Prof. Lisa Wolverton

Department of History

325 McKenzie Hall

Office Hours:   Fridays 1-3 pm


Humanities 102

Encounters with God




Instructor Contact Info


This course is an introduction to literature, art, architecture, history, religion, and philosophy in the late antique and medieval periods of European history.  This is not a survey—there is simply no way we can cover all these subjects over all these centuries in ten weeks!  Instead then we will focus on one that is fundamental to the Western Christian tradition throughout the millennium treated in our class:  God.


Structure of the Course


This course consists of three lectures and one discussion section per week.  Readings, exclusively primary sources in translation, correspond with each lecture. Students are expected to have read these before class, and to review them before discussion sections.  Individual readings also form the basis the short writing assignments due in section.


Students are strongly advised to attend lectures.  If you must miss a class, you should borrow notes from a fellow student as soon as possible.  Although this is primarily a large lecture course, students should come prepared to discuss the readings.  While lectures will provide crucial background, they will not be structured to dump large amounts of information.  Much of the learning that goes on in lecture will come from freeform interactions between the students and instructor concerning aspects of the texts we are reading.  You should bring the readings to lecture, as well as to every discussion section.


Weekly discussion sections are also an integral part of the learning process.  They are not review sessions, nor will instructors simply rehash the week’s lectures. Instead, they are an opportunity to engage with the course themes and readings in a small-group environment.  Each week in section, students will discuss their writing assignments, analyze the readings, and discuss issues relevant to the week’s lectures.  Section attendance is mandatory and students must attend the section for which they have registered.


Writing assignments, in the form of one-page papers, are due weekly in section.  Unless otherwise specified, papers must be typed, double-spaced, in 12-pt font with 1” margins. 


Your section instructor is responsible for your overall course grade, including all written work.   Individual grades will be assigned to written work, and instructors will also keep records of attendance and oral participation.  Writing assignments will be graded on a straight A-B-C-D-F scale.  Good participation in section—or lack thereof—may add a + or – to your paper grade.  In other words, if your assignment receives a B but you perform well in section, your instructor will record a B+ for that day’s section grade.  Please note:  while individual writing assignments seem like minor exercises, together they do add up.  Consistent high-quality work will contribute to a good final grade in the course overall—as will consistently thoughtful engagement with the material.


For some general writing guidelines, click here.


The grade distribution is as follows:



Papers must be turned in on time, at the beginning of class, and no make-up assignments or exams will be given.  Absences and missing or late writing assignments will be accepted only with a valid medical excuse.  Papers may not be submitted by email.  There is no extra credit.  However, all students have the option of skipping one paper of the ten assigned during the quarter (whether missed through illness or unforeseen circumstances, or by choice). 


Be advised:  plagiarism and other forms of cheating are serious academic offenses, and will be pursued and punished accordingly.  Ignorance of their definitions, or of the UO Student Conduct Code, is no excuse.  Students should familiarize themselves with university policy at this link.




Two books are available for purchase at the UO Bookstore.  One copy of each is also on reserve at Knight Library.  Other readings, marked with an asterisk below, are available electronically through Blackboard; these should be printed out by each student.


Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford, 1991)

The Book of Margery Kempe, trans. B. A. Windeatt (Penguin, 1994)


Students are strongly encouraged to use these specific translations. 



Jan 7  Introduction to the Course


The Late Roman Empire:  Understanding God


Jan 9   Introduction to the Late Roman World

                  Confessions, Bk. 1        Reading Guide

Section—Short paper:  Book 1 of Augustine’s Confessions opens with a long prayer.  What is its main theme and how is it elaborated?


Jan 11   Morality and Community

                  Confessions, Bk. 2


Jan 14  The Liberal Arts

                  Confessions, Bk. 3


Jan 16  Questions

                  Confessions, Bk. 4

Section—Short paper:  The first sections of Book 3 discuss various emotions (love, lust, suffering, mercy, pleasure, friendship, etc.).  How does Augustine distinguish "authentic" from false emotions?


Jan 18  Manicheism

                  Confessions, Bk. 5




Jan 23   Ambrose of Milan and Christian Practice

                  Confessions, Bk. 6

Section—Short paper:  According to Augustine, why did he return to the Christian Scriptures at this stage in his life?


Jan 25   Plotinus and Neo-Platonism

Guest Lecture by Kimberley Parzuchowski, Dept of Philosophy

                  Confessions, Bk. 7


Jan 28  An Alternative Approach:  Asceticism

                  *Athanasius, Life of St. Anthony


Jan 30  Will   

                  Confessions, Bk. 8

Also:  SPECIAL EVENT!  (Required) 

                  Prof. James O’Donnell, Georgetown University, “What Augustine Didn’t Confess” (Global Scholars Hall, 7 pm)


Section—Short paper:  According to Prof. O’Donnell, what did Augustine not confess and how does he know?


Feb 1  Wrap-up Confessions & Augustine’s Legacy

                  Confessions, Bk. 9




The Medieval Monastery and the Love of God      


Feb 6   Introduction to the Middle Ages

                  *Nicene Creed; *Exhortation to the Faithful

Section—Short paper:   To what extent does Charlemagne’s “Exposition of Faith” reflect or deviate from the Nicene Creed?


Feb 8  The Medieval Monastery

                  *The Rule of Benedict


Feb 11  Psalmody:  Music and Prayer          

Guest Lecture by Prof. Lori Kruckenberg and Prof. Eric Mentzel, School of Music

                  *Four short excerpts


Feb 13  An Alternative Approach:  Relics & Miracles

                  *Book of Sainte Foy

Section—Short paper:  Judging by the miracle stories, what role does St. Foy play in lay society?


Feb 15  On Loving God

                  *Bernard of Clairvaux, Letter to the Carthusians


Feb 18  The Interpretation of Scripture

                  *Hugh of St. Victor on the meanings of Scripture; *Song of Songs


Feb 20  The Song of Songs

                   *William of St. Thierry, Commentary on the Song of Songs

Section—Short Paper:   How does William’s interpretation of the first stanzas of the Song of Songs accord with the principles he laid out in the preface?


Feb 22  Visions of the Bridegroom

                  *Gertrude of Helfta, Herald of God’s Loving-Kindness


Feb 25  An Alternative Approach:  Gothic Cathedrals  

Guest Lecture by Prof. N. Camerlenghi, Dept of Art & Architecture



Feb 27  Another Alternative Approach:  The Logic of Scholars

                  *Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, three excerpts

Section—Short Paper:  Compare and contrast Thomas’s understanding of God’s love with Bernard’s, William’s, or Gertrude’s.


Late Medieval Laity and the Passion of Christ


Mar 1  Introduction to the Late Middle Ages

                  Margery, pp. 31-38


Mar 4  Social Hierarchies

                  Margery, pp. 42-82


Mar 6  Dialogue with and Images of God

                  Margery, pp. 83-122

Section—Short paper:  What is the significance of Margery’s weeping?


Mar 8  An Alternative Approach:  Dante and Poetry as a Privileged Approach to the Divine

Guest Lecture by Prof. Gina Psaki, Dept of Romance Languages

                  *Dante (Mandelbaum trans.), three excerpts:  Inferno 1, Purgatorio 1, Paradiso 1


Mar 11  Eucharistic Devotion                                                                                                                           

                  Margery, pp. 122-182


Mar 13  Contemplation and Union with God

                  Margery, pp. 221-61

Section—Short paper:  How would you characterize Margery’s relationship with God?


Mar 15  The Power of Prayer

                  Margery, pp. 292-7  


Tuesday Mar 19 10:15 am-12:15 pm   FINAL EXAM