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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Michael A Williams
RELIG 520
Seattle Campus

Seminar On Early Christianity

Problems in the history and literature of early Christianity.

Class description

RELIG 520 Seminar on Early Christianity: Gender in the World of Early Christianity For decades “gender” has in some sense been a lens in the framing of historical questions about early Christianity (among other historical topics), though there has been notable evolution in theoretical posture and political subtext. As one scholar recently distilled this evolution, with a crescendo of tongue in cheek: “We used to do the Christian man (pretending, if challenged, that ‘man’ was gender-inclusive), then we did men's ideas about women and marriage (viewing these as the same), then we did women and the family (again viewing these as the same), then we did gender (which was mostly about women), then we did sex (which was mostly about men), then we did post-Baudrillardian intertextual analysis of the phallologocentric subjectivity inherent in the multivocal (re)gender- ing of spiritual counter-architectural spacialities (or similar topics--this one in English means studying decisions by church committees to open day care centers and reduce the space devoted to the pastor's study). Now we do all of these” (Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, "Women, Gender, and Church History," Church History 71,3 [2002]: 600). This seminar will also use “gender” as a lens as we explore selected cases studies from the world of early Christianity. In the course of the seminar we will have occasion to reflect on a variety of theoretical approaches and issues, and we will be looking at different kinds of ancient sources (e.g., literary texts, documentary texts [such as private letters preserved on papyri], archaeological data [such a funerary remains], iconography). Across this diversity, a common question that we will share is: What are the distinct insights that are gained by using gender as a lens for historical research on these religious sources? For the first few weeks we will read and discuss a common set readings involving ancient sources and analyses by modern scholars. For the latter part of the seminar, the specific topics and readings will be shaped more by choices that the students make for research papers related to our general subject areas of gender and the world early Christianity. There will be considerable flexibility in topics allowed for these research papers, so that research and writing can be matched to students’ particular interests and preparation.

Student learning goals

Familiarity with selected examples of theory regarding relationship of gender to historical analysis and the study of religion

Exploration of interesting case studies of religion in the period of early Christianity

Opportunity to develop research and writing skills, and critical analysis

Opportunity to develop skills in oral participation and teamwork in research

General method of instruction

Seminar format, built around student discussion of readings and their own research

Recommended preparation

Helpful: Some background in the study of religion, and/or experience in historical analysis using either textual or archaeological evidence, and/or theoretical background in gender studies.

Also helpful would be some amount of training in modern research languages (e.g., French, German), or ancient languages such as Greek, Latin, Coptic, Syriac or Hebrew. It would be possible to be successful in the seminar without these, but ability in one or more would expand options on research projects.

Class assignments and grading

Students will write at least one and probably two short email essays over the course of the first few weeks, on shared readings. Students will write a final research paper, the draft of which will be discussed in the seminar, and each student will also have responsibility to respond to at least one of the research papers presented in the seminar.

grades assigned on basis of email essays, responses, research paper, and overall oral participation.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Michael A Williams
Date: 10/15/2010