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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of History, Classics and Archaeology : Postgraduate (History, Classics and Archaeology)

Postgraduate Course: Body and soul in early medieval thought (PGHC11544)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of History, Classics and Archaeology CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryEarly medieval writings are filled with strange and often bizarre details about human forms and human natures. Poets could be found imagining gory dialogues between rotting bodies and incorporeal souls; theologians scrutinized anecdotal reports about people who had the heads of dogs to work out whether they were humans or animals; and popes retold cautionary tales about demons which hid on leaves of lettuce, waiting for incautious nuns to eat them. This course aims to make sense of the way that men and women in the early Middle Ages (c. 400-1000) understood, theorized and speculated about bodies and souls during a period of religious and intellectual diversity.
Course description In this course, we will explore the ways in which men and women in early medieval western Europe thought about questions of body and soul. These were questions which related closely to some of the most important themes in medieval intellectual and religious life, from eschatology to the meaning of existence. Drawing on a diverse and eclectic range of sources, from poems and vision-literature to confessors' handbooks and biblical commentaries, this course will allow students who are already familiar with some aspects of medieval life and culture to enrich their sense of the intellectual and religious dynamics of the period. But in its broadest sense, the course is also an opportunity to think about how we, as historians, respond to ideas from past societies which are fundamentally different to our own; and in that sense, it is hoped that students with little prior experience of medieval history may also find it stimulating to explore the ways that philosophical and theological questions were pursued during this formative period in European history.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  15
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 22, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 174 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 90 %, Practical Exam 10 %
Additional Information (Assessment) 1,000 word book review (20%)
3,000 word essay (70%)
Seminar participation (10%)
Feedback Students are expected to discuss their coursework with the Course Organiser at least once prior to submission, and are encouraged to do so more often. Meetings can take place with the Course Organiser during their published office hours or by appointment. Students will also receive feedback on their coursework, and will have the opportunity to discuss that feedback further with the Course Organiser.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. show detailed knowledge of the way that questions of body and soul were pursued and debated in early medieval Europe;
  2. analyse a range of dissimilar sources from the early Middle Ages;
  3. evaluate and reflect critically upon existing scholarship relating to the topics covered by this course;
  4. plan and execute a substantial written analysis into an aspect of early medieval thought, insofar as it pertains to the themes of this course.
Reading List
Brown, Peter, The Ransom of the Soul: Afterlife and Wealth in Early Western Christianity (Harvard University Press, 2015)
Gillis, Matthew Bryan, Heresy and Dissent in the Carolingian Empire: The Case of Gottschalk of Orbais (Oxford University Press, 2017)
Leja, Meg, 'The sacred art: medicine in the Carolingian Renaissance', Viator 47 (2016), pp. 1-34 Leja, Meg, Embodying the Soul: Medicine and Religion in Carolingian Europe (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2022)
Lockett, Leslie, Anglo-Saxon Psychologies in the Vernacular and Latin Traditions (University of Toronto Press, 2011)
Meens, Rob, Penance in Medieval Europe, 600-1200 (Cambridge University Press, 2014)
Mistry, Zubin, Abortion in the Early Middle Ages, c. 500-900 (York Medieval Press, 2015)
Moreira, Isabel, Heaven's Purge: Purgatory in Late Antiquity (Oxford University Press, 2010)
Moran, Dermot, The Philosophy of John Scottus Eriugena: A Study of Idealism in the Middle Ages (Cambridge University Press, 1989)
Paxton, Frederick S., 'Curing bodies - curing souls: Hrabanus Maurus, medical education, and the clergy in ninth-century Francia', Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 50 (1995), pp. 230-52Pollard, Richard Matthew (ed.), Imagining the Medieval Afterlife (Cambridge University Press, 2020)
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills - The ability to accurately synthesise significant amounts of new information on unfamiliar topics.
- The ability to evaluate historical sources in order to draw valid conclusions about the past.
- The ability to participate in scholarly debates by identifying and assessing competing lines of argumentation in both oral and written forms.
- The ability to produce a sustained and effective analysis of a difficult research problem.
- The ability to test, modify and strengthen one┬┐s own views through collaboration and debate.
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Richard Sowerby
Tel: (0131 6)50 3854
Course secretaryMrs Shannon McMillan
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