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Images of the Devil: From Christianity to Modernity

RELG 295
Tuesday/Thursday, 12:40-2:30
Olds-Upton 103
Instructor: Adam Kotsko
Office: Humphrey House 109
Office Hours: Tuesday/Thursday 2:45-4:00 or by appointment

Course Description

This course is an interdisciplinary research seminar focused on the role of the devil in Christian
theology and Western culture. The shared course readings trace a course from early Christianity
to modern literature, attempting to find the theological roots of the modern tendency to view the
devil as a fascinating and even heroic character—most famously in John Milton’s Paradise Lost.
Along the way, we investigate some of the social history of the late medieval period, focusing on
groups who were closely identified with the devil.

In addition to the shared readings, the course also has a significant research component. In
groups, students are expected to select a research topic relevant to the devil—in any cultural
tradition or discipline—and become “resident experts,” contributing to in-class discussion,
distributing research materials to classmates, taking responsibility for an in-class presentation,
and ultimately completing a research paper.

Course Goals

Upon completing this course, students should:
• understand the intellectual significance of the figure of the devil across the different eras
of Western Christian thought and in modernity;
• be able to identify the central themes and arguments of pre-modern and modern texts and
state them in a clear and sympathetic way in class discussion;
• be able to formulate criticisms in a way that is attentive to the original author’s intent and
argumentation; and
• be able to undertake guided group research and relate that research to our shared class

Course Requirements

1. Shared readings: All common readings should be completed before the class session for
which they are listed. In order to focus your reading, the professor will provide two study
questions per reading assignment, which you should come to class as prepared as possible
to answer; writing out answers beforehand is not required but is encouraged.
2. Class participation: Class periods will incorporate significant lecture elements, but each
class period will include an in-class discussion. Students are expected to arrive in class
ready to discuss the assigned readings in a way that is attentive and accountable to the
texts, providing specific references to back up their points, particularly with reference to
the study questions provided.
3. Reading quizzes: On Thursday of every even-numbered week, students will be given a
quiz in-class that will deal with two randomly selected reading questions from the
previous two weeks (inclusive of the questions for that day’s reading). Quizzes will be
graded; each student’s lowest quiz grade will be dropped when determining the final
average of all quizzes.
4. Group research projects: Students will be required to form groups centered on a
research topic of their choice. Topics can and should be chosen from as wide a range as
possible, but must be approved by the professor. (A list of sample topics will be
distributed as a separate hand-out.) Groups will be required to present their research in
the following ways:
• Research summary: By Tuesday of Week 6, students should post a summary of their
main research findings to Moodle as a resource for the rest of the class, complete with
bibliography and illustrative quotations, images, links to video clips, or whatever
other medium is appropriate to their topic to give other students a flavor of what the
group has been researching.
• Group presentation: Each group will be responsible for a 20 to 30-minute
presentation of their primary research results, followed by a discussion period.
• Final synthetic paper: As the capstone of the course, each group will be required to
write a final collaborative paper of around 10-12 pages, laying out their research
findings and drawing connections with the shared course readings. These papers are
due Friday of finals week.
5. Attendance: Attendance is expected, in light of the fact that this is a discussion-heavy
class. While attendance will not be formally tracked, a clear pattern of absenteeism will
result in a reduction in your grade. Thursday quizzes are to be done in class only, except
under extenuating circumstances (exceptions will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis).
In addition, there will be one film showing outside of class, scheduled in consultation
with students; the film will be on reserve in the library for those unable to attend.
6. Academic integrity: All students are expected to fully abide by the Honor Code of
Kalamazoo College.
7. Grade summary:
• Class participation: 10%
• Reading quizzes: 20%
• Summary paper: 20%
• Group presentation: 25%
• Final paper: 25%

Course Texts

Required textbooks:

• John Milton, Paradise Lost (Norton Critical Edition)
• Christopher Marlowe, Dr. Faustus (Norton Critical Edition)
• Christology of the Later Fathers, ed. Edward R. Rochie (Library of Christian Classics,
Westminster John Knox)
• Joshua Trachtenberg, The Devil and the Jews: The Medieval Conception of the Jew and
Its Relation to Modern Anti-Semitism (Jewish Publications Society)
• Carlo Ginzberg, The Night Battles: Witchcraft & Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth &
Seventeenth Centuries (Johns Hopkins University Press)

Recommended supplemental textook:

• Gerald Messadié, A History of the Devil (Kodansha Globe)

Other supplemental readings, marked in the course outline with asterisks (**), will be distributed
in the most convenient way.

Outline of Course and Reading

Week 1: Biblical Roots of the Devil
• Tuesday: Course intro, discussion of syllabus
• Thursday: Bible passages related to the devil (**)

Week 2: The Struggle of Good and Evil in Dualistic Philosophies
• Tuesday: Selections from Harnack, Marcion (**)
• Thursday: Selections from writings on Gnosticism and Manicheanism (**)

Week 3: The Patristic Vision: The Ransom Paid the Devil
• Tuesday: Athanasius, On the Incarnation (in Christology of the Later Fathers)
• Thursday: Gregory of Nyssa, Great Catechism (in Christology of the Later Fathers);
John of Damascus, The Orthodox Faith (selections) (**)

Week 4: The Medieval Vision: Displacing the Devil
• Tuesday: Anselm, On the Fall of the Devil
• Thursday: Dante, Selections from Inferno (**); Laurel Schneider, “When Hell Freezes
Over” (**)

Week 5: Witchcraft: Worship of the Devil?
• Tuesday: Ginzburg, The Night Battles, prefaces, chs. 1 and 2
• Thursday: Ginzburg, The Night Battles, chs. 3 and 4

Week 6: The Devil and the Scapegoating of the Jews
• Tuesday: Trachtenberg, The Devil and the Jews, intro, chs. 1 through 4 (group research
summaries due)
• Thursday: Trachtenberg, The Devil and the Jews, chs. 5 through 10

Week 7: Continuation; Faust’s and the Deal with the Devil
• Tuesday: Trachtenberg, The Devil and the Jews, chs. 11 through 15, epilogue
• Thursday: Marlowe, Dr. Faustus (A-text)
Week 8: Milton
• Tuesday: Milton, Paradise Lost, books 1 through 3
• Thursday: Milton, Paradise Lost, books 4 through 6

Week 9: Milton (cont.)
• Tuesday: Milton, Paradise Lost, books 7 through 9
• Thursday: Milton, Paradise Lost, books 10 through 12

Week 10: Other Modern Devils
• Tuesday: Mozart, Don Giovanni (film showing to be arranged)
• Thursday: To Be Announced (**)

Final papers due Friday of Finals Week by noon, to be submitted via e-mail.

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