2021-2022 Graduate Courses

The Medieval Studies Program modifies this course list with updates from the courses' home departments whenever new information is provided. Students with questions about courses should email the program director, Benjamin Saltzman, at saltzman@uchicago.edu. Please also consult departmental listings.


    Course Number Course Instructor Description
    BIBL 31000 Introduction to the Hebrew Bible S. Chavel

    Critical introduction to the genres, ideas, styles, and formation of the Hebrew Bible (the ancient Jewish treasury of literature from Israel, Judea, and Babylonia), framed by ancient comparative material and modern literary theory.

    Equivalent courses: RLST 11004, NEHC 30504, HIJD 31004, NEHC 20504, JWSC 20120

    BIBL 33900 Introductory Biblical Hebrew I Staff

    This course is the first of a two-quarter sequence designed to introduce students to the language of biblical Hebrew, with special emphasis on the fundamentals of its morphology, syntax, and vocabulary. The course follows a standard textbook supplemented by lectures, exercises, and oral drills aimed at refining the student’s grasp of grammatically sound interpretation and translation. At the conclusion of the two-quarter sequence students will be prepared to take a biblical Hebrew reading course in the spring quarter

    BIBL 35100 Introductory Koine Greek I Staff

    In this two-course sequence, students will learn the basic mechanics of Koine Greek and begin reading texts from the Greek New Testament and Septuagint. The autumn course and the first three-fourths or so of the winter course will introduce the vocabulary, grammar, syntax, and style of the Greek New Testament, and to a limited degree those of the Septuagint, after which point we will focus on reading and interpreting a New Testament document in Greek at length. Upon the conclusion of the sequence, students will be able to read and comprehend entire passages of Koine Greek text with the aid of a dictionary. This sequence aims to prepare students to successfully participate in a Greek exegesis course

    BIBL 47500 The Apostolic Fathers D. Martinez

    This course focuses on the general body of works whose authors are collectively known as the Apostolic Fathers, a remarkable group of theologians who lived and wrote during the late first and second centuries AD, immediately after the New Testament. Among the works and writers whom we will consider are the Didache, Clement of Rome (1 Clement), Ignatius of Antioch, and, as time permits, Diognetus or 2 Clement. We will carefully read the Greek text, with careful attention to the style of the Greek, how it compares to that of the New Testament, and its relationship to other important materials such as the Septuagint and the Greco-Egyptian papyri. This was a period of amazing ferment and intellectual diversity. Since no rigid standard of orthodoxy had yet been set, a wide array of ideas were put forth and examined on the theological market place. We will focus on the exegetical methods of Biblical interpretation used by the Fathers, their reflections on the person and work of Jesus, and their ideas on the structure and mission of the emerging Church as the body of Christ.

    Prerequisite: Two years of Greek required

    Equivalent course: RLST 21505

    CMLT 36102 Ecstasy K. Trujillo

    The concept of ecstasy is often associated with an extraordinary experience of the philosophical, sexual, and religious varieties, but in what way is ecstasy also bound to rituals of the ordinary? In this course we will explore numerous ways that ecstasy and synonymous terms like “orgasm,” “bliss,” and “jouissance” have been conceptualized in philosophical, theological, and literary texts from late antiquity to the present. What does the figural relationship between ecstasy and orgasm suggest about the broader relationship between philosophy, theology, sexuality, and desire? What role do pleasure and pain play in philosophical and theological reflection? How has ecstasy been deployed both as a form of political resistance and as complicit in the perpetuation of histories of violence? Focusing on the Christian tradition and its impact on queer theory, our readings may include, but are not limited to, texts by Plotinus, Pseudo-Dionysius, Margaret Ebner, Hadewijch, Margery Kempe, Teresa of Ávila, Lacan, Glück, Edelman, and Muñoz.

    Equivalent courses: MDVL 26102, CMLT 26102

    DVPR 34300 Buddhist Poetry in India M. Kapstein

    The substantial Buddhist contribution to Indian poetry is of interest for what it teaches us of both Buddhism and the broad development of Indian literature. The present course will focus upon three phases in this history, with attention to what changes of language and literary genre tell us of the transformations of Indian religious culture from the last centuries B.C.E. to about the year 1000. Readings (all in translation) will include the Therīgāthā, a collection of verses written in Pali and the most ancient Indian example of womens’ literature, selections from the work of the great Sanskrit poets Aśvaghoṣa, Āryaśūra, and Mātṛceta, and the mystical songs, in the Apabhraṃśa language, of the Buddhist tantric saints.

