Rachel Fulton

Department of History

The University of Chicago


Autumn 2002


The Conversion of Europe


This course considers conversion as a governing metaphor for thinking about the intellectual, cultural, and social transformation of Europe from late antiquity through the Enlightenment.  It begins from Augustine’s understanding that to convert is to transform more than just one’s religious belief; rather, it is to accomplish a “making over” of one’s very social and psychological reality.  What from this perspective did it mean for Europeans to convert—from paganism, from Judaism, from Catholicism, from Protestantism, from Christianity itself?  Readings will be taken from Augustine, the Old Saxon Heliand, Herman Judah, Bernard of Clairvaux, Marguerite Porete, Martin Luther, Bartolomé de Las Casas, and David Hume.  Emphasis throughout will be on the tension between conversion as a metaphor of making (on the part of the convert) and catechism as a problem of making meaning (on the part of the missionary), and on the problem of belief as itself a criterion of conversion.


Books Available for Purchase from the Seminary Co-op Bookstore

Augustine, Confessions, trans. R.S. Pine-Coffin (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961)  ISBN 014044114X [PA6220.A55C81 P65]

Karl F. Morrison, Conversion and Text: The Cases of Augustine of Hippo, Herman-Judah, and Constantine Tsatsos (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992)  ISBN 0813913934 [BR110.M670 1992]

Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermons on Conversion, trans. Marie-Bernard Saďd (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1981)  ISBN 0879079258 [BX1756.B4451]

Marguerite Porete, The Mirror of Simple Souls, trans. Ellen Babinsky (New York: Paulist Press, 1993)  ISBN 0809134276 [BV5091.C7P67130 1993]

Martin Luther, The Large Catechism, trans. Robert H. Fischer (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959)  ISBN 0800608852

Bartolomé de Las Casas, In Defense of the Indians, trans. and ed. Stafford Poole (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1992)  ISBN 0875805566 [F1411.C4250 1992]

David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion and The Natural History of Religion, ed. Richard H. Popkin, 2nd ed. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1998)  ISBN 0-87220-40202 [different edition on reserve B1493.D520 1993]


Wayne Proudfoot, Religious Experience (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985)  ISBN 0520061284 [BL53.P8190 1985]

Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion from Paganism to Christianity (New York: Henry Holt, 1997; Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999)  ISBN 0520218590 [BR200.F57 1998]


Course Requirements

1.  Reading and participation in class discussions, including a number of short oral presentations to be assigned over the course of the quarter [20%].

2.  Written comments on three of the primary texts assigned for the quarter.  The choice of texts is up to you, but should be distributed evenly over the course of the quarter if at all possible.  These comments should be approximately 3-4 pages each and are due on the Chalk site (chalk.uchicago.edu) by 10am on the day that we meet to discuss the texts.  Everyone should read the comments posted for the day and prepare responses to bring to class.  I will ask you on the first day of class to commit to at least one of these comments so as to ensure that each week we will have at least one to read [35%].

3.  Final paper (10-12 pages) on one of the primary texts that we will have read for the quarter, due by 5pm Thursday, December 12 [45%].  



Reading and Discussion Assignments


October 3  What is religious belief?

Apuleius, The Golden Ass, bk. 11 (trans. Jack Lindsay [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1960], pp. 235-55; trans. on-line by Adlington [1566] at English server: http://eserver.org/books/apuleius/bookes/eleven.html) [PA6209.M3L7 1962]

Tatian, Address to the Greeks (trans. in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 2 [New York: Christian Literature Co., 1890], pp. 65-82; on-line at Christian Classics Ethereal Library [CCEL]: http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-02/anf02-37.htm#P1114_299739) [BR60.R7]


Proudfoot, Religious Experience, pp. xi-xix, 1-40


October 10  What is conversion?

Augustine, Confessions, bks. 8-10, pp. 157-252


Proudfoot, Religious Experience, pp. 41-74

Morrison, Conversion and Text, pp. 1-38


October 17  Converting from paganism

The Heliand: The Saxon Gospel, trans. G. Ronald Murphy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), pp. 3-58, 128-98 [PF3999.A31M94 1992]


Fletcher, Barbarian Conversion, pp. 1-33, 193-284

Peter Cramer, Baptism and Change in the Early Middle Ages, c. 200-c.1150 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp. 179-220 [BV803.C730 1993]

Celia Chazelle, The Crucified God in the Carolingian Era: Theology and Art of Christ's Passion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. 165-208  [BT431.3.C48 2001]


October 24  Converting from Judaism

Herman-Judah, Short Account of his own Conversion, trans. Morrison, Conversion and Text, pp. 76-113


Morrison, Conversion and Text, pp. 39-75

Fletcher, Barbarian Conversion, pp. 285-326


October 31  Converting from the world

Bernard of Clairvaux, Lenten Sermons on the Psalm “He who dwells,” pp. 113-261


Karl F. Morrison, Understanding Conversion (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992), pp. 28-65  [BR110. M68 1992]

Proudfoot, Religious Experience, pp. 75-118


November 7  Converting from reason

Marguerite Porete, The Mirror of Simple Souls, pp. 65-222


Proudfoot, Religious Experience, pp. 119-54


November 14  Converting from tradition

Martin Luther, The Large Catechism (also on-line at CCEL: http://www.ccel.org/l/luther/large_catechism/large_catechism.html)


Proudfoot, Religious Experience, pp. 155-89


November 21  Converting from barbarism

Bartolomé de las Casas, In Defense of the Indians, pp. 3-97, 175-99, 221-61, 304-12


Sabine MacCormack, Religion in the Andes: Vision and Imagination in Early Colonial Peru (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), pp. 205-48 [F3429.3.R3M28 1991]


November 28  Thanksgiving Holiday


December 5  Converting from religion

David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, pp. 1-89


Proudfoot, Religious Experience, pp. 190-236

J. Samuel Preus, Explaining Religion: Criticism and Theory from Bodin to Freud (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), pp. 84-103 [BL41.P690 1987]


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