The Chinese University of Hong Kong Department of History Department of History
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HIST4700JM Topic Studies in World History:
Christianity in World History

Semester 1 (2019-2020)

Lecture TimeWednesday 4:30pm-6:15pm

VenueLSK 302


Lecturer James MORTON (

Teaching Assistant GUO Yejia

Course Description

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.


4 Sep 1. Introduction: Religious Belief in the Ancient World

Sarah Iles Johnston (ed.), Ancient Religions: Beliefs and Rituals Across the Mediterranean World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), ch. 1: ‘What Is Ancient Mediterranean Religion?’; ch. 2: ‘Monotheism and Polytheism.’


11 Sep 2. The First Christians

The Acts of the Apostles:

Simon Price, ‘Religious Mobility in the Roman Empire,’ Journal of Roman Studies 102 (2012): 1–19.


18 Sep 3. A Christian Roman Empire

Symmachus, Relatio 3; Ambrose of Milan, Letters 17–18:

Mark Edwards, ‘The Beginnings of Christianization,’ in Noel Lenski (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Constantine (Cambridge, 2006), 137–158.

Averil Cameron, The Mediterranean World in Late Antiquity A.D. 395–700, 2nd ed. (London, 2012), ch. 3: ‘Christianization and its Challenges.’


25 Sep 4. Beyond the Roman World: The ‘Oriental Churches’

Jingjiao Monument to the Propagation in China of the Illustrious Religion:

Max Deeg, ‘The “Brilliant Teaching”: The Rise and Fall of “Nestorianism” (Jingjiao) in Tang China,’ Japanese Religions 31.2 (2006): 91–110.

James M. Hegarty, ‘Across the Indian Ocean: Reconsidering Christianity in South Asia to the Ninth Century,’ in Josef Lössl and Nicholas J. Baker-Brian (edd.), A Companion to Religion in Late Antiquity (Hoboken, 2018), 207–231.


2 Oct 5. The Conversion of Northern Europe

Bede, Ecclesiastical History 1.23–32:

Barbara Yorke, The Conversion of Britain: Religion, Politics and Society in Britain c. 600–800 (London, 2006), ch. 2: ‘The Conversion of Britain to Christianity.’

Anders Winroth, The Conversion of Scandinavia (New Haven, 2012), ch. 10: ‘The Gift of Christianity.’


9 Oct 6. Byzantium and the Conversion of Russia

Samuel Hazzard Cross and Olgerd P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor (trans.), The Russian Primary Chronicle: Laurentian Text (Cambridge, MA, 1953), 82–87, 95–118.

Andrew Kahn, Mark Lipovetsky, Irina Reyfman, and Stephanie Sandler, A History of Russian Literature (Oxford, 2018), ch. 2: ‘Holy Rus´.’


16 Oct 7. The Papal Monarchy and the Crusades

Maureen C. Miller, Power and the Holy in the Investiture Conflict: A Brief History with Documents (Boston, 2005), documents 19–21, 30, 34, 40–43.

Johannes Fried, The Middle Ages, trans. Peter Lewis (Cambridge, MA, 2015), ch. 6: ‘The True Emperor Is the Pope.’

Rebecca Rist, ‘The Medieval Papacy, Crusading, and Heresy, 1095–1291,’ in Keith Sisson and Atria A. Larson (edd.), A Companion to the Medieval Papacy: Growth of an Ideology and Institution (Leiden, 2016), 309–332.


23 Oct 8. East and West: The ‘Great Schism’

Deno J. Geanakoplos (ed.), Byzantium: Church, Society, and Civilization Seen Through Contemporary Eyes (Chicago, 1984), documents 146–154.

Brett Whalen, ‘Rethinking the Schism of 1054: Authority, Heresy, and the Latin Rite,’ Traditio 62 (2007): 1–24.

Aristeides Papadakis, ‘The Byzantines and the Rise of the Papacy: Points for Reflection,’ in Martin Hinterberger and Chris Schabel (edd.), Greeks, Latins, and Intellectual History 1204–1500 (Leuven, 2011), 19–42.


Short Essay Due


30 Oct 9. Heresy and Inquisition

Walter L. Wakefield and Austin P. Evans (edd.), Heresies of the High Middle Ages (New York, 1991), 373–404.

Jennifer Kolpacoff Deane, A History of Medieval Heresy and Inquisition (Lanham, MD, 2011), Introduction: ‘The Contours of Authority in Medieval Christendom.’

Jessie Sherwood, ‘The Inquisitor as Archivist, or Surprise, Fear, and Ruthless Efficiency in the Archives,’ The American Archivist 75.1 (2012): 56–80.


