RLG347 Medieval Christianity
You are required to use at least three of the assigned readings for the essay. Depending on your topic, it may be very useful to bring in an additional source that directly targets what you want to analyze. That being said, all of the assigned readings are excellent and you can do well in this course by showing that you’veunderstood their arguments.Your essays, however, should not merely summarize the readings. Rather, your goal should be to focus on some specific area relevant to each Part of the course, making selective use of the sources that you’ve chosen.
you may focus on the topic of death and the afterlife. As I mentioned earlier, I decided against trying to bring devotion to saints in as well, given our time constraints, but if that whole area fascinates you, feel free to pursue it. If you’re going with the death/afterlife theme, feel free to use *any* other reading from the course as a source in addition to the two listed (i.e. Bernstein and Swanson), or find another on a specific, related theme (e.g. chantries, ‘ars morienda’, art depicting the afterlife, etc). Your goal should be to discuss how laypersons in the late Middle Ages perceived and prepared for their fate after death. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or concerns.
The general characteristics of a strong essay include:
focus – opening paragraph effectively introducing your topic and clearly stating the thesis or position that you’ll be defending and explaining; it usually helps to provide some context first before you state your thesis, but keep your discussion of this context to a minimum
organization – each paragraph should have a clear focus and provide support in some way for your thesis (I shouldn’t have to try and guess what the connection is); analysis should flow smoothly with no sudden leaps to unrelated ideas
use of sources – evidence that you’ve understood the key points of a scholar’s argument and how they’re relevant to your thesis; use of a proper citation method (your choice, but must be one that gives page numbers for citations)
critical response – identify possible weaknesses in the existing arguments, and/or perspectives that could deepen the analysis, and/or further questions that could be relevant
technique – exemplary grammar, spelling, sentence structure, style; your aim here should be clarity of expression, not complexity for the sake of complexity
As stated in the syllabus, I’ve provided a few topic areas that you can work with, if any of them appeal to you. Again, don’t feel that you *have* to use any of them. The best topic is the one that i) grabs your attention the most AND ii) is well-analyzed by the sources that you’re using. So, if there’s a specific topic in any of the readings in Part 1 that doesn’t overlap directly with the three default topics, and if you can find support for it in other sources (either among the assigned readings or ones that you find), then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t at least consider it. A key to success is to avoid general summaries of whole areas. For example, to try to describe *every* aspect of female monastic life would be too much! Or to cover *every* way in which monasteries were connected to the social and political life around them. A narrower focus *within* those broad domains will allow you to add more depth to your analysis. Practically speaking, you’ll want to already be thinking about directions you might want to go and be assessing which readings (or other sources) you might make use of to get there.