German / Religious Studies 379: Religion in German Culture


Below, you find the course syllabus both for a regular semester and for the online version during a reduced summer semester (2021).

This course can count toward the Cultural Minor in German Studies or toward the THEMATIC MINOR IN MEDIEVAL STUDIES. It is also a TIER 2 course, open to students across campus, for history, English, creative writing, anthropology, etc. It is, primarily, a cross-listed course counting toward German Studies and Religious Studies.

It addresses the history of religion as discussed by German theologians, mystics, philosophers, writers, and others from the Middle Ages to the 20th Century

INSTRUCTOR: Prof. Albrecht Classen, Dept. of German Studies, 301 Learning Services Building, Office 318; tel. 621-1395;;

OFFICE HOURS: Mo and We 9 a.m.-10 a.m., and any other time after appointment (but always feel free simply to email me, to connect with me via zoom). For the online course, all this has to happen through email:

For any advise, or office hour meeting, please contact me first (phone: 520 621-1395) or email me, then go to the zoom link:

CLASSROOM: online course won't need a classroom

Zoom Link: available on D2L


COURSE OBJECTIVES: Introduce students to the long-term discourse on religious issues in the history of German culture. We will examine medieval mysticism by Hildegard of Bingen, theological discourse by Peter Abelard, Pre-Reformation arguments, Luther's position, Baroque mysticism (Silesius), and then also the issue of tolerance in the age of Enlightenment (Lessing). This course will then be rounded off with some discussions of the meaning of God and the soul in nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries religious treaties, such as by Karl Barth.

COURSE OUTCOME: Students will have gained a solid understanding of a major strand of the intellectual and spiritual discourse from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. The Protestant Reformation was probably the most important contribution to world culture by German intellectuals, but this course will help students understand the early developments and then the continuation of the Reformation in the subsequent centuries.

COURSE MATERIAL: online text excerpts and digital versions will be made available. No materials will have to be purchased.

Accessibility and Accommodations

Accessibility and Accommodations: At the University of Arizona, we strive to make learning experiences as accessible as possible. If you anticipate or experience barriers based on disability or pregnancy, please contact the Disability Resource Center (520-621-3268, to establish reasonable accommodations. 


  • The DRC is designated by the institution to ensure access for disabled students and employees. We use a centralized approach to respond to requests for accommodations. Should a student request disability-related accommodations, please do not say “yes” or “no”, but instead refer them to the DRC.  Also, should a student present you with disability-related documentation, please do not keep it and, again, refer the student to the DRC. 
  • We have a team of Access Consultants who liaise with each academic college.  Students work with the Access Consultant who corresponds to the college of their major.  Once students affiliate with the DRC through a simple online process, their Access Consultant will engage them to explore accommodations. 


Although it is assumed that you will attend all class sessions, you are informed hereby that excessive absences will have consequences. For details see below in the grading section. If justified circumstances prevent you from attending, please inform me in writing either before or after the event and provide satisfactory documentation (e.g., a doctor’s note). I will call out or post, at random, a group of students’ names to verify your attendance. So be forewarned. You need to come up to me and show me your Catcard at the end of class.

(For online: different criteria) Participating in the course and attending lectures and other course events are vital to the learning process. As such, attendance is required at all lectures and discussion section meetings. Absences may affect a student’s final course grade. If you anticipate being absent, are unexpectedly absent, or are unable to participate in class online activities, please contact me as soon as possible. To request a disability-related accommodation to this attendance policy, please contact the Disability Resource Center at (520) 621-3268 or If you are experiencing unexpected barriers to your success in your courses, the Dean of Students Office is a central support resource for all students and may be helpful. The Dean of Students Office is located in the Robert L. Nugent Building, room 100, or call 520-621-7057.


Please treat each other with respect and tolerance. People do have different views and opinions, but all these can only contribute to the rich learning experience I hope you all will have in this class. You are strongly encouraged to participate in class as much as possible. The two class meetings per week will only be of profit for you if you respond to my questions and those of your classmates.