    Prerequisite: General knowledge of Buddhism is desirable

    Equivalent courses: MDVL 26250, HREL 34300, RLVC 34300, RLST 26250

    HCHR 35301 History, Religion, and Politics in Augustine's City of God M. Allen and W. Otten

    Augustine’s City of God is a major work of history, politics, and religion. Written after Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410, the work begins an apology (justification) of the Empire’s turn to Christianity and expands to offer a sweeping and deeply theological account of human history and society in terms of earth-bound versus heaven-centered community. Augustine’s citizenship and politics entails living out membership in either fellowship while commingled on earth with the other. Augustine analyzes Roman history and politics as well as the new religion first encouraged and eventually imposed in the wake of Constantine’s conversion. We shall read the entire work in translation, attending to historical observations, political stances, and religious views. Augustine made arguments of his own but saved huge swaths of Varro and other otherwise lost sources to fashion his historical critique of Rome, social analysis, and many ultimately fresh views on matters like human sexuality in paradise and in heaven.
    The class will meet once a week. A supplementary Latin reading group will also convene once a week for close reading of important and demanding selections in the original. There will be some invited international guest speakers. Course Notes: There will be a weekly Latin reading group (F. afternoon, 90 minutes) for classics and other students who want to tackle Augustine's Latin.

    Equivalent courses: RLST 25301 BIBL 35301, THEO 35301, RETH 35301

    HIJD 34592 Jewish and Islamic Ethics in al-Andalus J. Robinson and Y. Casewit

    This course will include readings in Jewish and Islamic ethics from al-Andalus and the Maghrib with a focus on the writings of Maimonides (d. 1204) -- especially his "Eight Chapters" and Commentary on Avot (completed in the 1160s) and Ibn al-Mar'a of Malaga (d. 1214) -- especially his commentary on Ibn al-'Arif.

    Equivalent courses: MDVL 24592, ISLM 34592, RETH 34592, RLST 24592

    HIST 35610  Islamic Thought and Literature I   Staff 

    This sequence meets the general education requirement in civilization studies. It explores the thought and literature of the Islamic world from the coming of Islam in the seventh century CE through the development and spread of its civilization in the medieval period and into the modern world. Including historical framework to establish chronology and geography, the course focuses on key aspects of Islamic intellectual history: scripture, law, theology, philosophy, literature, mysticism, political thought, historical writing, and archaeology. In addition to lectures and secondary background readings, students read and discuss samples of key primary texts, with a view to exploring Islamic civilization in the direct voices of the people who participated in creating it. All readings are in English translation. No prior background in the subject is required.

    Equivalent course: NEHC 30601

    HIST 35621  Islamicate Civilization I, 600–950  A. El Shamsy

    This course covers the rise and spread of Islam, the Islamic empire under the Umayyad and early Abbasid caliphs, and the emergence of regional Islamic states from Afghanistan and eastern Iran to North Africa and Spain. The main focus will be on political, economic, and social history.

    Equivalent course: NEHC 30201

    ISLM 30100 Introductory Qur'anic Arabic I Staff

    This course is the first in a 3-quarter sequence "Introduction to Qur'anic Arabic" (IQA), which aims to provide students with foundational philological and reading skills by covering the essentials of Qur'anic/Classical Arabic grammar. The 3 quarters of IQA are sequential, and students are strongly encouraged to join in the first quarter. Exceptions can be made on a case by case basis.

    Prerequisites: Graduate and undergraduate students from any department are welcome to register. The absolute minimum prerequisite for IQA I is knowledge of the Arabic script. Training equivalent to at least a quarter of Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is highly desirable. The IQA sequence is also open to students who may have had more exposure to Arabic (modern or classical) but wish to acquire a solid foundation in Arabic grammar, and/or students who feel they are not yet ready for third-year Arabic courses.

