Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session


This course examines the development of the western intellectual tradition from the fall of the Roman Empire through the High Middle Ages. Our basic premise will be that the triumph of Christianity in the west was not the inevitable outcome it might appear from hindsight. Our attention will therefore be focused not only on the development of Christian thought and practice, but on its challengers as well. The core themes of the course include the emergence of a uniform Christian orthodoxy in late antiquity; the development of monastic practice and its attendant intellectual traditions; and the geographical spread of Christian beliefs. Working in opposition to those trends were other forces, which we will also address in our readings. In particular, we will consider the persistence of northern paganism; the rise of Islam; the solidification of a separate Byzantine orthodoxy; indigenous heretical movements; and the ambiguous position of Jews in all of European society.

This course is centrally focused around a set of core readings in medieval history and thought. It is essential for all students to come to class prepared each week to discuss the reading in depth. You may find it very helpful to make notes on the reading in advance so that you have a way of organizing the large amount of material we will cover. Participation in class discussion is a major component of your final grade and can only be avoided at your peril! In addition, each student, in conjunction with another student, will be expected to lead the discussion for one class session. This will involve preparing and distributing a one page list of discussion topics or questions at the beginning of class and responsibility for getting the discussion started. This is not intended as a forum for a formal presentation, but rather a chance to try your hand at directing the ebb and flow of a conversation. It is especially important for the success of this exercise for the students who are leading discussion to have in mind some specific passages from the reading which speak directly to the various points they wish to cover in discussion. Indeed, all students, whether leading discussion or not, will find it most helpful to come to class with passages marked from the text which are noteworthy either because of what they illuminate about the author or for the questions they raise, or the problems they leave unresolved.


Students grades are based on the following criteria:

Final Paper (5% reflects bibliography and 10% reflects first presentation) 55%
Participation in Weekly Discussion, Demonstrating Mastery of the Assigned Reading 30%
Leadership of Class Discussion 15%



Plagiarism of any kind will not be tolerated. Students caught using plagiarized material in their written work for this course will receive an automatic grade of F for the assignment and will be subject to appropriate disciplinary action. If you are at all unsure of what constitutes plagiarism please consult either myself, or the MIT Libraries which will be happy to help you clarify any ambiguities.