Middle Ages in Popular Culture

Monty Python & the Holy Grail (1975)


Jeffrey Mahan, Ralph E. and Norma E. Peck Professor of Religion and Public Communication  (jmahan@iliff.edu)

Dr. Mahan studies the mediation of religion in material and digital cultures, religion as a sensual and bodily experience, and the implications of media change for the practice of ministry and religious leadership.  He is also interested in the history of media and mediation and their implications for the religious communities and practices, with particular attention to the emergence of digital culture and the forms of religion in digital culture.

Albert Hernandez, Associate Professor of the History of Christianity (ahernandez@iliff.edu)

Dr. Hernandez studies the history of Christianity focusing on the medieval and early modern periods beginning with the Crusades and up to the period of the Protestant and Roman Catholic “Reformations.” He is  also interested in early-medieval and pre-Christian religious traditions/practices, such as those of the Celts and of Celtic Christianity, which led him to his work on the legends of King Arthur and the quest for the Holy Grail. As a long-time member of the Medieval Academy of America, the contemporary fascination with “the Middle Ages” in nearly all areas of popular culture across the USA led to his interest in co-teaching this class.

Course Synopsis: “The Middle Ages in Popular Culture”

This first-year interdisciplinary seminar explores the contemporary appropriation of historical events and religious symbols from the European Middle Ages (ca.700 to ca.1500 C.E.) among mass media, political rhetoric, and popular culture in the twenty-first century. Together we will consider what this re-imagining of the Middle Ages and revival of medieval cultural precedents means for media studies and historical awareness in our time.

Since the tragic events of 9/11, the Western allies and radical Islamic terrorists have both used medieval precedents to describe their ongoing struggle. The success of the Game of Thrones series has rekindled different aspects of medieval lore and fantasy while epic sagas about the Quest for the Holy Grail and about the mysterious legends of the Knights Templar are appropriated by film-makers, video-game creators, and tragically as well by white-supremacist and neo-nazi groups across the world.

Note: There will be no required textbooks to purchase for this course. The instructors will provide all of the required readings thru the "Files" tab on our Canvas course site or byway of links to online resources and internet sites.

Films: We are discussing four films that you are responsible for finding and viewing on your own. They are all available from Netflix, though you have to have a subscription that includes DVDs. (If you have a "streaming only" subscription you can upgrade it for a month or two fairly inexpensively.) may be available from local libraries or rental sites. We caution against downloading them from unlicensed sites like UTube as this is likely to violate copyright regulations and is a good way to down load infections to your computer . The films are: Week Two, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975, Dir. Terry Gilliam) , Week Three, Kingdom of Heaven (2005, Ridley Scott), Robin and Marian (1976, Dir. Richard Lester), The DaVinci Code (2006, Dir. Ron Howard)

Also, be aware that attendance and participation during the on campus Gathering Days sessions, Feb 8, 1:00 to 5:00PM and Feb 9, 8:00AM to Noon is required to pass this course.

Course Objectives

A Note about Writing-Styles:  In the online discussions a somewhat informal style of writing is appropriate. Relatively short but substantive posts are what we are looking for so. Substantive post should typically be 50 to 80 words and might be shorter. Remember that the goal is to encourage conversation and if you write more than 100 words it is less likely that people will read what you have said.

An Iliff paper should typically be double spaced and in a readable 12 point font-type. Its language should be more formal than the casual discourse of online or face-to-face classroom discussion or popular writing. Include a title and thesis statement that help the reader understand your focus. Foot or end note your sources (whether directly quoted or not) and carefully set quotations off from your own work. There are a variety of styles for academic style and notation. We are happy for you to use any of them as long as you are consistent. If you would like a useful guide we suggest Kate L. Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers. A useful online introduction to Turabian that will answer many writing style and citation questions is found at https://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/turabian/citation-guide.html.

The Writing Center, Directed by Dr. Jeremy Garber, (writing@iliff.edu) in Iliff’s Taylor Library is a great resource. No matter your level of writing expertise they will help make you a better writer. They will help you clarify and develop your argument and provide feedback on a draft. If you have concerns about your writing or have been out of school for some time we particularly encourage you to consider taking advantage of this resource. 

Library and Research Assistance:  Both online and at its physical campus location The Taylor Library https://www.iliff.edu/library/  research resources for students, faculty, and the public.  Once you are at the library's online site click on Primo for access to the collections at Iliff and DU, and for links to online resources. The library staff will ship you physical books in the collection but this takes more time than linking to online material so plan accordingly. For research assistance you can sign up for a phone or video consultation, just going to the Learning Lab tab and click on Research Center. 