    Equivalent course: NELC 30100

    ISLM 30201 Islamicate Civilization I: 600-950 A. El Shamsy

    This course covers the rise and spread of Islam, the Islamic empire under the Umayyad and early Abbasid caliphs, and the emergence of regional Islamic states from Afghanistan and eastern Iran to North Africa and Spain. The main focus will be on political, economic and social history.

    Equivalent course: RLST 20201

    LATN 36000 Latin Paleography M. Allen

    The course will emphasize the development of Latin handwriting, primarily as book scripts, from its origins to the waning of the Carolingian minuscule, ca. AD 1100. By mastering the foundational types of writing, the students will develop skills for reading all Latin-based scripts, including those used for vernacular languages and the subsequent Gothics and their derivatives down to the sixteenth century.

    Equivalent course: LATN 26000

    SALC 46250 Padavali: Vernacular Poetics in Eastern South Asia (ca. 14th-18th AD) T. d’Hubert

    Padavali (vernacular lyric poetry) is one of the threads that tied together the cultural region of eastern India from Tripura to Bihar, and from Assam to Odisha. In this course, we will study the making of this tradition rooted in the courtly poems of Vidyapati (ca. 1370-1460, Mithila) and follow its spread in Nepal, Assam, Bengal, and Odisha. We will discuss the very close relation between form and content in this poetic tradition that was closely connected with music. We will also study the expressive use of a complex prosodic system that was never described in the form of treatises and the many debates around the trans-regional aspects of Brajabuli as an artificial vernacular poetic idiom. Moreover, we will compare padavali literature with other premodern traditions from Medieval Europe, especially Old Occitan troubadour poetry and lyric poetry in Andalusian Arabic. This comparative approach is motivated by the many parallels one can observe between Medieval southern Europe and eastern South Asia, starting with the conscious crafting of lyric vernacular traditions in multilingual contexts against the background of classical literary cultures.

    Prerequisite: Two years of Bengali, or Hindi, or Sanskrit (with some basic knowledge of Middle Indic [Prakrit/Apabhramsha])

    Equivalent courses: MDVL 26260, SALC 26250

    SPAN 35605 Inquisiciones N. Blanco Mourelle

    The Inquisition was, if not the most important juridical and religious institution of premodern Iberia, certainly the most emblematic. In truth, there was not one Inquisition, but many. Without them, terms such as heresy, conversion, or auto-da-fé would not have the currency they do today. These terms are best understood as tools for the disciplining of religious communities and the controlling of the circulation of ideas. This is a class designed to help students understand the Inquisition as a complex historical phenomenon that left a rich archive where anthropological research and theological debate were made to coexist.

    Note: Taught in Spanish

    Equivalent course: SPAN 25605

    Course Number Course Instructor Description
    ARTH  32266 Witchcraft and the Cultural Imagination T. Golan and N. Blanco Mourelle

    This seminar takes as its focal point the vast range of conceptual, material, and visual artifacts that are produced by, and indeed help to construct, this enduring fascination with the figure of the witch, from the medieval past to the present. We will examine case studies from premodern Europe to Colonial North America to Indonesia, scrutinizing texts, films, and works of art. Rather than offering a standard history of witchcraft, we will explore the intersections of gender, labor, and representation that the figure of the witch makes specially available for study. Witchcraft constitutes a multifaceted phenomenon that aims to alter reality and the self through the use of various techniques, transmitted both orally and in writing. These techniques have often appeared culturally marked in terms of gender and belief. Witchcraft has for centuries been the business of women in societies where very few avenues existed for women to develop any sort of business.

    Equivalent courses: ARTH 22266, SPAN 22266 / 32266

    ARTH  32815 Medici Florence L. Markey

    This course examines the artistic and cultural patronage of the Medici of Florence from Cosimo il Vecchio in the late fifteenth century to Grand Duke Cosimo II in the early seventeenth century. Organized roughly chronologically, the course considers the changes and continuities in the artistic interests of this eminent family in relation to cultural, economic, political and religious transformations in Florence. More broadly, we will explore the value of patronage studies in art history, considering issues such as the agency of the artist, political propaganda, corporate identity, female patronage and religious sponsorship. Class readings combine the study of documentary sources such as Medici letters and inventories with primary sources by Machiavelli and Vasari, and secondary sources on specific Medici patrons, artists, works of art and architectural structures. Several classes will take place at the Newberry Library and students will contribute to a Newberry online resource.

