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   Saints' Lives
University of North Florida/Paul Halsall/Spring 2005
EUH 4932 AE 050 / EUH5934 AR 200

UNF: Saints, Sainthood, and Society Course

Office: Building 8, Room 2215.
Office Hours: Tues:12:30-1:30, Thur 12:30-1:30, 3-6 and by appointment
Class Hours: Thur  6-8:45 pm, Building 10, Room 2419
Office Tel: (904) 620 1856
Class Website: [this site]
Medieval Sourcebook: Saints Lives:
Class Discussion: Via Blackboard

The Course

Recent decades have seen a renewed interest in hagiography (texts about saints) by secular scholars. Fascinated by the perspectives on society at all levels offered through the decidedly odd lens of saints' lives (or vitae), historians and have used this mass literature of the middle ages to study not only religious cultures, but women's relationship to their bodies, local power networks, and the nature of mimetic narrative. As a result, a series of new questions have emerged -- far removed from the positivist questions of older religious scholars ("Did the saint really exist?" "How accurate is the data in the saint's life?"). Issues to consider now include the validity of quantification and prosopographical approaches versus the case-study/micro history method; how the history of sainthood should be periodized; and cross-cultural comparisons of saints in various religious traditions.

Goals and Outcomes

Historical study at a higher level aims at the mastery of the available material by the student of history. This does not mean that students have read everything, but that they have a good idea of what there is to read in a particular historical field, and where to go to find the information as they need it. This course thus has both the "content-related" goal that students come to grasp the history of sainthood in Christian society and become aware of correlated phenomena in other societies, and a transferable "skill-related" goal that students come to master the tools and methods of historical investigation by concentrating on one area.

Weekly class work will take the form of extensive distributed reading-lists of primary and secondary material on that week's subject matter. All the reading will be covered by a group effort to summarize and discuss the readings. Each student will also be responsible for two more intense projects: a class presentation on a suggested topic; and a final thesis-paper one a subject to be chosen by each student. The goals here are that students be able to present the fruits of their research in summary, in oral form, and in the context of an extended research-based argument.

Course Material: Books, Primary Sources, and AV Material

Students are required to do assigned reading before class. The reading for this course comes in a number of forms -- printed books, articles, and primary documents available on the World Wide Web.

Class Reading

Readings for this class will consist of thematically arranged sets of books and articles on reserve. The following books -- major portions of which will be required reading for all -- will be available for purchase. All are also on reserve in the library.

Brown, Peter R.L. The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981. ISBN: 0226076229
-- An important account of the emergence of sainthood in Western Christianity.

Geary, Patrick J. Furta Sacra: Thefts of Relics in the Central Middle Ages. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978. ISBN 0691008620 
-- Medieval people thought it was fine to steal the relics of saints. This book explains why.

Heffernan, Thomas J. Sacred Biography: Saints and their Biographers in the Middle Ages. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. ISBN 0195079078 
-- Currently standard examination of how to evaluate literature about saints.

Hemming, Carole Piper. Protestants and the Cult of the Saints in German-Speaking Europe, 1517-1531 (Sixteenth Century Essays & Studies, V. 65). Truman State University Press, 2003
-- If the saints were so popular, why and how did their cults vanish in Protestant Europe?

Maguire, Henry. The Icons of Their Bodies : Saints and Their Images in Byzantium. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996. ISBN: 0691050074 
-- There is no standard introduction to Byzantine saints, but Maguire's book provides both necessary background, and an introduction to the impact of the cult of saints in art.

Schulenburg, Jane Tibbetts. Forgetful of Their Sex: Female Sanctity and Society, ca. 500-1100. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. [paperback ed]

Stouck, Mary-Ann, ed. Medieval Saints: A Reader (Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures, 4). Peterborough ONT: Broadview Press, 1998. ISBN: 1551111012 
-A wide ranging collection of translated sources.

Woodward, Kenneth L. Making Saints: How the Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes a Saint, Who Doesn't, and Why. New York Simon and Schuster, 1990. [Touchstone ed. 1996] ISBN 0684815303
--Woodward is a Newsweek journalist, but his account of the making of saints in modern Roman Catholicism is among the best works on the subject.

