The Christian Religious Tradition: From Jewish Sect to World Religion

(University of Toronto, 2000-2001)

Course description:

The course will look at the history and culture of Christianity from its beginnings to the present, focusing on various figures, events, institutions and themes. This will involve attention to both practice and belief, as well as contexts in which Christianity developed. We will look at important figures in this history but also at the everyday lives of Christians. We will especially focus on the interactions between various forms of Christianity and broader social, cultural and political contexts over time. In the first term we will cover Christianity from its origins to the medieval era and in the second term we will proceed through the reformations and into the modern era. In an attempt to balance the general with the specific, there will be regular case studies of specific persons, movements or issues as we proceed through each period of history.

Required books

  • Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity. 2 vols. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1984-85.
  • The Bible.
  • Henry Bettenson and Chris Maunder, ed., Documents of the Christian Church. Third edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Henry Chadwick, trans., Saint Augustine: Confessions. Oxford World's Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
  • Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity. New York: HarperCollins, 1997 (for book review paper).
  • Course pack of primary materials

Requirements and Evaluation:

  • Book Review paper, due term 1, week 9 in class (6 pages double-spaced, no longer; 15%)
  • Fall Term Test (20%)
  • Statement of major paper topic and tentative thesis, due term 2, week 8 in class (2 pages; not graded)
  • Major research paper, due term 2, week 13 in class (10-12 pages double-spaced, no longer; 30%)
  • Final exam (25%)
  • Tutorial and class participation (10%)


Course Schedule:

Term 1

Week 1

Introduction: Christianity and the academic study of religion


Unit I: Early Christianity (beginnings to 300 CE)

Week 2

Contexts and founders of early Christianity: Judaism and the Greco-Roman world; Early Christian literature

Readings: González (volume 1), chs. 1-4; The Gospel of Mark; 1 Thessalonians; Galatians

Week 3

Forms of early Christian belief and practice: Part 1. Common denominators and diversity in early Christianity

Readings: González, chs. 8-9, 11; Bettenson, pp. 68-86 (organization and rituals)

Week 4

Part 2. Responses to diversity: Defining institutional and written authority

Gnosticism and Christian canon

Readings: González, chs. 8-9, 11 (cont'd); "The Apocryphon of John" (course pack)

Week 5

Christians and Greco-Roman society (including persecutions)

Readings: González, chs.5-7, 10; 1 Corinthians 8-10; 1 Peter 2:11-3:7 (Christians and society); Bettenson, pp. 1-16 (esp. Tacitus on the Neronian persecution and Pliny the Younger on Christians in Bithynia)

(Start reading Augustine's Confessions, books 2, 6, 8, and 9 [for week 8])


Unit II: The Christianization of Empire and the Legitimization of Christianity (300-600 CE)

Week 6

The New imperial religion: Constantine, his successors and Christianization

Councils, "heresies", and creeds

Readings: González, chs. 12-14, 17-18; Bettenson, pp. 16-25 (Constantine's enactments), 25-29 (creeds), 32-68 (views of Christ and the Trinity); Continue readng Augustine's Confessions, books 2, 6, 8, and 9

Week 7

Forms of Christian belief and practice: Asceticism; Cult of saints

Readings: González, chs.15-16, 19-22; "The Desert Fathers and Mothers" (course pack); Bettenson, pp.93-95 (Christian inscriptions); Continue reading Augustine's Confessions, books 2,6,8, and 9

Week 8

Case study and discussion: Augustine: His life, context. thought and legacy

Readings: González, chs. 23-25; Finish reading Augustine's Confessions, books 2, 6, 8 and 9

Unit III: Medieval Christianity and the Rise of Christendom (600-1500 CE)

Week 9

Western (Roman) Christianity in the Middle Ages:

Christian Missions: The Age of Conversion

The Papacy and Christendom (The Christian Society)

Case study: Venerable Bede and the Christianization of Britain

Readings: González, chs. 26, 28-30, 32; Bettenson, pp. 106-127 (Empire and papacy), 167-171 (England); Venerable Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Book 1, chaps. 23-26, 29, 32; Book 3, chaps. 9-13) (course pack).

