Course Description

In this course, we will explore the ways that Christians in the first six centuries C.E. imagined bodies: their own bodies, as sites of sin and redemption; the bodies of saints, alive and dead, who displayed special holiness; the bodies of monks, martyrs, angels; and even the body of God. Although we will locate these early Christian bodies in their historical and social contexts, we will also use these bodies to consider broader theoretical questions in the discipline of religious studies, such as:

  • asceticism and elitism
  • materiality and spirituality
  • society and sexuality
  • humanity and divinity
  • gender and identity

No prior knowledge of early Christianity is required; this course is both reading and writing intensive and full, exuberant participation in class is a significant part of your grade.



Course Goals

In this course, students will:
1. Become proficient in reading and interpreting primary sources (ancient texts in English translation) in oral discussion and written analysis;
2. Become proficient in reading and interpreting secondary sources (academic writing) in oral discussion and written analysis;
3. Explore the sociological, medical, cultural, and political significance of bodies and body-talk in multiple religious contexts;
4. Understand the implications of gender, politics, and diversity in the development of early Christianity.



Course Requirements

Participation (20%): You should come to every class prepared to discuss the reading assignment for that day; most of the class will be conducted as discussion, guided and supplemented by the professor. For each day, you should pick out sentence from the day’s reading that drew your attention (as interesting, exciting, offensive, unclear, and so on) and post that sentence on Sakai in the discussion forum. You may not post a sentence that has already been posted. All Sakai postings should be online by 9am of class day. Be ready to explain why you chose this sentence (or ask your classmates why they chose a particular sentence).


Analysis paper (15%): Students will complete a draft of a brief (ca. 500 words) analysis of the concept asceticism, based on the two readings assigned for class on October 5. Instructions for the analysis paper can be found on the assignments page. The draft should be turned in to Sakai and a copy brought to class. the goal of this assignment (which we will discuss together in class on October 5) is to begin exploring why and how scholars frame analysis of early Christian bodies. After class discussion on October 5, students will have one week to revise their analysis paper; revisions are due to Sakai on October 12.


Article Analysis (10%): Students will complete an analysis of a scholarly article on early Christian bodies, chosen from a list of articles found on the course website. In this brief analysis (ca. 500 words), students will: identify the sources used in the article, explain the argument of the article, and speculate on the broader significance of the article (within and outside the field of early Christian studies). Detailed instructions for this assignment are found on the assignments page. Due to Sakai by November 16.


Midterm Essay (25%): A take-home midterm essay assignment will be distributed in class in early October involving a close reading of an early Christian text, bringing to bear materials covered in the first half of class. Due to Sakai on October 26.


Final Essay Exam (30%): A take-home final essay assignment will be distributed in the last week of class; we will discuss the topics as a group on the final day of class and the essay exam will be due to Sakai on December 11 at 5pm.

Alternative: In lieu of a final exam, students may also choose to write a 10-15 research paper on some aspect of early Christian bodies discussed in class. The final paper would also be due during finals weeks. Students interested in writing a research paper must declare their intentions by spring break, and meet with the professor to discuss topics and requirements.

Student accommodations: Students requiring academic accommodations should contact the appropriate person in their Dean of Students office in order to formalize accommodations (be ready to discuss appropriate accommodations and provide necessary documentation). Accommodations may not be provided for students who have not registered through their Dean of Students Office.

College contact information for student accommodations:
Scripps College:
Claremont McKenna College:
Harvey Mudd College:
Pitzer College:
Pomona College:

You may also find additional resources at the 7C Student Disability Resource Center:

Scripps College’s policy on academic honesty: “Cheating and/or plagiarism seriously violate the principles of academic integrity that Scripps College expects its students to uphold. Academic dishonesty is not tolerated at Scripps and may result in suspension or expulsion from the College. (See the current Guide to Student Life, pp. 90-93.)”



Course Materials

The following books have been ordered for this class, and are available for purchase at the Huntley Bookstore and are on reserve at Honnold-Mudd Library:

Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity, 2d ed. (Columbia, 2008)


Teresa Shaw, Burden of the Flesh: Fasting and Sexuality in Early Christianity (Fortress, 1995)


Additional texts have been assigned for this class, and are available online.


Important Dates

Sept 11: Last day to add a class
Oct 5: Draft analysis paper due
Oct 12: Revised analysis paper due
Oct 19: Last day to drop a class
Oct 26: Take-home midterm due
Nov 16: Article analysis due
Dec 11: Final take home exam due




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