REL 324 : History of Eastern Christianity I: From Constantine to the Fall of Constantinople

MW 2:00-3:50


Professor: Stephen Shoemaker 
Telephone: 346-4998
sshoemak (at) uoregon (dot) edu   

Office: 813 PLC
Office Hours: F 1-3 

(or by appointment)



The Virgin Mary and Saints

Mt. Sinai, 548-65


 Course Description and Objectives | Textbook | Assignments
 Expectations and Regulations | Grading Scale | Handouts 1 2 (Word Format: 1 2)

Internet Resources of General Use: If you have a general question about a particular person, concept, etc., you might try these resources first to find an answer. 

Schedule of Assignments and Suggested Internet Resources




Course Description and Objectives


This course covers the history of Eastern Christianity from the beginnings of the Christian Roman Empire under Constantine to the Fall of Constantinople in the 15th century.  The course will focus on the eastern Mediterranean but will also cover the history of Christianity in medieval Asia and Africa and the missionary expansion of Christianity to the Slavic lands.  Students will learn to appreciate the diversity and importance of the Eastern Christian tradition, and will write papers on various topics using primary texts to investigate an issue central to understanding Eastern Christianity.





Required Reading:

·        Timothy E. Gregory, A History of Byzantium, 2nd ed., Blackwell, ISBN 140518471X.

·        Dale T. Irvin & Scott W. Sunquist, History of the World Christian Movement, vol. 1, Earliest Christianity to 1453 (Orbis; ISBN: 1-57075-396-2) = HWCM

·        John Meyendorff, St. Gregory Palamas and Orthodox Spirituality, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, ISBN 0913836117.

·        John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology, 2nd ed., Fordham University Press, ISBN 0823209679

Optional (for various paper topics)

·       Gregory Palamas, The Triads, Paulist Press, ISBN 0-8091-2447-5.

In addition, numerous items are to be found on the internet, as indicated below.

Internet Resources of General Use

The World Wide Encyclopedia of Christianity.  Links to a number of different sources available on the web.  Entries for just about everything.

St. Pachomius Library.  "A First Draft for a Living Encyclopædia of Orthodox Christianity."  Mostly links to an extraordinary number of primary texts from the Eastern Christian traditions. 

The Catholic Encyclopedia Although this is an older edition (1907-12), there are many excellent articles on many of the key people, events, concepts, etc. covered in this class, particularly in the early and medieval periods.  The articles naturally reflect a particularly Roman Catholic point of view, making it a rich source for information on this tradition.  The articles are often lengthy, but are usually worth the read. 

Glossary of Theological Terms This glossary, taken from Alister McGrath's Christian Theology (2nd edition) published by Blackwell Publishers, provides succinct definitions for a number of theological technical terms.

The Internet Medieval Sourcebook  Many of the items used in this class, along with a number of other historical documents, maps, etc., are to be found here and at the related.

Encarta Online Concise Encyclopedia This is a good online source for general information on a variety of topics: brief explanations of many people, places, etc. 



Attendance at all class sessions is expected.  Since class sessions will involve a fair amount of student discussion, students should read all the assignments carefully before coming to class.  Assignments will generally involve about 100 pages of reading per week.  Everyone should be prepared to contribute both ideas and questions to the class discussions.  Assignments and grading are as follows:

A.  Two exams 2/7 & 15:15 Thursday, March 17 (60%) 


B.  Class attendance and participation (10%) 


C.     One 5-6 page (double-spaced: approx. 1500 words) essays (30%), chosen from the following options.

1.      Due 1/31.  Read the selected documents from the fifth-century Christological controversies by Cyril of Alexandria, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, and Leo of Rome and answer the following questions: “Why is the unity of personality in Christ important for Cyril’s theology?  What relation does this unity have to his understanding of human salvation?  How does Cyril explain the suffering of Christ in relation to his humanity and divinity?  Compare Cyril’s views on these issues with those of Theodoret.  Is the Christology of Leo’s Tome closer to Cyril’s or Theodoret’s?  Which of the three positions do you think offers the best explanation of the relation between Christ’s humanity and divinity and why?


2.      Due 2/23.  Read John of Damascus, On the Divine Images and answer the following questions: “What arguments does John of Damascus use to defend the veneration of images? How does he distinguish this practice from idolatry?  Do you find his arguments convincing?  Why or why not?”


3.      Due 3/2.  Read The Monks of Kubla Khan and answer the following questions: “What does this text tell us about the "global" nature of Christianity in the middle ages?  In what ways are the Mongolian Christians similar to or different from the Christians that they encounter in the Near East and Western Europe?  What is Christianity's relationship with the secular authorities in the various places that the monks traveled?  When one of the Chinese monks visits the Pope and the various kings in Western Europe, what is the nature of their interaction: what are the two parties interested in about one another; what do they find unusual or different about each other; what do they find in common?”

4.      Due 3/9.  Read Gregory Palamas, The Triads and answer the following questions: “How does Gregory explain Christian mystical experience?  What is its relation to rational/philosophical knowledge?  What roles do the human body and the incarnation of Christ play?  How does Gregory’s distinction between the ‘energies’ and ‘essence’ of God fit into his defense of mysticism?  Do you find Gregory or Barlaam more convincing?”