Book review paper due Week 9 in class

Week 10

Eastern (Byzantine) Christianity in the Middle Ages

Relations with the West; Expansion

Case study: The Christianization of Kievan Rus' (Russia)

Readings: González, chs. 27; Bettenson, pp. 97-106 (East and West); Kallistos Ware, "Eastern Christendom," pp.123-162 in The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity (on reserve at Victoria University Pratt Library [also available at other U of T libraries, including the reference sections at Emmanuel College and Regis College)

Week 11

Forms of Christian belief and practice: Part 1. Popular religion; Saints, relics and pilgrimage; "Heresies"; Mysticism

Readings: González, chs. 33-34; Bettenson, pp. 146-149 (Inquisitions); "Pilgrimage", "Relics", "Epilogue" (course pack); "Hildegard of Bingen" (course pack)


Forms of Christian belief and practice: Part 2. Monasticism; Scholasticism and the Universities

Movies: "The Medieval Monastery"; "The Great Thaw"

Readings: González, chs. 35-36; Bettenson, pp. 127-146 (Rules of St. Benedict and of St. Francis), 151-167 (Scholasticism)

Week 13

Fall term test (in class)


Term 2

Unit IV: Reformations in the Early Modern Era (1500-1600)

Week 1

Contexts of the Reformations

Luther and the German Reformation

Readings: González, chs. 1-4, 9; Bettenson, pp. 202-240 (reformation on the continent)

Week 2

The Swiss connection: Zwingli, Calvin and the Reformed tradition

Readings: González chs. 5, 7; "Zwingli and the Reformation at Zurich"; "The Sixty-seven Articles of Zwingli, 1523" (course pack)

Week 3

The "Radical" Reformation (Anabaptists)

The English reformation and its consequences

Readings: González, chs. 6, 8-10; "Alleged Errors of Anabaptists"; "The Beginnings of the Anabaptist Reformation, Reminiscences of George Blaurock"; "The Schleitheim Confession of Faith, February 24, 1527" (course pack); Bettenson, pp. 241-271 (English Reformation)

Week 4

Catholic renewal ("Counter-Reformation")

Legacies of the Reformations

Readings: González, chs. 11-13; Bettenson, pp. 272-286

Unit V: Christianity into the Modern Era (1600-1800)

Week 5

Christianity and the New World (1500s-1600s): Missions, Catholic settlements and Protestant diversity

Case study: Diversification of Protestantism: England (Old and New)

Readings: González, chs. 14-17, 24; Bettenson, pp. 298-344 (British churches); "Bishop Hooper, 1551, A Puritan View"; "Reformation Without Tarrying for Any, by Robert Browne" (course pack)

Week 6

Rationalism and responses to it (1600s-1700s): Deism, Pietism, Methodism, Revivalism

Readings: González, chs. 21-23; Bettenson, pp. 345-351 (Deists, Methodists); "David Hume, 1748"; "Voltaire, 1764"; "August Hermann Francke, 1716"; "John Wesley's Journal, May 24, 1738"; "Rules for the Methodist Societies" (course pack)

Reading week (no classes or tutorials)


Unit VI: Christianity in the Modern World (1800-2000)

Week 7

Contexts of Christianity in the Nineteenth century: The Age of revolution and the rise of new ideologies

Case studies: Marx's and Nietzsche's critiques of religion (and Christianity)

Readings: González, chs. 25-27; "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, August 27, 1789"; "Decree Establishing the Worship of the Supreme Being, May 7, 1794"; Karl Marx, "Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right" and "The Communism of the Paper rheinischer Beobachter" (excerpts); Friedrich Nietzsche, "The Antichrist" sections 1-7, 45-46, 62 (course pack)

Statement of major paper topic and tentative thesis due week 8 in class

Week 8

Christianity and the scientific revolution: Interaction and conflict from Copernicus to Darwin

Readings: TBA; "Charles Darwin, 1859"; "The Passing of Evolution" (course pack)

Week 9

Protestantism and the modern age (1800-1914): Expansion, revivalism and liberalism

Readings: González, chs. 28-30; "Ernest Renan, 1863"; "Christianity and the Social Crisis" (course pack)

Week 10

Roman Catholicism and the modern age (1789-Vatican II)

Readings: González, chs. 31-33; Bettenson, pp. 286-298, 359-369 (Second Vatican Council)

Week 11

Christianity in 20th century contexts: Part 1. Survival and adaptation in an age of crises and change

Eastern Christianity and communism; Christianity and fascism

Readings: González, chs. 34-35; Bettenson, pp. 372-75 (Nazi Germany); "The Platform of the German Christians, 1932"; "The Barmen Declaration, May, 1934"; "Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt, October, 1945" (course pack)

Week 12

Part 2. Liberalism, fundamentalism, pluralism and ecumenism

Christianity in North America; Christianity as a world religion

Readings: González, chs. 36, Bettenson, pp. 375-379 ("black theology"), 404-410 (inter-faith dialogue), 411-435 (Ecumenism)

Week 13

Part 3. Christianity and post-colonialism: Latin America, Africa and Asia

Readings: TBA; Bettenson, pp. 379-390 (liberation theology), 397-399 (South Africa)

Major research paper due week 13 in class

Final Examination (TBA)