Since the foundation of the Christian Church, when men and women first sought to live apart from popular society and devote their lives entirely to religion, monks and nuns have influenced heavily the development of Medieval art and architecture. Early monks and nuns lived as hermits in the mountains, forests and deserts. From the second or third centuries C.E., however, they gathered together to live communally in organized monasteries. Like their predecessors, the hermits, these later monks and nuns claimed to live in abject poverty, but although they owned no personal possessions, they often lived in communal splendor inside wealthy and well-decorated houses. Supplied with lavish churches, gleaming metalwork, sumptuous tapestries and vestments and colorful manuscripts, monasteries became the treasure houses of Europe and the targets of condemnation, arson, and looting.

This course will explore the phenomenon of Christian monasticism from its earliest beginnings immediately after the death of Jesus through the modern era, concentrating especially on the pinnacle of the monasticism, the Middle Ages. We will read monastic rules in translation to understand the lifestyle of the monks and nuns, examine their artworks, including manuscripts in the Lilly Library and objects in the Indiana University Art Museum. We will investigate the legacy of their art and architecture, and visit monasteries in Indiana, including the Tibetan Cultural Center, in order to understand parallel, non-Christian traditions.

Course Requirements

The final grade of the course will be calculated based on a total of points earned out of 100.
Attendance will be worth 10 pts.
There will be 10 short assignments distributed throughout the term, each worth 10 pts. The lowest grade among these 10 assignments will be dropped.

The course assignments will vary widely in order to cultivate many skills among the students.

  1. A short essay will be revised and reworked in order to improve the studentsí writing skills (2 steps, 20 pts).
  2. A group project will allow the students to work communally and present their findings.
  3. A brief research project will introduce the students to the library and its resources.
  4. A personal diary project will document the studentsí own experiences in attempting to follow a monastic routine for 24 hours.
  5. An artistic project (graded based on information provided, not artistic skill) will allow the studentsí to critique examples of the legacy of the monastic world on the Indiana University Campus.
  6. A report on attendance at a concert of the Early Music Institute will explain their reaction to monastic music in performance.
  7. A reaction paper to a visit to a local monastery will document the studentsí first experience of monasticism in person.
  8. A reading report on an assigned reading will analyze an academic study of monastic art.
  9. A quiz on monastic art, architecture and music will test their visual recall of monuments from class during the final exam period.