For information on the University of Arizona Policy on Threatening Behavior by Students, click on this link:

HONORS CONTRACTS: “Students who enter The Honors College as freshmen may fulfill up to 12 units (maximum 6 lower-division) through contracts. Students who enter the Honors College as sophomores may fulfill up to 9 units (maximum 3 lower-division) through contracts.  Students who enter The Honors College as juniors may fulfill six Honors credits through contracts.”  See also: “The work assigned as a result of the Contract should not determine the student's final grade. That is, the fact that the student is working for Honors credit does not guarantee a high grade. Final grades should reflect the quality and content of all of the student's work in the course.” ( The honors experience should involve not quantity but quality of further research, allowing a student in the Honors College taking this class to gain a deeper and broader understanding of the class material. This might entail the study of some relevant research papers, which should result in an extra paper or oral presentation, or the study of additional material expanding the horizon as aimed for in this course.


SPECIAL NEEDS: Students with disabilities who require reasonable accommodations to participate fully in course activities or meet course requirements must register with the Disability Resource Center. Students need to submit appropriate documentation to the instructor if they are requesting reasonable accommodations.



If you use secondary material for your papers, make sure that you indicate clearly where you took it from. Plagiarism and cheating violate the Code of Academic Integrity. For further information, see:




Do not ever copy from the work produced by published authors, by your classmates, by other students who might have taken this course in previous semesters, or by yourself in a previous or parallel class. If you receive help in writing your papers, make sure that the final outcome still represents your own work. You can discuss your papers with your fellow students, but in the end, they need to consist of your own ideas and words! Be advised that the Web is a great search tool, but never, never copy from there without identifying very clearly what you used (and then only sparingly). At this point, the scholarly value of web-based material still is not totally reliable, and the chances that you might stumble upon a most dubious webpage with untrustworthy information are very high. When you quote from a secondary source, clearly identify the quote and tell the reader in a footnote where you quoted it from. Every year more than 800 students at the UA are caught having committed the crime of plagiarism, resulting in penalties that could be as severe as expulsion from the University! You are smart enough not to copy from other people.

If there is any doubt in your mind whether you might commit plagiarism, see:

Plagiarism and the Web

If you commit plagiarism, you could either receive an 0 on your specific assignment or an F for the entire course. Depending on the gravity of the case, you might even be expelled from the University. Every plagiarism case must be reported to the head of my dept., to the head of your dept., and to the Dean of Students.


Help with writing: The Writing Skills Improvement Program offers a number of valuable workshops at 1201 E. Helen Street. Please consult with them if you have a need to improve your writing skills (no walk-ins). For perhaps more immediate help, see the Writing Center: (walk-ins allowed). Tel.: 621-5849

Writing Center: The Writing Center is a free resource for UA undergraduate and graduate students as well as faculty and staff. At the Writing Center, a trained peer consultant will work individually with you on anything you're writing (in or out of class), at any point in the writing process from brainstorming to editing. Appointments are recommended, but not required. For more information or to make an appointment, visit their website at, stop by at 1201 E Helen St., main level, or call (520) 626-0530.?


GRADING: (100 percent total): (for online, see below)

1. Attendance: you will receive points every day of our class meetings via tophat (10%)

2. 2 papers: 15 + 15% = 30%

3. 3 online exam in Tophhat: 15% + 15% + 15%= 45%

4. Participation in class, through tophat: 7%, correctness: 8% = 15%

Submit in electronic form to the Assignment box in D2L. Keep in mind that each paper will be automatically examined as to the degree of similarities with other papers (turnitin software!). When there is suspicion of plagiarism, I will call you in for a conference, and the consequences of plagiarism might be very harsh. Do not write your paper together with a classmate, though you can, of course, discuss the topics with him/her. If you copy from another paper/chapter/article in print or online, without acknowledging the author and without indicating the extent to which you have copied by means of quotation marks and references, you commit plagiarism. 