Primary Sources and More on the Internet

Many of the primary source readings for each class are on the World Wide Web. If you are reading the online version of this syllabus all you need do is to select [often by "clicking"] the texts in question, which are listed under each class. You can then read on screen, or print out the document.

The Internet is now a valuable research tool for students. Accordingly I shall also make this syllabus, course outline, and other class handouts available on the Web. To access the class page from any web browser, just type in (at the prompt): [this page]

Another we site I edit will provides additional and reliable Internet resources:

Internet Medieval Sourcebook: Saints' Lives

Discussion via Blackboard

The purpose of the wide reading in primary and secondary literature is so that students can discuss the issues with a firm grounding. As well as discussion in class, students will use the "threaded discussion" aspect of Blackboard. (Blackboard has a number of functions but we will be using it in this class only for discussion purposes: the main class Internet resource is a standard openly accessible web site.) Go to to access the site.

Class Requirements and Grading

  • Fifteen Minute Class Presentation (with annotated bibliography) - 20% of total grade
    • Topics to be assigned in first or second class meeting
  • Saintly Movie Review - 5% of total grade
  • Substantial Research Paper - 45% of total grade
    [Must be discussed in person with lecturer by Jan 27]
    • Paper - topic due Jan 27
    • Paper - annotated bibliography Feb 17
    • Paper - outline and thesis due Mar 10
    • Complete paper due (with rewrite option) Apr 7
    • Complete paper due (without rewrite option) Apr 14
  • Participation in class and Blackboard discussions - 30% of total grade

10% "Extra Credit" Option:

You can propose a project based on any aspect of the cult of saints, and determine how to present the project (in class, in performance, in writing, as a web site). You determine your grade for this project based on your own estimate of effort and achievement.

What is expected in a good paper can be seen at:
General Evaluation Rubric for College Papers

Class Policies

As adults in college you are entitled to know what the class policies are, and to adhere to them. They are designed to help with your education, and to enable all class members to do their best.


Attendance will be recorded. You are required to attend all classes. Significant patterns of absence will lead to lower final grades. Since this is a once a week class, three absences may lead to an F. Students who miss two classes for any reason will be required to take a final exam.

Classroom courtesy:

Out of respect for your fellow students, come to class on time and do not move around during lectures or discussion. Turn off beepers and mobile phones (see me in emergency situations). Do not tape or record classes.

Class preparation:

You must read assignments before class sections. Papers must be handed in on time, unless an extension is given. They must conform to the Stylesheet guidelines available on my web site. All projects must be submitted in order to earn a final grade.

Ownership of class work:

All class work must be your own. In cases of cheating or plagiarism, the penalty will be flunking the course. For written work, keep your preparation materials, and be prepared to explain the meaning of everything you write.

Students are encouraged to make an appointment with the instructor
to discuss papers and/or issues raised in class

Class Outline -- Brief

Important Note on Reading Load:

This is a 4000 level seminar, so you can expect to do a substantial amount of reading. However, students in this course are not expected to read all the items listed for each class session. Although some readings will be common to all, the majority of each week's readings will distributed among groups of class members. The job of each group will be to prepare short written summaries of the main points and arguments of their assigned authors and each class session will be based around what each group has learned and can teach the rest of the class.

You can select the appropriate class here, and jump directly to the extended class information [a new page will open].

2005 Class Topic
1/6 Introduction: Why Saints?
1/13 Emergence of Christian Sainthood: Martyrdom
1/20 Emergence of Christian Sainthood: Holy Men and Women
1/27 Byzantine Sainthood I
2/3 Byzantine Sainthood II
2/10 Early Western Medieval Sainthood

Western Hagiography

2/24 Saints and Statistics
3/3 Rome, Canonization and Politics I
3/10 Rome, Canonization and Politics II
3/17 Saints and Gender
3/31 Comparisons: Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish Saints
4/7 Saints and Cults in the Later Middle Ages
4/14 Reformation, Counter-Reformation, and Sainthood
4/21 Modern Sainthood [or Exam]

Periods and Themes

Within these chronologically-arranged classes we shall come repeatedly to examine the following themes.

