"In the thirteenth century, the height of medieval Christian civilization in Europe, there may have been more Christian believers on the continent of Asia than in Europe, while Africa still had populous Christian communities." So observes Philip Jenkins in his recent and groundbreaking book, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford, 2002). Indeed, this makes one wonder if "global Christianity" is in fact "coming" or, instead, "returning," as Jenkins explains in the opening chapters of his book. In its early history, Christianity was far more “global” than we often realize. Nor is this just a matter of numbers: in nearly every area the Christians of Asia outshone their European brothers and sisters during the first millennium of Christian history. Due in large part to the preservation of the classical heritage of Greece and Rome, Asian Christian culture was far more sophisticated than the West in the areas of theology, philosophy, and literature, as well as science, math, and medicine. Indeed, the well known intellectual renaissance of medieval Islam under the Abbasids was only made possible by the learned Asian Christian scholars who served as the main teachers and translators of this movement. Perhaps even less well known is the fact that Christianity reached China by the early seventh century, leaving behind numerous original theological works written in Chinese during the seventh through ninth centuries. Nor is it widely recognized that millions of Christians in southern India today belong to communities that were first established during the second century, if not even as early as the first century! Christianity also has a rich history in medieval Central Asia, where it was an important part of a complex religious landscape that included Buddhism, Islam, and Manichaeism, among other religious traditions. In the middle ages, these diverse manifestations of Asian Christianity were united in a single "Church of the East" whose headquarters were in Baghdad. A small remnant of this once great church still exists in the modern day Church of the East, most of whose members live in Iraq. It is rather unfortunate that Western historians have for so long neglected (and continue to neglect) the importance of the Christian traditions of premodern Asia. This course aims to fill in this important gap in our knowledge of the Christian (and human) past. It will explore the complex and varied history of Christianity as it developed across the Asian continent, beginning with the initial (and apparently “unorthodox”) spread of Christianity eastward from Jerusalem and ending in 1500, before the onset of European colonization.
1. Preparation of reading assignments prior to class and active participation in seminar (30% of grade).
2. Each student will be responsible for initiating class discussion during one session. Students will be expected to summarize the main points of the readings for that class and raise specific issues from the material for class discussion (20% of grade).
students will complete a paper of 8-10 pages chosen from the options
available on this web page. Undergraduates
also have the option of writing an 8-10 page research paper on the
topic of their choice (subject to approval). Graduate students will
complete a research paper (or comparable approved project) of 12-15 pages
(topics chosen in consultation with the instructor). Papers are due 1 PM Monday, 7 June.
(50% of grade).
Numerous other items are to be found online or in a coursepack. Please print out the online items and bring them to class.
Bibliography of Christianity in Premodern Asia (by Paul Russell, Mount St. Mary's College)
3/31 The Origins of Asian Christianity: Thomas & Abgar
4/5 Philosophy and Asceticism in Early Asian Christianity: Bardaisan & Tatian
4/7 Religion in Sasanian Persia: Christians, Mani, and the Magi
4/12 Aphrahat and Early Persian Christianity
4/14 Ephrem the Syrian & Poetic Theology
4/19 The Christological Controversies in the Asian Churches: "Nestorianism" & the Council of Chalcedon
4/21 Christianity in Later Sasanid Persia
4/26 Christianity in Pre-Islamic Arabia
4/28 The Rise Islam and the Christians of Asia
5/3 Christians in Medieval Islamic Society
5/5 Early and Medieval Christianity in South Asia
5/10 Christianity in Medieval Central Asia
5/12 The Spread of Christianity to China
5/17 Early Chinese Christianity: Theological Writings
5/19 Early Chinese Christianity: Liturgical Writings
5/24 The Recovery of Asian Christianity under the Mongols
5/26 No Class: Instructor away for North American Patristics Society conference.
5/31 No Class: Memorial Day
6/2 The Rise and Fall of Christianity in Mongol China
7 June: Paper due 1 PM