For Spring 2021, I'll simply provide you with essay questions for each paper. No separate bibliography will be necessary. Ex.: 5 questions: 20 pts per question, for a total of 100 pts.

Thesis: Concisely developed, clear concept, well-formulated (avoid paraphrase!). Always provide a title that captures your thesis. 20 pts

Argument: Good use of original text to illustrate the thesis; complex argument based on a solid knowledge of the text; convincing organization. 50 pts

Conclusion: Convincing connection with the thesis, good summary of the argument, final comment on the outside source (negatively or positively), concise formulation; 20 pts.

Format: Write down your first last name, SI, class, instructor, term, year on the top of your paper. Next follows the title. Next the thesis in bold.

At the end of your paper write a statement and sign it that this is your own piece of work and that you did not receive outside help.

Stylistics10 pts: Correct use of grammar and diction, sophisticated use of vocabulary, complex sentence structure.

LENGTH: Each paper should consist of ca. 900 words.

Submit to D2L Assignments

Bibliography: For each paper, add a list of 8 relevant titles of secondary literature, nothing from prior to 1980. See, for instance, my Handbook of Medieval Studies, ed. A. C. (Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 2010; online in the library). Familiarize yourself with the various research sources in our library (MLA, JSTOr, etc.). Your outside sources ought to focus on the specific topic that you are addressing. 

How to cite your secondary source/s :

Trumpener, Katie. "Memories Carved in Granite: Great War Memorials and Everyday Life." PMLA 115 (2000): 1096-103. - this is a journal article


Hanks, Patrick. "Do Word Meanings Exist?" Computers and the Humanities 34 (2000): 205-15. – this is a journal article


Kurlansky, Mark. Salt. A World (New York: Scribner's, 2001). - this is a monograph!


Niiranen, Susanna. “At the Crossroads of Religion, Magic, Science and Written Culture.” Mental Health, Spirituality, and Religion in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age, ed. Albrecht Classen. Fundamentals of Medieval and Early Modern Culture, 15. Berlin and Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2014. 290-313. – this is an article in an edited volume


"Selected Seventeenth-Century Events," Romantic Chronology. Ed. Laura Mandell and Alan Liu. 1999. U of California, Santa Barbara. 12 November 2003 <;. (last accessed on Month, date, year) - this is an online source


You must use this format! Otherwise loss of points.

All reading materials will be online, free of charge, but we need the Tophat Learning Management System, which needs to be paid for (I do not gain any profit from it):


Top Hat: We will be using the Top Hat ( classroom response system in class.  You will be able to submit answers to in-class questions using Apple or Android smartphones and tablets, laptops, or through text message.  

You can visit the Student Quick Start Guide which outlines how you will register for a Top Hat account, as well as providing a brief overview to get you up and running on the system. For all questions, use this link to contact Top Hat directly:




Joining code: Join Code: 929192


Reading list:

For introduction:

read the survey online Wikipedia (history of religion in Germany). 

Then, take a look at some of the public statements published by representatives of Religious departments across the country:

Swarthmore: Why study religion? 

Chapel Hill, NC:

William A. Graham (Harvard):

Albrecht Classen, "Cloak of religion" (letter to the editor, Hawaii Tribune-Herald, Dec. 23, 2020)

Middle Ages:

Abelard: Dialogue: Dialogue - better and more complete translation

Hildegard of Bingen, background, illustrations

Hildegard: Divine Works

Rudolf von Ems, Der guote Gerhart: Rudolf von Ems, Der guote Gerhart (an expression of tolerance in the Middle Ages)

Johann von Tepl, The Plowman


Boccaccio: Decameron, 1st day, stories 2-3, 10th day, story 9 (Jews, Christians, and Muslims)


Martin Luther: 95 Theses, and many others  (Protestant Reformation)


Angelus Silesius (A Baroque Mystic)


Lessing: Lessing: Nathan the Wise (Enlightenment)

19th century:

Friedrich Nietzsche, God is Dead (Anti-Enlightenment). Quotes. For an introduction, see the Stanford Encycl.