Requirements and Assignments:

Online Participation: This course requires consistent interaction with your peers and the instructors. Thus timely weekly posting and participation are required. To be fully present you need to have done the assigned reading and viewed the assigned films identified in the syllabus and come prepared to participate in the class discussion in ways which demonstrate your command of the reading and viewing assignments and your engagement in the discussion.. (25 possible points, 25% of final grade)

Grading Online Participation:  Our primary goal is to encourage your full, prepared, and timely  participation so that the course functions as a discussion among us. At the end of each week (except Gathering Days)  we will review your posts for the week and award points as follows:

If you are good at math you will have figured out that there are actually 27 points available for participation so it is possible to miss a few and get full participation points.

Gathering Days Participation: Presence and participation in Journey Days is REQUIRED to pass this course.


Written Assignments:

Pre- Assignment, Developing a Research Topic and Question: To focus your graded written assignments we ask you to choose a research question or topic relevant to the study of the medievalism (that is the use of the middle ages in popular culture and popular political discourse) and which raises questions about religious practices or the presentation of religion. Though you may refine the question as the quarter proceeds, you will be exploring and writing about the topic throughout the quarter. You want a question or topic about which you can write a formal academic essay, and which at the same time gets at issues a congregation or other public would find interesting. A good research question or thesis should be appropriately focused. It is better to take on a fairly narrow question that you can address in depth than to stake out too broad a topic, that you then can only skim over. The discussions of library resources on Thursday of Week Two will help you think about how to find scholarly and popular resources that address your topic.

Here are some examples to prompt your thinking about your own research questions:

These are only intended as examples. Your research questions may be quite different. We will respond to your proposal and help you focus on a topic you will be able to research and address in a fairly brief essay. Please feel free to ask for help as you prepare or later as you are researching. The clearer and more focused your topic, the easier the subsequent assignments  will be.

By 11:59PM on Friday of Week Two, post your question and discuss your interest and thoughts about how to research the question (100 to 200 words). This is an ungraded assignment, but your success in the following assignments depends on develop a clear topic appropriate to the course. The instructors will respond with suggestions for how to further focus your topic and to seek appropriate resources. It is likely that it will take several rounds to clarify the topic. Care at this stage will make your research and writing easier.

Assignment One, Bibliographic Essay: Following the guidelines from the library session in Week Two, explore library resources related to the theme you have chosen to focus on. It is unlikely that the first things you look at will be relevant to your question. Take some time to explore possible resources,  then identify three sources that address your focusing theme/research question  in helpful ways. These might be  essays, book chapters, books, etc. You might choose authors who focus on historical examples or those who explore the theme in contemporary culture. At least two of your sources should be clearly scholarly, you might also look at how your question is explored in popular discourse. Write a bibliographic essay that summarizes the approach and key insights of each author, and which compares and contrasts their thinking. Here the goal is demonstrate your understanding of these thinkers, their accomplishments and limitations. rather than to offer your own opinions on the topic. Your task is to understand the arguments of others.This lays the groundwork for your later, more synthetic paper where you will make your own argument which draws on and responds to your sources. (1,100 to 1,500 words- likely four-and-a-half to six-and-a-half pages, double spaced) Due by 11:59PM, Fri of Week Six, Post your essay in Canvas. (25 points, 25% of final grade).


Assignment Two, Thesis Essay: In conversation with the sources you explored in the Bibliographic Essay, articulate your own understanding of the topic and articulating how it contributes to our consideration of religion and/or of particularly religious communities. Here the goal is for you to interpret the phenomenon you are studying. It is appropriate to argue with your sources and to develop arguments that go beyond them. Take care to cite your sources and clearly distinguish between your own ideas and those of others. (2,500 to 3,000 words) Due by 11:59PM, Friday of Week Seven, Post your essay in Canvas (25 points, 25% of final grade).


Assignment Three, A Popular Discussion: 800 to 1,000 wd sermon, newsletter post, blog entry on your topic aimed at a congregation or other public, Here the goal is to make what you have learned from your scholarly preparation in the first two assignments background for your work as a leader in a faith community or other more public audience. Due by 11:59PM Friday of Week Nine, post posted your assignment twice, first in the discussion forum, for class discussion the next week and secondly, submit it in Canvas for the instructors to respond to and grade. (25 points, 25% of the final grade)

Grading Scale: There are 100 total points available for this course, 25 for participation, and 25 for each of the three assignments described above. The grading scale is as follows:

Assignment                 Overall

A:   24 - 25                   93 - 100

A-:  23                          89 - 92

B+: 22                          85 - 88

B:   21                          81 - 84

B-:  20                          77 - 80

C+: 19                          73 - 76

C:   18                          69 - 72

Please note that students who receive a grade below C must retake a required course.

