Comparative Literature | Literary Studies and Religion
C645 | 26969 | Dr. Johnson

C645 (26969)
Literary Studies and Religion: “Christianity and Empire”

Dr. J. Johnson       MW 9:30-10:45; BH137

Christianity was born within a non-Christian empire, and its first
practitioners had to decide what kind of relationship they wanted
with that empire and the concept of imperialism.  As Christians
contemplated and debated this critical issue, they produced a wealth
of literature as diverse as their points of view: novelistic
gospels, mystical narratives, theological tracts, polemical
treatises, biographies, and instructional handbooks.  As they
negotiated their attitude toward the political environment,
Christian writers also had to respond to the long tradition of Greek
and Roman literatures.  Saint Augustine weeping over the suicide of
Vergil’s Dido is only the most famous example of a Christian author
wrestling with the legacy of classical literature and his new
faith.  The eventual wedding of Christianity and imperial ambition
was a long time coming, and the literature produced by this union
reveals the recurring conflicts between religious ideals and
political realities.
This course will chart the emergence of two voices within the
literature of imperial Christianity from ancient Rome to the high
Middle Ages of the Holy Roman Empire and the Crusader states: the
voice of divinely sanctioned conquest and the voice of an anti-
imperial conscience.  We will begin with two ancient Roman epics,
Vergil’s Aeneid and Lucan’s Civil War, and follow their narratives,
type scenes, characters, and treatments of history through a
kaleidoscope of late antique and medieval works: Saint Augustine’s
City of God, Otto of Freising’s Chronicle of the Two Cities, Bernard
of Clairvaux’ In Praise of the New Knighthood, The Song of Roland,
and Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Willehalm.  We will be drawing together
the threads of literature, history and historiography, theology,
rhetoric, political science, colonial studies, and law to help us
understand the breadth and depth of this topic.  Students with an
interest and/or background in any of these areas are welcome.
This course meets with CMLT C645, “Literary Studies and Religion.”
Assignments will include one in-class presentation and a research
paper, as well as smaller writing assignments.  Graduate students
will be given additional outside readings on reserve.  Undergraduate
prerequisite: at least one 300-level course in literature, history,
or religious studies.  For further information, contact Jeffrey
Johnson at