Social and Cultural History of Christianity, part 2 (1300-1650): Mystics, Heretics, and Reformers (Fall 2005)


Course description

This second course of the sequence on the social and cultural history of Christianity focuses on the late middle ages and the early modern period (approx. 1300-1650). We will look at both official and unofficial forms of Christianity in western Europe, including popular religious life, popular movements (including “heresies”), mysticism, and the reformations. We will give special attention to the reformations of the sixteenth century since they greatly impacted the future direction of Christianity in the West, both Protestant and Catholic.

Required books

  • Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity. 2 volumes in one.
  • Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller. Translated by John and Anne Tedeschi. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980 (for book review)
  • Course pack

Online discussions

There will be ongoing discussions (with opportunity for you to post your own comments and questions) on my blog -

See espeicially the Medieval and Reformation Christianity posts on the blog.

Requirements and Evaluation

  • Ongoing attendance and participation (both in class and online) 10%
  • Library quiz (to take place in connection with the required library session) 5% 
  • Surprise quiz 5%
  • Assignment 1 (book review: The Cheese and the Worms), due Week 5 (Oct 6) 20% 5 pages, double-spaced, 1" margins, no longer (see end of syllabus for description)
  • Assignment 2 (Short research paper), due Week 9 (Nov 3) 30% 8-9 pages, double-spaced. 1" margins (see end of syllabus for description)
  • Major Test in class Week 11 (Nov 17) 30%


Discussion Schedule

Unit 1: Orientation

Week 1 (Sept 8)

Introduction: Academic study of religion; Periods in the history of Christianity; Approaches to social, cultural, intellectual, and political history

Readings: González, vol. 1, chs. 1-25 (read or scan-read if you have not already taken part 1 of the history of Christianity sequence)

Week 2 (Sept 15)

Christianity up to 1300: A Reminder (from persecuted minority to Roman imperial favourite to European political power)

Readings: Continue González, vol. 1, chs. 1-25 (if you have not already taken part 1 of the history of Christianity sequence)

Week 3 (Sept 22)

Institutional Christianity in the West (Papacy, Church Structures, and Monasteries); Intellectual and Spiritual Traditions of the late Middle Ages (Scholasticism; Monastic Movements)

Readings: González, vol. 1, chs. 26, 29, 31-32; “Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303) and the New National Powers”; “William of Ockham on Delimitation of Papal Power and the Role of the General Council” (course pack) Unit 2: Unofficial and popular religious life in the late middle ages (1000-1500)

Week 4 (Sept 29)

The significance of the Church for the people (life-cycle and rituals) Popular practices: Saints, relics, and pilgrimage

Readings: “Rituals”; “Saints, Relics and Pilgrimage” (course pack)

Week 5 (Oct 6)

Popular beliefs: Demons and spirits Discussion of The Cheese and the Worms

Readings: “Demons and Spirits” (course pack)

Week 6 (Oct 13)

Intellectual “heresies” and the mystics Popular movements and “heresies”

Readings: González, vol. 1, chs. 33; “Western Mysticism and its Maturation of the Contemplative Tradition”; “The Age of Wyclif and Hus” (course pack) Unit 3: The Early Modern Period and the Reformations (1500s-1600s)

Week 7 (Oct 20)

Contexts and Causes of the Reformations: Social, Intellectual, Political, Religious Reformations in Continuity and Disjunction with Late Medieval Christianity

Readings: González, vol. 1, ch. 34; Carter Lindberg, “The Late Middle Ages: Threshold and Foothold of the Reformations” (course pack)

Week 8 (Oct 27)

Luther and the German Reformation

Readings: González, vol. 2, chs. 1-4; “The Ninety-Five Theses of Martin Luther”; “Appeal to the German Nobility”; “At the Diet of Worms”; “Charles’ Reaction at Worms”; “The Eight Wittenberg Sermons” (course pack)

Week 9 (Nov 3)

The Swiss Connection: Zwingli, Calvin, and the “Reformed” Tradition

Readings: González, vol. 2, ch. 5, 7; “Zwingli and the Reformation at Zurich”; “The Sixty-seven Articles of Zwingli, 1523”; “Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion” (course pack)

