The Chinese University of Hong Kong Department of History Department of History
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HIST4703 Christianity in World History

Semester 2 (2023-2024)

Lecture TimeThursday, 14:30 - 16:15

VenueRoom 514, Lee Shau Kee Building(LSK 514)


Lecturer James MORTON (

Teaching Assistant HOU Menglun (

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 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.


Need Help?

It’s ok to ask for it! I know that you have probably not studied this subject before. If you have any difficulties with the readings, assignments, discussions, 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 can always email me, come to my open-door hours, or just ask a question in class.


11 Jan

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.

18 Jan

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.

25 Jan

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’.

1 Feb

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.

8 Feb

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.

15 Feb

Lunar New Year Vacation – No Class!


22 Feb


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.

29 Feb

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.

7 Mar

Reading Week – No Class!

14 Mar

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.

A. Edward Siecienski, The Papacy and the Orthodox: Sources and History of a Debate (Oxford, 2017), ch. 7: ‘The Fourth Crusade to the Eve of the Council of Florence’.

Midterm Essay Due

21 Mar

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.

28 Mar

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.

4 Apr

Public Holiday – No Class!

11 Apr

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.

18 Apr

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.

29 Apr

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 40%
Midterm Essay 20%
Reading Summaries (x10) 20%
Participation 20%

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.

Course Readings

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.

Reading Summaries (x10)

After each lecture, you will complete the readings assigned for that week and then write a short summary (approx. 250–500 words) that you will submit in hard copy at the end of the next week’s lecture (e.g. you submit the summary of Week 4’s readings in Week 5’s lecture, etc.). This is a reading comprehension exercise that will help to develop your skills in analysing and explaining texts. It will also help you remember the readings during tutorial discussions.

You should describe both the content of the readings (what they are about) and the authors’ central arguments. You can find sample reading summaries and a short how-to guide on Blackboard. I will only ask you to write summaries for ten out of the twelve weeks of readings. This means that you can skip two reading summaries of your choice.


I will ask you to write two essays during the course: a midterm essay (1,500–2,000 words) due on 14th March and a final essay (2,000–2,500 words) due on 29th April. I will assign the topic of the mid-term essay in week 4. For the final essay, I will provide you with a selection of five topics at the end of the lecture in week 11. 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.

You should submit your essays before 11:59pm on the specified dates by uploading them to the Blackboard course website along with a signed declaration of academic honesty from VeriGuide (which you can find at If possible, please upload your essays in MSWord .docx format (the VeriGuide receipt can be uploaded in .pdf format).

World History Seminar

This term, the History department will be holding the fifth series of its ‘New Approaches to World History’ seminar. This will take place online on Zoom every Wednesday for a lecture by a leading world historian. At the end of the lecture, members of the audience will have the chance to engage in a Q&A with the speaker.

Since this seminar has a clear relevance to our course, I would like you to attend no fewer than three meetings of the New Approaches to World History Seminar. You should also ask at least one question during one of the Q&A sessions. Your attendance and participation in this seminar will form part of your overall participation grade for this course.

Extensions and Lateness Penalties

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 final essay (worth 40%) 3 days after the deadline, you will lose 3 of the 40% available for that assignment; if you submit it 5 days late, you will lose 5 of the 40%, 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 tutorial sessions. For every class that you miss without my approval, 1% will be deducted from your final course grade. If you have a valid reason for being absent from a seminar or tutorial (such as a doctor’s appointment, a family emergency, or similar), please contact me as soon as possible to ask for permission.


Tutorials and Participation

Active participation in class discussions is an important part of the course and your learning experience. Whenever you engage in discussion in either lectures or tutorials, it will count towards your course participation score. To be clear, participating in discussions means that you will actually have to speak. Sitting in silence is not participation and will not count. But don’t worry! You don’t have to be an expert (or even knowledgeable) about a topic to join in the discussion. Any kind of contribution, even if it is just a simple comment or a question, will count as participation and will thus add to your course grade. So don’t be shy!


Open-Door Hours

I am normally in my office 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 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.

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

Use of Generative A.I.

In the past year, so-called ‘generative A.I.’ tools such as ChatGPT, Sage, Claude, and others have become extremely popular. You may be tempted to use these to help complete your course assignments. Do not give in to this temptation. A.I.-written essays are not as good as you might think and they are very easy to detect. If you submit A.I.-written work under your own name, then I will treat it as a case of suspected plagiarism, with all the consequences that go with it (see ‘Plagiarism and Academic Ethics’ above).

Grade Appeals

You can find information on the grade appeals process here:

I deal with grade appeals on a case-by-case basis. If there has been a technical error or some other important oversight (I try to avoid this, but it can happen occasionally), then I will be happy to correct your grade. Otherwise, you should be aware that grading is entirely at my discretion; I do not accept appeals just because a student disagrees with their grade.

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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