    Equivalent course: ARTH 22815

    BIBL 32500 Introduction to the New Testament: Texts and Contexts M. Mitchell

    An immersion in the texts of the New Testament with the following goals: 1. through careful reading to come to know well some representative pieces of this literature; 2. to gain useful knowledge of the historical, geographical, social, religious, cultural and political contexts of these texts and the events they relate; 3. to learn the major literary genres represented in the canon ("gospels," "acts," "letters," and "apocalypses") and strategies for reading them; 4. to comprehend the various theological visions and cultural worldviews to which these texts give expression; 5. to situate oneself and one's prevailing questions about this material in the history of research, and to reflect on the goals and methods of interpretation; 6. to become intelligent and critical "consumers" of biblical scholarship as it appears in academic and popular media.; 7. to raise questions for further study.

    Prerequisite: Interest in this literature, and willingness to enter into conversation with like-minded and non-like-minded others on the texts and the issues involved in their interpretation.

    Note: This course meets the HS Committee distribution requirement for Divinity students.

    Equivalent courses: MDVL 12500, RLST 12000, FNDL 28202

    BIBL 37213 Between Polemics and Encounter: "Jews" and "Christians" in Rome and Sasanian Persia E. Walsh

    In recent decades, scholars of biblical and early Christian literature have examined the various ways literary sources constructed the relationship between “Jews” and “Christians” in Late Antiquity. These resources prove challenging for reconstructing the situation on the ground. This course will introduce students to the various models that scholars have advanced for making sense of the evidence and debated categories such as “Jewish-Christianity.” Against this backdrop, students will undertake a close reading of a select, representative examples to examine the development of adversus Iudaeos (“against the Jews”) literature. The readings will focus our attention on evidence from Greek- and Syriac-speaking Christians living within the multilingual and religiously diverse regions at the boundary of the Roman and Sassanian Persian Empires. Familiar sources such as the Pauline epistles, Apostolic Fathers, and John Chysostom will be accompanied by readings from the pseudo-Clementine literature, the Didascalia Apostolorum, poetry, and Persian Martyr Acts. We will explore how new discoveries within Syriac studies are currently reshaping our approaches to traditional questions.

    Equivalent courses: CLAS 34021, HCHE 37213, HUD 37213 RLST 27213, CLCV 24021

    HIST 35615   Islamic Thought and Literature II  Staff

    This course covers the period from ca. 950 to 1700, surveying works of literature, theology, philosophy, sufism, politics, history, etc., written in Arabic, Persian and Turkish, as well as the art, architecture, and music of the Islamicate traditions. Through primary texts, secondary sources, and lectures, we will trace the cultural, social, religious, political and institutional evolution through the period of the Fatimids, the Crusades, the Mongol invasions, and the "gunpowder empires" (Ottomans, Safavids, Mughals).

    Equivalent course: NEHC 30602

    HIST 35622  Islamicate Civilization II, 950–1750 Staff

    his course surveys intellectual, cultural, religious, and political developments in the Islamic world from Andalusia to the South Asian subcontinent, 950–1750. We trace the arrival and incorporation of the Steppe Peoples (Turks and Mongols) into the central Islamic lands; the splintering of the Abbasid Caliphate and the impact on political theory; the flowering of literature of Arabic, Turkic, and Persian expression; the evolution of religious and legal scholarship and devotional life; transformations in the intellectual and philosophical traditions; the emergence of Shi`i states (Buyids and Fatimids); the Crusades and Mongol conquests; the Mamluks and Timurids, and the "gunpowder empires" of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Moghuls; the dynamics of gender and class relations; etc. This class partially fulfills the requirement for MA students in CMES, as well as for NELC majors and PhD students.