1. The validity of quantification and prosopographical approaches versus the case-study/micro history method.

For instance, whether the methods adopted by Weinberg and Bell in Saints and Society have any validity? Whether studies of individual saints tell us anything about sainthood in general? Or how to integrate microhistory into a wider conception of past society?

2. Periodization in the history of Christian sainthood

"Martyrs, Confessors, Monks, Missionaries, Members of Religious Orders." So far periodization has focused on the types of new saints in a given period, but does the history of saints' cults support this periodization.

3. Gender and sanctity

How are women saints conceived in given religious cultures? What to make of the constant virilization? How is the masculinity of male saints maintained, or transformed? Why did the west continue to produce a substantial number of female saints, but, apart from neomartyrs, female neosaints virtually cease in Orthodoxy.

4. Living Holy Men/Women as saints

Are living holy people best thought of as living saints, or are sainthood and holiness two distinct phenomena? Where to look for answers -- at hagiography, or at cult?

Note: Live vs. dead (relic) saints -- see Peter Brown's "East and west, the parting of ways" where he argues that in the early medieval west the only good saint was a dead one.

5. Official sainthood and popular sainthood.

Much interest in Western hagiographical studies has focused on the development of canonization -- official sanctity -- but how significant is this in the history of the cult of saints as a cultural practice? When (if ever) did canonization become the marker for saints' cults: conversely does canonization create cults? On the other hand, "popular religion" has been a contested term over the last 25 years or so, sparked by the work of LeGoff, Delaruelle, Manselli, et al., taken up in the Anglophone world with varying results by Finucane, Bornstein, Gentilcore, Jolly, and many others. In the attempt to discern differences and convergences between the pieties and religiosities of different classes, distinct communities, etc., the cult of the saints has often provided a test case, and there are many respects in which it can help pursue this topic beyond overly-simple divisions between the laity and the clergy, the literate and the illiterate, etc. Is there a distinctly non-clerical religiosity, and what are its manifold and complex relationships with clerical religiosity? Conversly, is there a distinctly clerical religiosity, and what are its relationships with non-clerical religiosity? How do answers to these change over time, and what can the cult of the saints contribute to exploring these questions?

6. Legendary Saints

The largest saint's cults in Christendom tend to be focused on saints who, if they ever existed, are now entirely the stuff of legend. Art historians deal with this as an issue, but how do scholars of the cult of saints address such figures.

7. Cross-cultural issues in sainthood.

Sainthood exists in a number of religions -- Islam, Judaism, the major streams of Buddhism, Hindu religions, and so forth. How does one make sense of sainthood as a cross cultural phenomenon? What about "saintless" societies?

8. Rosters of Saints

How are rosters of saints established, and why do they change? There are innumerable saints, but in any given religious culture, cultic pratice tends to focus on a rather small number. How are such rosters' specified and established? How and why do they change.

9. Saints and Anthropology: Saints and ritual

Notes. See R. Van Dam's critique of P. Brown Cult of Saints, in Van Dam, Saints and their Miracles in Late Antique Gaul (Princeton, 1993), 4-7. For microhistory, see John Howe, Church Reform and Social Change In Eleventh- Century Italy, Dominic of Sora and His Patrons (Philadelphia, 1997).

10. Saints and justice

The role of saints in social justice: beyond miracles of healing (who gets healed), there are punishment miracles where the "saint/relic" punishes the arrogance of the lord.

12. The nature of saint's lives -- theology or history?

Some argue that the narratives of the cult of the saints are theological texts in narrative mode, and that the theology to which they bear witness is nuanced and sophisticated. What models are there for understanding these texts as exercises in theology? How do their literary, liturgical, and institutional contexts shape (and how are they shaped by) this theology? Does the theology remain constant over time? In what way does it reflect or shape other kinds of theological writing? Others, such as Felice Lifshitz argues that hagiographers understood their work to be historiography. Without falling into positivist traps, what can we say about hagiography as historical writing? If set into the literary context of medieval historiography, what can it tell us about medieval models of historicity and historiography? Indeed, of reality?



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created 8/28/2000 : revised 1/6/2005

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