Next year, I’m going to be teaching Shimer’s senior capstone, which is purportedly an overview of the broad Western tradition (ancient and medieval in the fall, modern in the spring) with an emphasis on the concept of “history.” That narrative is becoming less and less compelling to most students, and the through-line of the focus on history tends to get a little lost amid a very crowded reading list (my list will seem crowded, but it’s nothing compared to the existing version!). So I’m going to have a chance to make some changes, to lighten the load somewhat and to incorporate more contemporary perspectives.
I don’t know how much flexibility I’ll actually have, but my mind has started to churn about what I would do with the concept if I had a totally free hand. Accepting the “ancient and medieval” frame for the fall, and taking into account that we have a 13-week semester and that the capstone class meets four times per week (and we generally do 20-30 pages of reading most days), this is what I’ve come up with so far. (Note that most of these books will be read in selections.)
My overall goal is to give students a sense of conflict and struggle over legitimacy and agency in the realm of world history, and secondarily whether history has an overarching narrative arc or consists of cycles. We’d begin and end with broadly cyclical views (ancient Greeks and ibn Kalduhn), but in between we’d have various forms of what you might call messianism — the Roman messianism of empire (supplemented by Roman voices protesting the violence and decadence of empire), Jewish and Christian versions of messianism, the merger between the two in Constantinian Christianity, and the reawakening of the prophetic/apocalyptic challenge in Islam. It’s especially important to me that students can see “alternate histories” — above all Islam, which I’d want to portray as integral to the broad debate I’m setting up rather than some kind of sideshow, but also post-70CE Judaism to the extent possible.
Concepts of History in Greece and Rome (4 weeks)
Primary sources: Homer, Iliad; Herodotus; Thucydides; Virgil, Aeneid; Augustus, Res Gestae; Tacitus, Annals and Germania
Secondary sources: Nicole Loraux, The Invention of Athens; GEM Ste. Croix, Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World (I’m less sure on Rome-oriented sources. I want to set up the conflict with Jewish apocalyptic and Christianity, and I have sources directly from New Testament studies that speak to that — but I’d need some guidance on a broader view of the field.)
Covenant, Prophecy, and Apocalyptic (4 weeks)
Primary sources: Exodus, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel; Mark, Romans, Revelation; Josephus, The Jewish War
Secondary sources: Fiorenza, Revelation; Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree; Scholem, “The Messianic Idea in Judaism”; Taubes, The Political Theology of Paul; Boyarin, TBD
The Constantinian Synthesis (2 weeks)
Primary sources: Athanasius, On the Incarnation; Eusebius, Life of Constantine; Augustine, City of God; Dante, De Monarchia and Inferno
Secondary sources: Bynum, TBD; Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies (and maybe Agamben’s chapter from Homo Sacer critiquing it? More broadly, I could use some suggestions.)
The Islamic Alternative (3 weeks)
Primary sources: Qur’an (selections from both Meccan and Medinan surahs); ibn Rushd, “The Decisive Treatise”; ibn Kalduhn, Muqaddimah (I’d like some primary sources related to Sunni vs. Shi’ite as well)
Secondary sources: Barlas, “Believing Women” in Islam (Need some help here.)