    Equivalent course: NEHC 30202

    PHIL 56101 The Philosophical Interpretation of Scripture in the Middle Ages: The Problem of Evil and the Book of Job J. Stern

    One of the major genres of philosophical writing during the Middle Ages was the commentary, both on Aristotle and other canonical philosophers and on Scripture. This course will examine philosophical discussions of the problem of evil by three medieval philosophers through close reading and analysis of both their discursive expositions of the problem of evil and providence and their commentaries on the Book of Job. The three philosophers will be Saadia Gaon, Moses Maimonides, and Thomas Aquinas. Apart from close analysis of their different conceptions of the problem, their theodicies, and accounts of providence, we will also be concerned with ways in which the thinkers’ ‘straight’ philosophical discursive expositions differ from their commentaries, the sense in which Scripture might be a philosophical text that deserves philosophical commentary, and how the scriptural context influences the philosophy by which it is interpreted? 

    Equivalent courses: BIBL 56101, DVPR 56101

    Course Number Course Instructor Description
    ARTH 40414 The Veneration of Icons in Byzantium K. Krause

    In order to appreciate the pivotal religious significance icons had in Byzantium for private devotion, in the liturgy, in civic ritual, and in military campaigns, we will survey the visual evidence along with a vast array of written sources. We will explore the origins of the Christian cult of icons in the Early Byzantine period and its roots in the Greco-Roman world of paganism. Through the close analysis of icons executed over the centuries in different artistic techniques, we will examine matters of iconography, style and aesthetics. We will also have a close look at image theory, as developed by Byzantine theologians and codified in the era of Iconoclasm.

    Prerequisites: This is a graduate course but advanced undergraduate students may enroll in exceptional cases (instructor's consent required). The course is not recommended for students without an at least basic familiarity with Christian culture and the major protagonists of the New Testament.

    Notes: Typically, meetings will consist of both lecture and interactive discussion sections. Students are expected to prepare the mandatory readings for each week, which serve as a basis for an informed, and thus productive, classroom discussion.

    Equivalent courses: ARTH 24014, RLVC 44004, HCHR 44004, RLST 28704

    ARTH 42202 Medieval Vision and Visionary Experience T. Golan

    This seminar will introduce students to key theories of vision and visionary experience in the Middle Ages from the theological to the scientific. To put it simply, we will explore the ways in which beholders approached and interacted with images, as well as how they understood and theorized these visual experiences. Ultimately, this course will interrogate the overlaps and gaps between theories of looking and practices of looking in order to better understand what looking at an image in the Middle Ages entailed. Topics will include, but are not limited to: developments in optical science; female mystics; devotional images; the Book of Revelation; dream theory; and changes in pre-modern “visuality” on the eve of the Reformation.

    ARTH 43010 Art and Ritual in Byzantium K. Krause

    What was the place of architecture, images and objects in the various rituals of Byzantium – public and private, sacred and secular? In what ways did works of art respond to the ritualistic purpose for which they were created? To what extent is the latter reflected in the design of buildings, their urban setting, their pictorial decoration, their furnishings and mobile equipment? These are the key questions underlying this course, to which must be added: What are the limitations encountered by those aiming to reconstruct the function of buildings that have survived in a fragmentary or refurbished state and of artifacts now isolated from their original context? We will approach this topic by critically confronting surviving visual material from Byzantium with various written sources. We will also explore these texts as a key source of information on works of art and architecture that no longer exist. 

    Equivalent courses: RLVC 43010, HCHR 43010

    ARTH 45004 Rethinking Early Chinese Landscape Representations (5th century BCE-10th century CE) W. Hung

    This course surveys new archaeological evidence for the early development of Chinese landscape representations from the 5th century BCE to the 10th century CE, and explores the relationship between such representations and various cultural and religious trends. Possible topics include the origins of landscape representation, religious significance of landscape images, construction of landscape environment, and landscape aesthetic and the notion of transcendence. Students are encouraged to explore these and other topics, and are expected to produce papers based on focused research.

    HIST 33519  The Arts of Number in the Middle Ages: The Quadrivium R. Fulton Brown

    Alongside the arts of language (grammar, rhetoric, and logic), medieval students would encounter the arts of number: arithmetic, the study of pure number; geometry, number in space; music, number in time; and astronomy, number in space and time (in Stratford Caldecott's formulation). In this course, we will be following this medieval curriculum insofar as we are able through some of its primary texts, many only recently translated, so as to come to a better appreciation of the way in which the study of these arts affected the development of the medieval European intellectual, scientific, and artistic tradition. This is a companion course to "The Arts of Language in the Middle Ages: The Trivium," but the two courses may be taken in either order.

