From Constantine to Muhammad: Religion and Society in Late Antiquity

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Doel vak

(1) Insight into the development of ancient religions, with an emphasis
on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, in their socio-historical context
in the period from 300 to 650 CE.
(2) Familiarity with various sources, such as texts and archaeological
remains, as well as sociological and anthropological theories.

Inhoud vak

After the Emperor Constantine ended the last persecution of Christians
in the Roman Empire, the number of conversions started rising. But the
fourth and fifth centuries saw more major changes: Christianity became a
state religion and it started institutionalizing. New phenomena came up,
such as pilgrimage an monasticism. Christianity got its own literary
culture, adapting existing genres to its own needs. At the same time,
other religions reacted and developed in their own way. Religions and
society became different.

This course tries to understand what happened by going into questions
such as: What was the relation between Christianity and the Roman state
and why did emperors—with the notable exception of Julian ‘the
Apostate’—support Christianity in this way? How did people react? Many
converted, but what did this mean? Many others chose to remain pagan or
Jewish: what was their point of view? Is the institutionalization of
Rabbinic Judaism in any way related to this, and what about the ‘Last
Pagans of Rome’(the title of a recent book)? What societal changes did
monasticism and pilgrimage bring about? How did the literary cultures
and art of pagans, Jews, and Christians relate to each other? Was this
the end of the classical tradition and free thought, or simply the
beginning of new developments on old foundations? We will see that it
makes sense to speak of ‘Late Antiquity’.

Next we will discuss the growing apart of the western and eastern parts
of the Roman Empire, and developments in the Middle East. In the sixth
century, it also appeared that the state-sponsored movement towards
unity in Christianity was unsuccessful. Among Christians in the Middle
East there was strong opposition against decisions taken in the centre
of the Empire. These developments in Late Antique society and culture
form the backdrop to a new movement: that of the prophet Muhammed in the
early seventh century.


Seminar. Students will present during one of the sessions and are
required to take part in discussions.


Students will give a presentation during one of the classes, which will
be graded on the criteria of content and presentation skills (30%) and
they will write a final exam (70%).
All sources are presented in translation, but students who master one of
the classical languages may write a research paper of 4000 words
(excluding bibliography) instead of the exam.
Students in one of the Research Master programmes do both the exam and
the paper (presentation: 20%; exam 40%; paper 40%).


- Stephen Mitchell, A History of the Later Roman Empire AD 284–641 (2nd
ed.; Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2015)
- Various articles to be found on Canvas.


MA students and Research Master students in History, Classics & Ancient
Civilizations, Theology & Religious Studies, Archaeology.

Algemene informatie

Vakcode L_GOMAALG004
Studiepunten 6 EC
Periode P2
Vakniveau 400
Onderwijstaal Engels
Faculteit Faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen
Vakcoördinator prof. dr. R.B. ter Haar Romeny
Examinator prof. dr. R.B. ter Haar Romeny
Docenten prof. dr. R.B. ter Haar Romeny
dr. N.M. Vos
prof. dr. H. Amirav

Praktische informatie

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