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HIST4700JM Topic Studies in Public History
Christianity in World History

Semester 1 (2021-2022)

Lecture TimeTuesday 2:30pm–4:15pm

VenueCheng Yu Tung Building (CYT) 202


Lecturer James MORTON (

Teaching Assistant Diki SHERPA (

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 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. You do not need to be a Christian – or a follower of any religion – to take this course (though it is fine if you are, too). We study the history of Christianity because it has been an important intellectual and cultural force in shaping the modern world, for Christians and non-Christians alike.

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 world 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.



7 Sep

1. Introduction: Religious Belief in the Ancient World

Sarah Iles Johnston (ed.), Ancient Religions: Beliefs and Rituals Across the Mediterranean World (Cambridge, MA, 2007), chs. 1–2.

14 Sep

2. The First Christians

The Acts of the Apostles:;&version=NIV;KJV

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

21 Sep

3. A Christian Roman Empire

Symmachus, Relatio 3:

Ambrose of Milan, Letters 17–18:

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

28 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 A Companion to Religion in Late Antiquity, edd. Josef Lossl and Nicholas J. Baker-Brian (Hoboken, 2018), 207–231.

Tutorial 1 (Readings for weeks 1–3)

5 Oct

5. The Conversion of Northern Europe

Bede, Ecclesiastical History 1.23–32:

Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph and Diversity, AD 200–1000 (Oxford, 2015), ch. 15: ‘The Saxons of Britain’.

Anders Winroth, The Conversion of Scandinavia (New Haven, 2012), chs. 9–10.

12 Oct

6. Byzantium and Russia

Samuel Hazzard Cross and Olgerd P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor (trans.), The Russian Primary Chronicle: Laurentian Text (Cambridge, MA, 1953), 82–87, 95–119.

Jonathan Shepard, ‘Rus’, in Christianization and the Rise of Christian Monarchy: Scandinavia, Central Europe and Rus’ c.900–1200 (Cambridge, 2009), 369–416.

19 Oct

7. The Papal Monarchy and the Crusades

Urban II, Five Versions of the Speech at the Council of Clermont, 1095:

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

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

Tutorial 2 (Readings for weeks 4–6)

26 Oct

8. East and West: The ‘Great Schism’

Deno J. Geanakoplos (ed.), Byzantium: Church, Society, and Civilization Seen Through Contemporary Eyes (Chicago, 1984), nos. 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 Greeks, Latins, and Intellectual History 1204–1500, edd. Martin Hinterberger and Chris Schabel (Leuven, 2011), 19–42.

Midterm Essay Due

2 Nov

9. Heresy and Inquisition

Walter L. Wakefield and Austin P. Evans (edd.), Heresies of the High Middle Ages(New York, 1991), 373–386.

Jennifer Kolpacoff Deane, A History of Medieval Heresy and Inquisition (Lanham, 2011), ‘Introduction’.

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

9 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 B. Ekelund Jr et al., ‘An Economic Analysis of the Protestant Reformation’, Journal of Political Economy 110.3 (2002): 646–671.

Tutorial 3 (Readings for weeks 7–9)

16 Nov

11. Global Empires and Christian Missions

St Francis Xavier, Letters from India and Japan:

Thomas Banchoff and Jose Casanova (edd.), The Jesuits and Globalization: Historical Legacies and Contemporary Challenges, (Washington, D.C., 2016), chs. 1, 4.

23 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 Let There Be Enlightenment: The Religious and Mystical Sources of Rationality, edd. Anton M. Matytsin and Dan Edelstein (Baltimore, 2018), 62–85.

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

30 Nov

13. Epilogue: Christianity in the Modern World

No readings!