C-:  17                          65 - 68

D:   15 - 16                   60  - 64

F:    14 or fewer          59 or fewer

Technology Issues : If you need assistance managing Canvas please email the Help Desk or call them at 303-909-9321. Please leave a message and the staff will get back to you as soon as possible. They are typically available 8:30AM - 7:00ish in the Mountain Time Zone.

Jan 08, 2019TueGetting Acquainteddue by 06:59AM
Jan 08, 2019TueReview the course Canvas pagedue by 06:59AM
Jan 09, 2019WedThe "real" Middle Agesdue by 06:59AM
Jan 10, 2019ThuThinking about "the fake" middle ages, popular culture (and religion)due by 06:59AM
Jan 11, 2019FriThe Writing Center, with Dr. Jeremy Garberdue by 06:59AM
Jan 12, 2019SatClosing the week's discussiondue by 06:59AM
Jan 15, 2019TueKey Aspects of "Religion" in the Middle Ages: The Divine Feminine & The Quest for the Grail. due by 06:59AM
Jan 16, 2019WedKing Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, & Political Order in the Middle Agesdue by 06:59AM
Jan 17, 2019ThuMonty Python and the Holy Graildue by 06:59AM
Jan 18, 2019FriLibrary access and skills, with Dr. Micah Saxtondue by 06:59AM
Jan 19, 2019SatDeveloping a Research Topicdue by 06:59AM
Jan 22, 2019TueIntroduction to Islamdue by 06:59AM
Jan 23, 2019Wed Kingdom of Heavendue by 06:59AM
Jan 25, 2019FriReminder: post your Research Topic due by 06:59AM
Jan 25, 2019FriPlagiarism and Academic Integrity, with Dr. Jeremy Garberdue by 06:59AM
Jan 26, 2019SatMedievalism as Playdue by 06:59AM
Jan 27, 2019SunThe Crusades, Then and Now. . . . .due by 06:59AM
Jan 29, 2019TueGathering Days Remindersdue by 06:59AM
Jan 31, 2019ThuRobin and Marian - watch for discussion during Gathering Daysdue by 06:59AM
Feb 01, 2019FriThe Quest for the "Real" Robin Hood & the Reality of the Poor and Poverty in the Middle Agesdue by 06:59AM
Feb 02, 2019SatClarifying your research question and sourcesdue by 06:59AM
Feb 09, 2019SatGATHERING DAYS - SEE YOU ON CAMPUS, room I-202due by 06:59AM
Feb 10, 2019SunGATHERING DAYS - SEE YOU ON CAMPUS, room I-202due by 06:59AM
Feb 13, 2019WedGathering Days insightsdue by 06:59AM
Feb 16, 2019SatSubmit your Bibliographic Essay due by 06:59AM
Feb 21, 2019ThuThe Popularity of "The Da Vinci Code" and Dan Brown's Controversy with The Authors of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail."due by 06:59AM
Feb 23, 2019SatThe Da Vinci Codedue by 06:59AM
Feb 26, 2019TueReading & Discussing Chapter One from Anouar Majid's "We Are All Moors: Ending Centuries of Crusades Against Muslims and Other Minorities."due by 06:59AM
Feb 28, 2019ThuThe "war on terror" in the news and popular culturedue by 06:59AM
Mar 02, 2019SatSubmit your Thesis Essaydue by 06:59AM
Mar 07, 2019ThuViewing & Discussing Lecture by Omid Safi, "Islam Beyond the Headlines"due by 06:59AM
Mar 09, 2019SatImages for Reflection and Discussion. . . . .due by 06:59AM
Mar 12, 2019TuePopular Presentation submission for gradingdue by 05:59AM
Mar 12, 2019Tue Post popular audience presentation for discussion Wednesdaydue by 05:59AM
Mar 14, 2019ThuDiscuss student presentations that were posted Mondaydue by 05:59AM
Mar 15, 2019FriWrap up Content Discussiondue by 05:59AM
Mar 16, 2019SatFeedback to Instructorsdue by 05:59AM