Quotes about Religion

More Quotes - Very provocative, but stimulating

Karl Marx, Tyler and Frazer, Sigmund Freud, Emil Durkheimer, et al.

Marx quotes The critical statements by Marx on Religion

Nietzsche, quotes

Further quotes

20th century:

Karl Barth, The Humanity of God (Twentieth Century) For our purposes, let's only look at these quotes

Declaration of Religious Freedom, Vatican IIDignitatis 



You will always receive points for attendance in the chatroom meetings (active participation is expected). If you have legitimate reasons to miss a meeting, let me know. You can then read the archived session and submit a written response to substitute your absence. Always read the assigned texts before our chatroom meetings.

read the survey online Wikipedia (history of religion in Germany). 



Jan. 13: Please read some of the statements from various depts. of religion, links above. Why study the history of religion, esp. in the context of German Studies?

Jan. 18: MLK Day, no class.

Jan. 20: Critical approaches to Religious Studies: Read the texts in the links above (Why Study Religion - my letter to the editor, Swarthmore, Chapel Hill, Harvard). And read the first section of the Wikipedia article on religion in antiquity and the early Middle Ages 


Jan. 25: History of religion and German culture, from the high Middle Ages to the 20th c., Wikipedia. Same link as on Wed. (not the other one on religion in Germany).

Jan. 27: 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). For today, also, What is anti-Semitism, and why does it exist until today? Let's a short film: Maseltov Cocktail. Then we turn to our first text: Abelard: 12th c. philosophy and criticism of theology. Video

Feb. 1: Cont. with Abelard

Feb. 3: a little more on Abelard, the position of the Jew. Then: Mysticism: Hildegard of Bingen. Please read the beginning of this excellent study, on mysticism. Then turn to her own text, link above.

Feb. 8: Hildegard of Bingen/Rudolf von Ems, please read a little about him, and take a look at the introduction which I wrote for the book (though we might not get to him yet today)

Feb. 10: Rudolf von Ems: vv. 1160-ca. 2100

Feb. 15: Rudolf von Ems: vv. ca. 2100-2616

Feb. 17: 1st exam, on top hat

Feb. 22: Please read this introduction to the Decameron; then turn to Boccaccio: I/2 (link above).

Feb. 24: Boccaccio: I/2 and 3. Please make sure to have carefully read both stories. Use this link as a better alternative

March 1: Boccaccio: X/9

March 2: 1st paper

March 3: Introduction. This is a good, brief summary. Please read it for March 3, then we turn to Martin Luther: Protestant Reformation: theses 1-40

March 8: Luther: 41-70

March 10: Reading Day - no class

March 15: We continue with Luther's theses for ca. 30 minutes. Then, please read this introductory article first. Angelus Silesius: Baroque, Pietism

For the historical background, the religious conflicts, and then the 30 Years' War, see this excellent lecture by Peter Wilson

March 17:  Silesius: use these translations

March 22: 2nd exam

March 24: Enlightenment: please be aware that the reading of Lessing's play will take a bit more time; plan accordingly. Lessing I - I will be out of town, please answer the questions assigned to you in tophat. 

March 29: Lessing II

March 31: Lessing III

April 5: Lessing IV

April 7: Lessing V

April 12: Karl Marx and Freud: For a brief into, read: Karl Marx, Tyler and Frazer, Sigmund Freud, Emil Durkheimer, et al.

More on Freud

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

April 14: Friedrich Nietzsche

April 19: Nietzsche, The Madman (see link above); and: Nietzsche, quotes. Please choose 2 quotes, study them carefully, and present them to the class.

April 21: Reading Day

April 26: 3rd exam

April 28: Karl Barth

May 3: Vatican II

May 4: 2nd paper is due: 5 p.m.

May 5: last day of class: Vatican II

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 19, 2021. Beyond that, there will not be any opportunity to revisit your grade.