The Chinese University of Hong Kong Department of History Department of History
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HIST 4700 (Topic Studies in World History)

Christianity in World History

Location: Lee Shau Kee Building Room 302, Wednesday 4:30—6:15pm

Language of Instruction: English

Instructor:Prof. James MORTON


Office Hours: Friday 2–5pm (Fung King Hey Building, Office 221B)

T.A.: GUO Yejia

Course Introduction

Christianity began 2,000 years ago in the Middle East as a small offshoot of the ancient Jewish religion. Within 1,000 years it spread across much of Europe, Asia, and Africa, reaching as far as Ethiopia and western China; within another 1,000 years it spread across the rest of the world. Today it is the largest religion on the planet with over 2 billion adherents. Its rich and varied history has resulted in multiple different forms and expressions, from Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy to many thousands of different Protestant denominations. How did a small Jewish sect become such a vast global phenomenon?

This course will chart the major stages in the history of Christianity from its origins in the Roman Empire through the Middle Ages and up to the present day. It will also look at a range of themes, including the relationship between religion and politics, the role of religion in shaping cultural identities, different expressions of religious spirituality, and the confrontation between religion and secularism. We will not be able to cover every aspect of the subject in equal depth; instead, each class will give you an overview of a topic and a sample of related historical scholarship.

It is important to distinguish between the perspectives of ‘religious history’ and ‘history of religion’, the ‘insider’ and the ‘outsider’ view. This course will follow the latter approach. You do not need to be a Christian – or a follower of any religion – to take it (though it does not hurt if you are, either). We study the history of Christianity because it has been an important intellectual, cultural, social, and political force in shaping the modern world. That will be our focus: why has the religion developed as it has and how has it affected human history?

Learning Goals:

The course has three main learning goals:

1. To introduce you to the fundamental details of the historical development of Christianity around the world: key dates, places, events, processes, writings, etc.

2. To familiarise you with some of the most important themes and scholarly debates in the history of Christianity.

3. To help you develop the skillset and sensibility of a historian: how to understand primary sources, how to think critically about historical questions, and how to effectively communicate your analysis to others.

Need Help?

It’s ok to ask for it! I understand that you may not have studied this subject before. If you have any difficulties with the readings, assignments, lectures, or any other aspects of the course, let me know and I will be happy to help you – that is what I am here for. You should feel free to email me or come to my office hours and I will answer any questions that you have. Also, if you have a question during a lecture or tutorial section, go ahead and ask me there and then; other students in the class may have the same question and you might be helping them too!

Office Hours and Contact

I will hold office hours from 2 to 5pm every Friday in my office (Fung King Hey Building 221B). During this time, my door will be open and anyone is free to come in and talk to me about any aspect of the course or other matters that you wish to raise. If you cannot make it to my office hours, please let me know and we can arrange a more convenient time to meet. Alternatively, if you have a shorter question then you can email me at any time and I will get back to you as soon as possible.