Search | Directories | Reference Tools
UW Home > Discover UW > Student Guide > Course Catalog 

Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Michael A Williams
RELIG 492
Seattle Campus

Seminar: Topics in Early Christianity

Topics vary. Recommended: one early Christian history or literature course.

Class description

The topic for 492 this quarter will be: "Christianity and Society in Roman Egypt." The course will treat aspects of the history of Christianity and other religious currents in Egypt during the first few centuries of the Common Era. Egypt eventually became one of the most important centers of the Christian religion in the ancient world, but early Egyptian Christianity is also a classic example of the lively diversity that characterized this emerging new religious tradition. Among the possible topics to be addressed in the course: the relation of developing Christianity in Egypt to Jewish and native Egyptian religious traditions; developing definitions of "orthodoxy" versus "heresy"; the nature and role of some esoteric, "apocryphal" writings deriving from Egypt; the contribution of Egyptian thinkers to the shaping of what became classic Christian theology; "popular" Christianity in Egypt; the background for and the rise of Egyptian Christian monasticism as an institution; Manichaean communities in Egypt and their relation to the wider spectrum of Christian groups; social conflict with non-Christian groups and Roman authorities. Much of the coverage of such topics will be organized around recent work on the study of daily life in Christian communities through surviving letters and other documents, in addition to samples of literary works.

Student learning goals

Students should gain familiarity with one of the most important examples of the emergence of Christianity as a separate religious movement, it eventual social and political success in a specific region in the ancient world, and its relation to the larger religious culture of that region. The use of this case study illustrates issues involved religious and cultural innovation, identity formation, the relation of religious symbolic culture to social and political organization.

Experience in using library resources in research.

Experience in effective writing, clarity in analysis, and building a plausible argument.

Experience in teamwork on research projects in the humanities; building communication skills; effectiveness in supportive participation and constructive criticism in cooperative projects.

General method of instruction

Combination of lectures, class discussion of readings, and some presentations by students.

Recommended preparation

Success in the course will be aided by some background in history courses, or comparative religion courses. While we will be looking at sources in translations, some training in a language relevant to the course (e.g., Greek, Latin, Coptic or other form of Egyptian; or a modern research language such as French or German) may allow greater appreciation of the material in some cases, and expand possibilities for the research paper. But above all, success will requires a commitment to hard work in research, writing, and team efforts in the class.

Class assignments and grading

Assignments will emphasize student research and writing, and a lot of team effort. The two required textbooks will be: AnneMarie Luijendijk, Greetings in the Lord: Early Christians and the Oxyrhynchus Papyri (2008), and: Jane Rowlandson, ed. Women and Society in Greek and Roman Egypt. A Sourcebook (1998). But we will have a number of ancient texts (in translation), book chapters, and articles from other sources among the required common readings. Every student taking the course for credit will be required to develop a research essay of approximately 10-15 pages. The specific topic will be a matter of the student’s choice, though the instructor will exercise some control in trying to insure some variety among topics (a tentative list of ideas for various areas and topics will be provided). We will imagine that together we are writing a book, a volume of essays, much like the publication of papers from a conference. The instructor will be the general editor of the book of essays, but may select assistant editors for sections of the book. The research essays should be informative, but also analytical. They should introduce the reader to any necessary background information about a given topic, including important issues surrounding it (i.e., questions or problems that have been debated by modern researchers). They should then offer proposed analyses of the material. The analysis should involve relating the topic in some way to overall themes, issues, problems that we discuss in class. But also, where appropriate, your analysis should include your proposed answers to or resolutions of issues concerning this topic that have been debated by past scholars, and supporting argument for your thesis. The papers will be written in stages, with due dates for preliminary bibliography and a brief prospectus, a subsequent dates for the first draft, second draft, and final draft. These drafts will be submitted in e-copy, and the final versions will be posted in an “e-volume” as the product of the course. During the working draft stages, students will be responsible for constructive peer review of one another’s papers. The goal will be to produce the best book possible.

Grades will be based on quality of the research papers, including the effort invested and quality of preliminary drafts; and on class participation. There will likely also be a couple of short report assignments during the quarter.


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: 10/21/2009