Week 10 (Nov 10)

The “Radical” Reformation (Anabaptists) The Reformation in Great Britain

Readings: González, vol. 2, ch. 6, 8; “Alleged Errors of Anabaptists”, “The Beginnings of the Anabaptist Reformation, Reminiscences of George Blaurock”; “The Schleitheim Confession of Faith, February 24, 1527”; “The Trial and Martyrdom of Michael Sattler, 1527”; “The Supremacy Act, 1534”; “Bishop Hopper, 1551, A Puritan View” (course pack)

Week 11 (Nov 17)

Major Test in class (2 hours)

Week 12 (Nov 24)


Week 13 (Dec 1)

Catholic Renewal (“Counter-reformation”) Legacies of the Reformations in the Old and New Worlds

Readings: González, vol. 2, chs. 12, 15, 17, 24; “The Jesuits: Spiritual Exercizes”; “Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, 1545-1563” (course pack)


Assignment 1: Review of Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms (5 pages double-spaced, 12 point font with regular 1" margins, no longer)

Carefully read the assigned book, making note of the author’s main points or arguments. Write a review of the book (in the form of an essay), which entails:

  • Summarizing the main argument (or point) of the book and how the author builds up this argument throughout the chapters (citing relevant page numbers in parentheses).
  • Discussing the author’s methods (or approach) and the types of evidence he uses to support his points.
  • Providing an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the book. Does the author achieve what she/he sets out to do? Is the argument convincing or not, and in what ways? Where do you agree or disagree with the author’s assessment of the evidence and why? Be sure to provide concrete examples (citing page numbers in parentheses) of the problems or strengths you discuss.
  • Addressing how the book relates to our discussions in class. The review paper should have a clear thesis statement (concerning your overall evaluation of the book) which is supported throughout the paragraphs.

The paper should be clearly written and structured with no spelling or grammatical errors. Be succinct and do not exceed the prescribed length. The purpose of this assignment is to provide you with early feedback concerning your analytical, writing and critical skills so that you can work on problematic areas (in writing labs at the university and on your own).

Assignment 2: Short Research paper (8-9 pages double-spaced)

A list of possible topics will be handed out at a later time. You may also choose a topic at any point in consultation with me. A good research paper includes the following characteristics (and more):


  • Opening paragraph that provides context by noting the broader relevance of the topic. Ease the reader into the subject, yet get to your main topic or point promptly.
  •  Clear thesis statement that encapsulates your main argument or point.
  •  Clearly structured paragraphs, with each paragraph addressing a specific point (or subthesis) that helps to support your overall thesis.
  • Clearly written sentences that communicate your ideas in a direct and succinct manner (without repetition).
  • Succinct concluding paragraph that pulls things together without merely repeating what has already been said.
  • No spelling or grammatical errors.
  • Complete bibliography listing all sources consulted or cited in the paper. Follow an accepted academic format of bibliography (do not create your own variations). Students often ask how many books and articles should be in the bibliography. The answer is that it depends on the subject, but generally speaking you should have more than five books and more than five articles (from journals or books) that you have actively consulted in writing a paper of this length.


  • Early indication of your purpose, the way you will be approaching your topic, and the methods you will be using (e.g. historical, sociological, anthropological, psychological)
  • Discussion of a range of material relevant to your topic and purpose.
  • Provision of historical and cultural context. Where does your topic fit within the broader historical trends of the period you are studying? How does your topic relate to political, social or cultural developments of the time?
  • Thorough references to the sources (both primary and secondary) of your information throughout the paper (using an accepted form of citation). Find out what plagiarism is and avoid it like the plague.
  • Critical use and analysis of primary sources (that is, materials from the period you are studying produced by contemporary participants or observers). Primary sources include not only writings but also visual and artefactual materials (e.g. archeological findings, buildings, artistic productions).
  • Critical use and analysis of secondary sources (that is, scholarly materials). Demonstrate that you have read relevant scholarly sources. Show that you are aware of the key issues of debate among scholars and take sides in the matter. Which scholarly positions do you agree or disagree with and why?