6 Nov 10. Reformation and Counter-Reformation

Martin Luther, Address to the Nobility of the German Nation:

Robert G. Howard, ‘The Double Bind of the Protestant Reformation: The Birth of Fundamentalism and the Necessity of Pluralism,’ Journal of Church and State 47.1 (2005): 91–108.

Robert G. Howard, ‘The Double Bind of the Protestant Reformation: The Birth of Fundamentalism and the Necessity of Pluralism,’ Journal of Church and State 47.1 (2005): 91–108.


13 Nov 11. Global Empires and Christian Missions

St Francis Xavier, Letter from India to the Society of Jesus in Rome (1543):

St Francis Xavier, Letter from Japan to the Society of Jesus in Europe (1552):

M. Antoni J. Ucerler, ‘The Jesuits in East Asia in the Early Modern Age: A New “Areopagus” and the “Re-Invention” of Christianity,’ in Thomas Banchoff and José Casanova (edd.), The Jesuits and Globalization (Washington, D.C., 2016), 27–48.

Ubaldo Iaccarino, ‘Conquistadors of the Celestial Empire: Spanish Policy toward China at the End of the Sixteenth Century,’ in Robert J. Antony and Angela Schottenhammer (edd.), New Discourses on China’s Role in East Asian Maritime History (2017), 77–97.


20 Nov 12. The Enlightenment Challenge

David Hume, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, ch. 10: ‘Miracles.’

Anton M. Matytsin, ‘Whose Light Is It Anyway? The Struggle for Light in the French Enlightenment,’ in Anton M. Matytsin and Dan Edelstein (edd.), Let There Be Enlightenment: The Religious and Mystical Sources of Rationality (Baltimore, 2018), 62–85.

Thomas H. Broman, ‘Matter, Force, and the Christian Worldview in the Enlightenment,’ in David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers (edd.), When Science and Christianity Meet (Chicago, 2003), 85–110.

27 Nov 13. Conclusion: Christianity in the Modern World

[No assigned readings]

20 Dec Long Essay Due

Assessment & Assignments

Assessment Overview

Your performance in the course will be assessed on the cumulative basis of different types of assignment (described in more detail below) and your attendance. Note that there will not be an exam component. The weighting of the different factors is as follows:

Final Essay 30%

Mid-term Essay 20%

Reading Summaries 20%

Tutorial Participation 20%

Attendance 10%


Your final letter grade will be determined by your overall course percentage. You will not be graded on a curve. Grades will be assigned according to the following set thresholds:

A  90%                C+ 65%

A- 85%                C  60%

B+ 80%               C- 55%

B  75%                D 50%

B- 70%                F 45%


Grade Descriptions

A Exceptional: Exceeds expectations. Demonstrates impressive historical knowledge, analytical ability, clarity of expression, and a firm grasp of course material.

A- Strong: Has most of the qualities of an A-grade submission but has some minor problems or areas for improvement.

B (+/-) Good: Shows a solid understanding of historical detail and course material. Has some flaws in writing or argumentation and may contain minor historical errors or misunderstandings.

C (+/-) Satisfactory: Demonstrates an acceptable level of knowledge but suffers from lack of clarity, misunderstandings, historical errors, or weak argumentation. 

D Unsatisfactory: Achieves the minimum passing grade but fails to meet most expectations of historical knowledge, understanding of course material, and quality of argumentation.

F Failed: Does not meet basic expectations of knowledge, understanding, and/or timeliness in submission.


Course Readings

Each week you will be assigned approximately 50–60 pages of reading, comprised of both primary sources and academic literature, that will explore important aspects of that lecture’s theme. All readings will be posted on the Blackboard course website in advance; you will not need to acquire any of them yourself.

If you are interested in reading more widely in the subject, I can recommend the following (non-compulsory) books, most of which are available in the university or college libraries at CUHK:

Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100–600) (Chicago, 1971).

Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph and Diversity, A.D. 200–1000, 3rd ed. (Oxford, 2013).

Henry Chadwick, East and West: The Making of a Rift in the Church from Apostolic Times until the Council of Florence (Oxford, 2003). 

Ian Gillman and Hans-Joachim Klimkeit, Christians in Asia before 1500 (Oxford, 1999).

Herbert Grundmann, Religious Movements in the Middle Ages, trans. Steven Rowan (South Bend, IN, 1995).

Kevin Madigan, Medieval Christianity: A New History (New Haven, 2015).

