German 379 Schedule for 2023

Spring 2024. For links to the readings (homework assignment before class), see the major syllabus.

Jan. 12: Introduction: What is the relevance of religion as a cultural-historical topic. For today, we examine one short statement recently published about the nature of Christianity as a hermeneutic religion

Jan. 16: MLK Day

Jan. 17: Critical approaches to Religious Studies: Read the texts in the links above (1. Swarthmore, 2. Chapel Hill, 3. Harvard, 4. Why Study Religion – my letter to the editor). And read the first section of the Wikipedia article on religion in antiquity and the early Middle Ages: To simplify, let’s focus on the table of contents and discuss then what the major steps have been and where we will need to investigate it further.


Jan. 19: History of religion and German culture, from the high Middle Ages to the 20th c., Wikipedia. Same link as on Tue in the general syllabus. There are 9 sections (from late antiquity to the 20th c. Let’s divvy them up into groups. I’ll assign those to each two of you. Thanks.

Here is our worksheet for today (ignore the wrong date for 2023)

Jan. 24: We continue with the historical overview, going quickly from the 16th c. to the 20th century (use the same Wikipedia link as listed for Jan. 20). Let’s build a scaffold via

But, for today, also, What is anti-Semitism, and why does it exist until today? We watch this short video and discuss it in class. Time permitting: Let’s watch a short film: Maseltov Cocktail. trailer 2German version in full length (no longer active, sorry). Then we jump back to the high Middle Ages and turn to our first text: Abelard: 12th c. philosophy and criticism of theology. Video. Our text is an abbreviation, it begins on p. 19 and goes to 51.

Other links: One, Two, Three (very long, let’s split it up into three sections), Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight

Jan. 26: Max Müller, Introduction to the Science of Religion, 1870. We finally switch to Abelard; please have read the entirety of the dialogue between the Jew and the Philosopher. The point here is to understand that the discourse on religion began already in the high Middle Ages, if not even before that.

Jan. 31: We continue with the dialogue poem by  Abelard, the position of the Jew.

Feb. 2:  Mysticism: Hildegard of Bingen. Please read just the beginning of this excellent study, on mysticism. Then turn to her own text, link above. The Stanford article might be too esoteric, so let’s focus instead on this online article, which is rather broadly conceived, global, but easier to understand.Hildegard of Bingen: we discuss the excerpt. Conclusion. Please read this entry on Wikipedia, esp. the chapter on Hildegard.

Feb. 7: Today, a radical change of pace. We’ll meet at the Museum of Art, Olive Street, across from the Architecture School, and study some medieval Gothic paintings to understand the religious framework in aesthetic terms.

Feb. 9: We work a little with Hildegard’s music, then focus on the illustrations (group work).

Feb. 14: Read this introduction to the Decameron; or this more facetious youtube, then turn to Boccaccio: I/2 (link above). This is: Book I, story 2.

Feb. 16: 1st exam, on top hat

Feb. 21: Boccaccio: I/2 and 3. Please make sure to have carefully read both stories. Use this link as a better alternative. Questions: 1. What is the relationship between both men? 2. Why does Abraham eventually go to Rome? 3. What is the situation at the Holy See? 4. Why does he convert once he has returned home? 1. Why is Saladin so interested in finding out what the true religion is? 2. What does the Jew then resort to? Why is that so relevant for world religions? 3. What is the relationship between father and son over the generations? 4. What is the father’s conflict at the end? 5. Does the father then cheat? 6. What des the judge decide or not decide, and why?

Febr. 23: Boccaccio: X/9

Feb. 28: Boccaccio: X/9. Then: We read this short but most insightful recent article on Nicholas of Cusa and Saint Francis of Assisi as to ‘interreligious dialogue’. We will not get to this, but in case you have time: Please also study this Introduction. This is a good, brief summary. ght not quite get very far, but let’s work on the Intro. at least for 20 min. 1st paper, due at 8 p.m.

March 2: Basic Facts. Then: Martin Luther: Protestant Reformation: theses 1-15

Spring break March 4-12

March 14: Review of the Introduction to the Reformation. Then we consider Luther’s translation of the Bible. We continue with the theses by Luther: 1-30 

March 16: Luther, 31-60

March 21: We turn to Baroque poetry.  For the historical background, the religious conflicts, and then the 30 Years’ War, watch this excellent lecture by Peter Wilson and take some notes. I will ask you about the information provided there. Baroque poetry, especially Andreas Gryphius, esp. pp. 145, 147, 149 (both in German and in English).

March 23:  Let’s use this article, but focus only on the images included. Then, please read this introductory article first. Angelus Silesius: Baroque, Pietism. We read the first epigrams up to 1.47: use these translations, A quick video

March 28: We continue with Silesius. 1.97-5,242

March 30: 2nd exam, on Tophat

April 04: Enlightenment: please be aware that the reading of Lessing’s play will take a bit more time; plan accordingly.Homework: study a little up on Lessing’s biography. We discuss: Lessing I. You are also invited to join me for the lecture at 4 p.m. in the Early Book Lecture Series.

April 06: Lessing II. I’ll be out of town to give a lecture. You have assignments as homework on Tophat. Thanks.

April 11: Lessing III

April 13: Lessing IV

April 18: Lessing V

April 20: Karl Marx and Freud: For a brief intro, read: Karl Marx, Tyler and Frazer, Sigmund Freud, Emil Durkheimer, et al.

(not this semester: More on Freud)

We then discuss: The critical statements by Marx on Religion, and conclude with Marx quotes

April 25: We continue with Marx for ca. 20 min. Then: Intro. to Friedrich Nietzsche, The Madman (see also link above in the syllabus)

April 27: Karl Barth: let’s study his biography first, then we’ll look at a sample of his major statements (very brief quotes);

2nd paper is due: April 28, 12 p.m.

May 2: 3rd exam (on tophat)

Semester ends on May 3

Perhaps also: Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus

For the background, please read the questions/assignments as posted on D2L.


Student Learning Outcomes; By the end of the semester, students will be able to engage critically with the discourse on religion in the history of Germany from the Middle Ages to the present, they will be familiar with a solid selection of critical texts from many time periods, and will have acquired the skill to write about the crucial issues in solidly researched papers. They will understand how religion evolved from late antiquity to the 20th century, especially within the cultural-historical framework of Germany.

Possible Changes: The information contained in the course syllabus, other than the grade and absence policies, may be subject to change with reasonable advance notice, as deemed appropriate by the instructor.

Final Grade Review: If there might be a problem with your grade, you can ask me for a review until May 12, 2021. Beyond that, there will not be any opportunity to revisit your grade.