography or a narrative of how this text relates to your own personal spiritual life and faith.  Do not make the mistake of just dismissing the ideas of a text because you have different religious beliefs: if you disagree, give convincing reasons why.

In all instances, strive for an impersonal and objective tone: you need to represent the contents of the text(s) fairly and accurately and give thoughtful reasons for your response.  Your goal for this assignment is to approach and consider these religious traditions as objects of study from the outside, NOT from the perspective of an insider, legitimate as this perspective is in other contexts.  Even if one is a believer in a particular tradition, the purpose of taking this class is to learn how to see and study the same phenomena from a perspective outside of the tradition.

In general, it is good to avoid using “I,” “me,” “my,” “we,” “our,” “you”, “your” (except in quotations of course); you should give your opinions, but write them using the third person.  Also, while you should cite examples from the texts, be sure to explain and contextualize any quotations made, and be sure that your own voice is not lost in a sea of quotations. All quotations must be identified as such, and references to the text should be given parenthetically either as a page number or section number, as appropriate.  Take care to write correctly and well: you will be graded for grammar and style as well as content.  Finally, please number your pages.  For extra help and advice on writing your paper, the University Teaching and Learning Center in the basement of PLC is an invaluable resource.

Learning Outcomes

Students who successfully complete this course should be able to:

  • describe the basic cultural developments western middle ages and understand their diversity and relation to the broader social, cultural, and political elements shaped their beliefs and practices
  • analyze primary texts critically and discuss their significance for understanding religious culture
  • evaluate the role of cultural exchange and dialogue within different traditions
  • demonstrate the ability to write a formal academic paper on a topic related to the religious traditions covered in this class.

Expectations and Regulations

1.  Preparation:  You are expected to come to class having completed the reading assignments for that session.  You should be prepared to discuss and ask questions about the assignments in your discussion group.  Note also that some material from the readings that is not covered in class may be included on the examinations.

2.  Participation and Class Attendance: You should come to class prepared to ask questions and to discuss the readings for that session.  Regular class attendance is required, and attendance will be taken.  If you expect to miss class doe to illness, observance of religious holy days, or other extenuating circumstances, please notify the instructor in advance at sshoemak (at) uoregon (dot) edu.

3.  Late Papers: Unless an extension has been arranged in advance, late papers will be marked down one full letter grade for each day after the due date.  Late papers will not be accepted more than three days after the due date.

4.  Make-up or Early Exams: will be allowed only in truly exceptional circumstances, in the case of unforeseeable events beyond the student’s control and must be approved by the instructor in advance.

5. Cell phones may not be used in class. If I see you using a cell phone, it will affect your final grade.

6. Plagiarism or Cheating: Students caught plagiarizing or cheating on any assignment will be reported to the Student Conduct Coordinator in the Office of the Dean of Students. Students who are aware of cheating or plagiarism are encouraged to inform the instructor. If you are uncertain as to what constitutes plagiarism (or other forms of academic dishonesty), please consult this helpful guide from the UO library concerning plagiarism, as well as the UO’s Policy on Academic Dishonesty.

All students are subject to the regulations stipulated in the UO Student Conduct Code This code represents a compilation of important regulations, policies, and procedures pertaining to student life. It is intended to inform students of their rights and responsibilities during their association with this institution, and to provide general guidance for enforcing those regulations and policies essential to the educational and research missions of the University.

7.  Completion of Assignments:  Completion of all required assignments is necessary to pass and receive credit for the course.  Incompletes will be granted only at the discretion of the instructor and only in case of circumstances beyond the student’s control.

8. Appropriate accommodations will be provided for students with documented disabilities. If you have a documented disability and require accommodation, arrange to meet with the course instructor within the first week of the term. The documentation of your disability must come in writing from the Accessible Education Center in the Office of Academic Advising and Student Services. Disabilities may include (but are not limited to) neurological impairment, orthopedic impairment, traumatic brain injury, visual impairment, chronic medical conditions, emotional/psychological disabilities, hearing impairment, and learning disabilities. For more information on Accessible Education Center, please see

9. Mandatory Reporting: UO employees, including faculty, staff, and GTFs, are mandatory reporters of child abuse and prohibited discrimination. This statement is to advise you that that your disclosure of information about child abuse or prohibited discrimination to a UO employee may trigger the UO employee’s duty to report that information to the designated authorities. Please refer to the following links for detailed information about mandatory reporting:

Grading Scale


Grading Scale

A: Excellent. Assignment is without errors in both technical matters and content, with distinction. Shows high degree of fluency with content and technical skill, with evidence of creativity and originality. A grade of A+ is rare, and indicates work that demonstrates rare mastery, originality, and polish.
B: Good. Assignment is technically sound and accurate in content. Shows all-round solid grasp of methods and subject matter.
C: Satisfactory. Errors in technical matters and/or content that are limited in scope. Shows essentially sound grasp of subject matter and methods.
D: Inferior. Significant flaws in technical matters and/or content that are wide-ranging. Shows weak grasp of subject matter and/or methods.


Course Outline

Week 1

1/8 Introduction

1/10 The End of Antiquity


  • Clark, 1-12
  • Lynch, Medieval Church, 1-9 (in Files on Canvas)
  • Solomon, 1-9 (in Files on Canvas)

1/12 New Religious Movements: Christianity


  • Lynch, Medieval Church, 10-29 (in Files on Canvas)
  • The Gospel according to Mark, 13-16.8 (web)
  • The Epistle of Paul to the Romans 1.18-3.31 (web)

Week 2

1/15: NO Class – Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday

1/17: New Religious Movements: Rabbinic Judaism


1/19: The Roman Empire at the End of Antiquity


  • Clark, 13-29
  • Letters of Pliny and Trajan (web)

Week 3

1/22: Constantine and Constantinople


1/24 The Kingdom of God: Christianity and Empire


1/26 Alternative Lifestyles: The Rise of Monasticism


  • Sarris, 19-40
  • Readings, 17-34

Week 4

1/29 Early Medieval Theology: Augustine of Hippo


  • Clark, 58-77
  • The Confessions Book 8
  • Readings, 14-17, 80-3

1/31 “Barbarians” and the Fall of Rome


  • Clark, 78-90
  • Sarris, 41-55
  • Readings, 46-57

2/2 Medieval Music: Gregorian Chant


Week 5

2/5 The Rise of the Papacy


2/7 The Rise of Islam


  • Clark, 103-16
  • Silverstein, Ch. 1 (read to “800-1100”) (in Files on Canvas)
  • Sebeos, Chronicle: On the Beginnings of Islam
  • Readings, 73-6, 114-17

First Paper Due (remember: you only have to do one of the three assignements)

2/9  Christianity and Islam


Week 6

2/12 EXAM 1

2/14 Charlemagne and the Carolingian Renaissance


  • Rubin, 1-20
  • Readings, 128-35

2/16 Medieval Art and Iconoclasm


  • Sarris, 94-112
  • Readings, 63-9, 135-48

Week 7

2/19 Medieval Islam: The Abbasid Renaissance


  • Silverstein, Ch. 1 (read to “1500-present”) and Ch. 3 (in Files on Canvas)
  • Readings, 122-23, 126-7, 200-5

2/21 The Division of Christendom: The Great Schism


  • Sarris, 78-93
  • Pope Nicholas I on Papal Jurisdiction (865 or 866)
  • The Anathemas of 1054

Second Paper Due

2/23 The Expansion of Christendom: The Crusades


Week 8

2/26 Heaven on Earth: Medieval Monasticism


  • Rubin, 59-75
  • Readings, 174-81 296-302

2/28 Popes and Emperors: Authority in the Middle Ages


  • Rubin, 75-87
  • Readings, 258-62, 325-27, 333-7, 423-8

3/2 High Medieval Theology: Aquinas and Scholasticism


Week 9

3/5 Meeting God: Christian Piety and Mysticism


  • Rubin, 99-110
  • Readings, 370-2, 436-42 486-90

Third Paper Due

3/7 Medieval Judaism: Scholars and Mystics


  • Solomon, 30-46 (in Files on Canvas)
  • Rubin, 110-16
  • Readings, 127-8, 267-71, 413-16, 446-8

3/9 The Poor: Francis of Assisi


  • Rubin, 29-49
  • Readings, 363-70, 372-6

Week 10

3/12 The Fall of the Roman Empire


  • Sarris, 112-28
  • Readings, 459-65

3/14 Reform and Rebirth


  • Rubin, 49-58
  • Readings, 432-6, 483-6, 490-99

3/16 The Third Rome: Moscow

Final Exam: 10:15 Friday, March 23