Format of Essay:  In answering the questions, first of all, briefly summarize the contents of the text(s) regarding the questions asked: what do the texts say?  Then, take a clear position in response to the texts and defend it: imagine that your reader believes the opposite and that you are trying to persuade him or her.  Your assignment for this paper is to write from a perspective outside of the traditions in question.  Do not make the mistake of giving a spiritual autobiography or a narrative of how this text relates to your own personal spiritual life and faith.  Do not make the mistake of just dismissing the ideas of a text because you have different religious beliefs: if you disagree, give convincing reasons why.  In all instances, strive for an impersonal and objective tone: you need to represent the contents of the text(s) fairly and accurately and give thoughtful reasons for your response.  Your goal for this assignment is to approach and consider these religious traditions as objects of study from the outside, NOT from the perspective of an insider, legitimate as this perspective is in other contexts.  Even if one is a believer in a particular tradition, the purpose of taking this class is to learn how to see and study the same phenomena from a perspective outside of the tradition.  In general, it is good to avoid using "I," "me," "my," "we," "our," "you", "your" (except in quotations of course); you should give your opinions, but write them using the third person.  Also, while you should cite examples from the texts, be sure to explain and contextualize any quotations made, and be sure that your own voice is not lost in a sea of quotations. All quotations must be identified as such, and references to the text should be given parenthetically either as a page number or section number, as appropriate.  Take care to write correctly and well: you will be graded for grammar and style as well as content.  Finally, please number your pages.  For extra help and advice on writing your paper, the University Teaching and Learning Service in the basement of PLC is an invaluable resource.

Expectations and Regulations

1.  Preparation:  You are expected to come to class having completed the reading assignments for that session.  You should be prepared to discuss and ask questions about the assignments.  Note also that some material from the readings that is not covered in class may be included on the examinations. 

2.  Participation and Class Attendance: You should come to class prepared to ask questions and to discuss the readings for that session.  Regular class attendance is required, and attendance will be taken.  If you expect to miss class doe to illness, observance of religious holy days, or other extenuating circumstances, please notify the instructor in advance at sshoemak (at) uoregon (dot) edu.

3.  Late Papers: Unless an extension has been arranged in advance, late papers will be marked down one full letter grade for each day after the due date.  Late papers will not be accepted more than three days after the due date. 

4.  Make-up or Early Exams: will be allowed only in truly exceptional circumstances, in the case of unforeseeable events beyond the student’s control and must be approved by the instructor in advance. 

5.  Plagiarism or Cheating: Plagiarism or Cheating: Students caught plagiarizing or cheating on any assignment will be reported to the Student Conduct Coordinator in the Office of the Dean of Students.  Students who are aware of cheating or plagiarism are encouraged to inform the instructor.  If you are uncertain as to what constitutes plagiarism (or other forms of academic dishonesty), please consult this helpful guide from the UO library concerning plagiarism, as well as the UO's Policy on Academic Dishonesty

6.  Completion of Assignments:  Completion of all required assignments is necessary to pass and receive credit for the course.  Incompletes will be granted only at the discretion of the instructor and only in case of circumstances beyond the student's control. 

7.  Special Needs: Students with special needs requiring academic accommodations should 1) register with and provide documentation to Disability Services; 2) bring a letter to the instructor indicating that you need academic accommodations, and we will arrange to meet them.  This should be done during the first week of class. 

Grading Scale







Course Outline


Week 1

1/3 Introduction (Handout 1


  • Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, ch. 2 (Blackboard)

1/5 Constantine & The Christian Roman Empire


Week 2

1/10 The Cappadocian Fathers


  • Gregory, 84-100

  • Morwenna Ludlow, "The Cappadocians," The First Christian Theologians (Blackboard)

  • Gregory of Nyssa, Catachetical Oration 5-32 (Blackboard)

1/12 Forging an Imperial Orthodoxy: Controversies over the Person of Christ


Week 3

1/17 NO CLASS: Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday

1/19 Asceticism & Monasticism


Week 4

1/24 Justinian & the Early Byzantine Church


1/26 Christianity in East Syria & Persia


Week 5

1/31 Heraclius, Monothelitism, & Maximus the Confessor


First Paper Due  

2/2 Eastern Christianity and Islam


Week 6

2/7 Exam 1

2/9 Medieval "Heresies": Iconoclasm & Dualism (Handout 2)


Week 7

2/14 Monks and Scholars in the Middle Byzantine Renaissance


  • Gregory, 246-88

  • Meyendorff, Gregory Palamas, 44-69

  • Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology, 54-64, 72-5

  • Theodore the Studite, Two Letters from Exile

2/16 Christianity in South and East Asia


Week 8

2/21 Christianity East & West: Great Schism & Crusades


2/23 Hesychasm & Gregory Palamas


Second Paper Due

Week 9

2/28 Christianity in the Balkans: Byzantines and Bogomils


3/2 The Fall of Constantinople & Christianity at the End of the Byzantine Empire


Third Paper Due

Week 10

3/7 Early Russian Church


3/9 Moscow as the Third Rome


Fourth Paper Due


 Thursday 3/17, 3:15 PM: Exam 2