    Equivalent course: HIST 23519

    HIST 35613 Saints and Sinners in Late Antiquity R. Payne

    Between the third and seventh centuries, Christian communities came to flourish throughout the Middle East and neighboring regions in the Roman and Iranian empires as well as the kingdoms of the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Ethiopia. This course will examine the development of Christian institutions and ideologies in relation to the distinctive social structures, political cultures, economies, and environments of the Middle East, with a focus on the Fertile Crescent. The makers of Middle Eastern Christianities were both saints and sinners. Holy men and women, monks, and sometimes bishops withdrew from what they often called "the world" with the intention of reshaping society through prayer, asceticism, and writing; some also intervened directly in social, political, and economic relations. The work of these saints depended on the cooperation of aristocrats, merchants, and rulers who established enduring worldly institutions. To explore the dialectical relationship between saints and sinners, we will read lives of saints in various Middle Eastern languages in translation.

    Equivalent course: HIST 25613

    HIST 35901 Radical Islamic Pieties, 1200-1600 C. Fleischer

    This course examines responses to the Mongol destruction of the Abbasid caliphate in 1258 and the background to formation of regional Muslim empires. Topics include the opening of confessional boundaries; Ibn Arabi, Ibn Taymiyya, and Ibn Khaldun; the development of alternative spiritualities, mysticism, and messianism in the fifteenth century; transconfessionalism, antinomianism, and the articulation of sacral sovereignties in the sixteenth century. Readings will be in English, though some acquaintance with primary languages (Arabic, French, German, Greek, Latin, Spanish, or Turkish) is desirable.

    Equivalent courses: HIST 25901, NEHC 20840 / 30840,

    ITAL 33502 Boccaccio's Decameron J. Steinberg

    One of the most important and influential works of the Middle Ages - and a lot funnier than the "Divine Comedy." Written in the midst of the social disruption caused by the Black Death (1348), the "Decameron" may have held readers attention for centuries because of its bawdiness, but it is also a profound exploration into the basis of faith and the meaning of death, the status of language, the construction of social hierarchy and social order, and the nature of crisis and historical change. Framed by a storytelling contest between seven young ladies and three young men who have left the city to avoid the plague, the one hundred stories of Boccaccio's "Decameron" form a structural masterpiece that anticipates the Renaissance epics, Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales," and the modern short story. Students will be encouraged to further explore in individual projects the many topics raised by the text, including (and in addition to the themes mentioned above) magic, the visual arts, mercantile culture, travel and discovery, and new religious practices.

    Note: Taught in English.

    Equivalent coures: ITAL 23502, FNDL 21714


    MAPS 31408

    Interfaith Relations in Medieval Europe D.  Cantor-Echols

    This course explores the varied contexts in which Christians, Muslims, and Jews encountered one another during the European Middle Ages. Drawing on primary sources in English translation, the course will introduce students to interfaith relations in a range of geographic settings (from Western and Central Europe to Iberia and the Mediterranean) and across multiple thematic categories of investigation (cohabitation, trade, warfare, cultural exchange and collaboration, polemic, conversion). The course will encourage students to consider how the three religions' experiences of one another, as well as their practices of thinking about one another, shaped each faith community. Students will learn how to carefully analyze a wide variety of medieval sources, and they will be familiarized with major scholarly paradigms for understanding interfaith relations, assessing the ways an "intolerant" medieval past has been used to construct modern notions of pluralism.

    PHIL 35101 Aristotle’s De Anima with Aquinas’s Commentary S. Brock

    There is perhaps no better introduction to St. Thomas Aquinas's philosophy of human nature than his commentary on Aristotle's classic treatment of the fundamental principles of earthly life, the De anima. Of course Aquinas also had other sources, as well as some ideas of his own, but the De anima provides him with the basic philosophical terms and framework. His interpretations continue to engage readers of Aristotle; and without some grasp of them, his theological writings on man are hardly intelligible. This course will be a close reading and discussion of the commentary, with occasional references to other works and other thinkers.

    Equivalent courses: PHIL 25101, FNDL 24309