The Middle Ages in the Popular Imagination

Monty Python & the Holy Grail (1975)

WINTER TERM 2020 - IST 2242  (4 credits)


Jeffrey Mahan, Ralph E. and Norma E. Peck Professor of Religion and Public Communication  (

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 (

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 the Popular Imagination”

This course 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: For entering students in the Winter Term of 2020 this course meets the first year integrative seminar requirement and three assignments below are particularly identified for those students. Others may participate in those discussions but are not required to do so.

Textbooks: There are 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 by way 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.) Films may also 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, King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword (2017, dir. Guy Ritchie), Week Three, Kingdom of Heaven (2005, Ridley Scott), Week Four, Robin and Marian (1976, Dir. Richard Lester), Week Six, The DaVinci Code (2006, Dir. Ron Howard)

Also, be aware that attendance and participation during the on campus Gathering Days sessions, Feb 7, 1:00 to 5:00PM and Feb 8, 8:00AM to Noon is required to pass this course.

Course Overview


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

The Writing Center, Directed by Dr. Jeremy Garber, ( 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  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 and the down week that follows Gathering Days)  we will review your posts for the week and award points at the "closing the week's discussion" tab as follows:

If you are good at math you will have figured out that there are actually 24 points available but we will spot you one. 

First Year Integrative Seminar: There are four discussion assignments designed to introduce first year students to the library and writing center and help you prepare for academic research and writing. These are required for those using the course to meet the First Year Integrative Seminar requirement. Others may also find them useful.

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, Research Update: In preparation for the thesis paper begin to gather key online and 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  4 or 5 key sources that will be useful in your final paper. Briefly, describe the ideas you will be drawing from these sources.  Having done some research clarify your emerging thesis and suggest an outline of the paper. (3 - 5 pages, double spaced) Due by 11:59PM, Thurs of Week Four, Post your essay in Canvas. (15 points, 15% of final grade).


Assignment Two, Thesis Essay: In conversation with your sources, articulate your own understanding of the topic and of 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 (35 points, 35% 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 available and interesting to a  faith community or other 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. The grading scale is as follows:


 A:      93 - 100

 A- :   89 - 92

B+:     85 - 88

B:        81 - 84

B-:       77 - 80

C+:      73 - 76

C:        69 - 72

C-:      65 - 68

D:       60  - 64

F:        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, 2020WedGetting Acquainteddue by 06:59AM
Jan 08, 2020WedReview the course Canvas pagedue by 06:59AM
Jan 09, 2020ThuThinking & Learning about "the real" Middle Ages (and religion)due by 06:59AM
Jan 10, 2020FriThinking & Learning about "the fake" Middle Ages, Popular Culture (and religion)due by 06:59AM
Jan 11, 2020SatClosing the week's discussiondue by 06:59AM
Jan 14, 2020TueKey Aspects of "Religion" in the Middle Ages: The Divine Feminine & The Quest for the Grail. due by 06:59AM
Jan 15, 2020WedKing Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, and Political Order in the Middle Agesdue by 06:59AM
Jan 16, 2020ThuKing Arthur: The Legend of the Sworddue by 06:59AM
Jan 17, 2020FriFirst Year Seminar - The Writing Center, with Dr. Jeremy Garberdue by 06:59AM
Jan 18, 2020SatDeveloping a Research Topicdue by 06:59AM
Jan 18, 2020SatClosing the week's discussiondue by 06:59AM
Jan 22, 2020WedThe Crusades, Then and Now. . . . .due by 06:59AM
Jan 23, 2020ThuFirst Year Seminar - Library access and skills, with Dr. Micah Saxtondue by 06:59AM
Jan 23, 2020ThuIntroduction to Islamdue by 06:59AM
Jan 24, 2020Fri Kingdom of Heavendue by 06:59AM
Jan 25, 2020SatMedievalism as Playdue by 06:59AM
Jan 25, 2020SatClosing the week's discussiondue by 06:59AM
Jan 28, 2020TueFirst Year Seminar - Plagiarism and Academic Integrity, with Dr. Jeremy Garberdue by 06:59AM
Jan 29, 2020WedThe Quest for "the real" Robin Hood & the Reality of the Poor and Poverty in the Middle Agesdue by 06:59AM
Jan 30, 2020ThuRobin and Marian - watch for discussion during Gathering Daysdue by 06:59AM
Feb 01, 2020SatClosing the week's discussionsdue by 06:59AM
Feb 08, 2020SatGATHERING DAYS - SEE YOU ON CAMPUSdue by 06:59AM
Feb 09, 2020SunGATHERING DAYS - SEE YOU ON CAMPUSdue by 06:59AM
Feb 17, 2020MonAssignment One, Research Updatedue by 06:59AM
Feb 19, 2020WedThe Popularity of "The Da Vinci Code" and Dan Brown's Controversy with the Authors of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail."due by 06:59AM
Feb 21, 2020FriThe Da Vinci Codedue by 06:59AM
Feb 26, 2020WedReading & 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 27, 2020ThuViewing & Discussing Lecture by Imam and Dr. Omid Safi, "Islam Beyond the Headlines"due by 06:59AM
Feb 28, 2020FriImages for Reflection and Discussion. . . . .due by 06:59AM
Feb 29, 2020SatClosing the week's discussiondue by 06:59AM
Mar 04, 2020WedThe "war on terror" in the news and popular culturedue by 06:59AM
Mar 07, 2020SatSubmit your Thesis Essaydue by 06:59AM
Mar 07, 2020SatClosing the week's discussiondue by 06:59AM
Mar 10, 2020Tue Post popular audience presentation for discussion Wednesdaydue by 05:59AM
Mar 10, 2020TuePopular Presentation submission for gradingdue by 05:59AM
Mar 12, 2020ThuDiscuss student presentations that were posted Mondaydue by 05:59AM
Mar 13, 2020FriWrap up Content Discussiondue by 05:59AM
Mar 13, 2020FriClosing the week's discussiondue by 05:59AM
Mar 14, 2020SatFeedback to Instructorsdue by 05:59AM