Tutorial 4 (Readings for weeks 10–12)

17 Dec

Final Essay Due


Assessment & Assignments


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. There will not be an exam or quiz component. The weighting of the different factors is as follows:

Final Essay  30%
Midterm Essay      20%
Reading Summaries 20%
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          <50%

Grade Descriptions

A Exceptional: Exceeds expectations. Demonstrates impressive knowledge, clarity, analytical ability, and a firm grasp of course material.
A- Strong: Has most of the qualities of A-grade work but has some minor areas for improvement.
B(+/-) Good: Shows a solid understanding of course material. Has some flaws in writing or argumentation and may contain minor 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 knowledge and argumentation.
F Fail: Does not meet basic expectations of knowledge, understanding, and/or timeliness in submission.

Reading Summaries

After each lecture, you will complete the assigned readings and then write a short summary (max. 500 words) describing the content of all the texts for that week (you can find them on the course Blackboard site under ‘Weekly Readings’). This is a reading comprehension exercise that will help to develop your skills in analysing and explaining texts in a short space. You should submit your reading summary to me in hard copy during the next week’s lecture.

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

You will only need to write reading summaries for ten out of the twelve weeks. This means that you get to skip two reading summaries; you can choose which ones.


I will ask you to write two essays during the course: a midterm essay (1,500–2,000 words) due on 26th October and a final essay (2,000–2,500 words) due on 17th December. I will assign the topic of the mid-term essay in week 4 (28th September). For the final essay, I will provide you with a selection of five topics at the end of the lecture in week 11 (16th November). You will choose one of the five topics to write about. Both essays will require you to reflect on the major themes of the course and to use historical examples to make an argument that relates to a significant debate within scholarship on the history of Christianity.

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.

Assignment Submission, Extensions, and Lateness Penalties

You will be expected to submit your midterm and final essays by 11:59 pm on the date specified in the course schedule below by uploading them 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 midterm essay (worth 20%) 3 days after the deadline, you will lose 3 of the 20% available; 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.

Attendance and Absences

You are expected to attend all lectures and tutorials. 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.

Plagiarism and Academic Ethics

Studying at the university level requires a high standard of professionalism and honesty in your academic work and personal conduct. This falls under the broad category of academic ethics, a matter that the History Department at CUHK takes very seriously. I expect you all to behave in an honest and respectful manner in class and in your assignments. Unethical behaviour, including plagiarism, will not be tolerated. You can find more information on university policy at

If you are unsure about the definition of plagiarism or academic ethics, feel free to ask me and I will be happy to discuss it with you in more detail.


In addition to regular lectures, there will be a total of four tutorial sessions during the semester that will give you an opportunity to explore course readings together and improve your discussion skills. Each tutorial will begin with a short presentation (approx. 10–20 mins) about the assigned readings for that tutorial by a group of students (numbers will depend on class size); this will provide the starting point for an open discussion. Your presentation should summarise the readings’ contents, describe the thematic connections and contrasts between readings, and pose at least 5 discussion questions for the tutorial. Feel free to get creative – the goal is to spark the most interesting discussion that you can!

Remember that active participation in class discussions is expected and will be 20% of your overall course grade. While tutorials make up the bulk of your participation grade, there will also be a discussion element in each week’s lecture. Your participation in lecture discussions will also count towards your overall participation score – so don’t be shy!


Each week you will be assigned approximately 50–60 pages of reading. This will consist of a combination of primary source texts and short pieces of academic literature – mainly journal articles and book chapters – that explore important aspects of the week’s theme. All required course readings will be posted on the Blackboard course website at the beginning of the semester. You will not need to purchase or acquire any course materials yourself.

For a general introduction to the subject, I can recommend the following (non-compulsory) books, all of which are available in the CUHK library system or online:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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 talk to me in person or email me and I will answer any questions that you have. Also, if you have a question during a lecture or tutorial, 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!

Open-Door Hours

I normally open my office door every week from 2 to 5pm on Friday so that anyone can come in and speak to me about anything they want. If you would like to chat with me about any aspect of the course, your university studies, career development, favourite historical books and movies, or anything else, feel free to drop in. If there is any obstacle to meeting in-person (e.g. if there is another wave of Covid infections), then I will hold open-door hours by Zoom instead.

If you would like to talk to me but can’t make it to my open-door hours, just send me an email and we can set up an appointment at a more convenient time.

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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