Madeleine Gray, The Protestant Reformation: Belief, Practice, and Tradition (Brighton, 2003).

Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, 3rd ed. (London, 1997).

S.J. Barnett, The Enlightenment and Religion: The Myths of Modernity (Manchester, 2003).


Reading Summaries

After each lecture, you will complete that week’s readings and then write a short summary (max. 500 words) describing the content of what you have read, including both primary sources and secondary literature. This is a simple but useful reading comprehension exercise that will help to develop your skills in analysing and explaining complex texts in a short space. The summaries will also come in useful in tutorial discussion. You should hand in your reading summary to me in hard copy at the next week’s lecture (so the reading summary for lecture 5 should be submitted in lecture 6, for example).

For primary sources, you should focus on briefly describing who the author was and what they were writing about. For secondary literature, you should describe both the content of the reading (what it is about) and the author’s central argument. Sample reading summaries will be available on the course Blackboard site to give you a clear idea of what to aim for.



I will ask you to write two papers during the course: a mid-term essay (1,000–1,500 words), due on 23rd October, and a final essay (2,000–2,500 words), due on 20th December. I will assign the topic of the mid-term essay in week 2.

You will be free to choose the subject of the final essay for yourself (as long as it relates to the course). Once you have an idea of what you would like to write about, you will meet with me to discuss it and come up with an essay title. In order to make sure that you have time to plan and write the essay, you should arrange to meet with me before 20th November.

The essays should be written to academic standards with a central thesis, reference to primary sources and secondary literature, and appropriate citations in footnotes. You are free to follow any accepted academic citation style such as Chicago, Harvard, or MLA. If you are not sure about how to write citations, I recommend looking at the Chicago Manual of Style quick citation guide:

If you have any questions about either of the essays, let me know and I will be happy to answer them.



In addition to regular lectures, there were also be a total of four tutorial sessions during the semester. These will serve as opportunities for open discussion of the assigned readings and how they relate to the major themes of the course. They will also be a chance to discuss course assignments (particularly the two essays) and for you to ask any questions that you might have. Remember that active participation in tutorial discussions is expected and will be 20% of your overall course grade.

We will arrange the time and location of tutorial sessions at the beginning of the semester.


Attendance and Absences

You are expected to attend all lectures and tutorial sessions. This will comprise 10% of your overall course grade. If you have a valid reason for being absent from a lecture or tutorial (such as a doctor’s appointment, a family emergency, or similar), please contact me as soon as possible to ask for permission. 


Assignment Submission, Extensions, and Lateness Penalties

You will be expected to submit your essays by 11:59pm on the dates specified in the course schedule below by uploading it to the relevant section of the Blackboard course website along with a signed declaration of academic honesty from VeriGuide.

Scheduling conflicts and unforeseen circumstances can sometimes make it difficult to meet deadlines. If you are unable to submit your work on time, please contact me as soon as possible and I will be happy to grant you an extension if you have a legitimate reason to require one.

If you fail to submit work on time and I have not granted you an extension, you will incur a daily lateness penalty of 1 percentage point. For example, if you submit your mid-term essay (worth 20%) 3 days after the deadline, you will lose 3 of the 20% available for that assignment; if you submit it 5 days late, you will lose 5 of the 20%, etc. I will not accept any further submissions after 7 days have passed unless I have granted special permission.

Honesty in Academic Work

Attention is drawn to University policy and regulations on honesty in academic work, and to the disciplinary guidelines and procedures applicable to breaches of such policy and regulations. Details may be found at

With each assignment, students will be required to submit a signed declaration that they are aware of these policies, regulations, guidelines and procedures.

  • In the case of group projects, all members of the group should be asked to sign the declaration, each of whom is responsible and liable to disciplinary actions, irrespective of whether he/she has signed the declaration and whether he/she has contributed, directly or indirectly, to the problematic contents.
  • For assignments in the form of a computer-generated document that is principally text-based and submitted via VeriGuide, the statement, in the form of a receipt, will be issued by the system upon students’ uploading of the soft copy of the assignment.

Assignments without the properly signed declaration will not be graded by teachers.

Only the final version of the assignment should be submitted via VeriGuide.

The submission of a piece of work, or a part of a piece of work, for more than one purpose (e.g. to satisfy the requirements in two different courses) without declaration to this effect shall be regarded as having committed undeclared multiple submissions. It is common and acceptable to reuse a turn of phrase or a sentence or two from one’s own work; but wholesale reuse is problematic. In any case, agreement from the course teacher(s) concerned should be obtained prior to the submission of the piece of work.

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