Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Religious History Bleg

One of my goals over this baby-cation is to revise and post at least rough reading lists for years 3 and 4 of the High School Humanities Program. I'm working off the three versions that each of us kids in my family used (Dad would revise the reading list each time, trying to fit everything in) and trying to trim to down to a reasonable length and deal with the occasional blind spots and ommissions.

One of the main areas where I'd like to add or change selections is in Year 3, which is supposed to cover from Muhammad to the Protestant Reformation. We tried various attempts at covering the rise of Islam, from the basic (reading the Catholic Encyclopedia and Britanica articles on Islam and Muhammad) to actual primary source (reading the first three books of the Koran: Al-Baqarah, Al-Imran and Al-Nisa). I'm not really sure what the right approach is here, especially as Islam is much more talked about now than it was in the mid 90s, and so a student is likely to be coming to the program with a certain amount of perception already in place. I've got 1-2 weeks of a bright high schoolers history/literature reading time available -- perhaps 100-200 pages depending on the difficulty of a source. What suggestions do people have as to the best intro to Islam and/or Muhammad? I've got separate selections for covering the Crusades, etc. Here we're pretty much looking for Islam in the 700-800 range and introducing it as a religion. Reading level is bright high schooler/entry level college.

The second area I want to add some texts is at the opposite end of that year. Somehow, we never covered any Reformation texts. This is probably for roughly the same reason we didn't actually include the Bible in the list back in the first two years -- we assumed that we knew a bit about that. But I'm thinking that it's a good idea to have something here. One can, of course, read the 95 Theses, and that's probably a good idea. They're short, after all. But it seems to me that we need some better examples of the thought of the early Protestants. Any suggestions on good selections from Luther, Calvin or other early Protestants which would provide a good feel for early Protestantism? (Pilgrim's Progress and Paradise Lost to be covered later.)


Piraeus said...

In college we used a single volume version of John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion that would probably be good for your purposes. If you are interested, I can find it and provide you with the publisher, translator, etc.

Brandon said...

I haven't had a chance to read it myself, but I've heard from several sources that Donner's short introduction to Islamic History from AD 661-750, The First Dynasty of Islam, is very good. A bit expensive for its 140 pages, though (which is why I haven't gotten around to it yet). I suspect from descriptions that it focuses more on politics than on what we would ordinarily think of as religion, but this might not matter so much: the two have a different relationship in Islam than they do for those of us who come out of a historical Christendom, anyway. And it's supposed to give a good sense of how the Ummayyads gave way to the Abbasids, which is the most important event in the Muslim world during the period you are considering. About twice as long, and more turgid, but explicitly dealing with matters of religion is Berkey's The Formation of Islam.

I'm blanking on Protestant candidates; most of them I can think of are either very polemical or assume some very technical theological background. Calvin does have some very accessible sermons and tracts; and his work "On the True Method of Giving Peace to Christendom and Reforming the Church" is a good summary of the Reformation in a nutshell, at least as far as a Calvinist would see it, which might be the sort of thing you're looking for.

Brandon said...

Sorry, that's Hawting, not Donner, who is the author of The First Dynasty of Islam. I'm not sure where 'Donner' came from.

Darwin said...


Assuming you mean a condensed one volume, that would be a definite help. (I'm seeing one volumes at 1000 pages, and that's more than I think I can slot in to the amount of space I have.)


Yowza, the "cheap" paperback is $40. Hmmm...

That work by Calvin sounds like it might be the right length and scope. I'll take a look for it.

Polemical is not necessarily a problem. Part of the idea here is to get a feel for what people were really saying.

Anonymous said...

There's a book, Luther and Erasmus on Free Will and Salvation, which collects some of Luther's main writings on grace/salvation/free will and has documents Erasmus wrote in response.

I would also recommend William Roper's Life of Sir Thomas More, or at least the parts about King Henry's break from Rome.

Both books are mercifully short, and from what I remember neither is terribly difficult to read.

Anonymous said...

It might also be interesting to compare the 28 articles of the Lutheran Augsburg Confession, the 39 Articles of the Anglican Church, and the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent.

Beth said...

I'm not sure if this 100% what you're looking for, but I've really enjoyed Justo Gonzalez's "Story of Christianity." He has another series which I have not read, but would be willing to go out on a limb and endorse anyhow, since he's an excellent writer, and I would suspect the book would be accessible to a bright high schooler. The series is called "A History of Christian Thought" and the first chunk of Volume 3 covers the Reformation. Additionally, if you just want raw documents more so than a whole narrative of Christian thought, "Documents of the Christian Church" by Bettenson & Maunder is good, although it covers the entirety of Christian history. "A Reformation Reader" by Janz is a good coverage of Reformation texts, and you could select those you are most interested in for assignments rather than the whole book. If you'd rather just download the texts without getting them in a book, browse through the table of contents of the last book and use that to find the texts--it's a good list of "essential" reading in Reformation theology.

Andy said...

I recommend Christianity's Dangerous Idea by Alistair McGrath. While the book does not exclusively focus on the reformation (it shows how protestantism has morphed over the centuries), it has plenty of material on what the controversies of those days were and how many of the issues Luther et al were so concerned about are no longer an issue today (eg Communion in both kinds, absentee bishops, etc)

Piraeus said...


Yes, it's condensed -- 271 pages to be exact.

The publisher is Baker Book House and the editors are Tony Lane and Hilary Osborne. The ISBN is 0801025249.

Sara said...

Volume 5 of the University of Chicago's series, Readings in Western Civilization, has not-too-long selections from Luther and Calvin. If I recall correctly, my professor used it in conjunction with a volume of Luther's writings edited by John Dillenberger, although I'd have to dig out the syllabus to see which selections were actually assigned.

Darwin said...

Hmm, I'll take a look for that one, Piraeus. Looks about the right length, though I'm sad to see in the Amazon description that it has all the most polemic bits removed... That's the most fun!

Sara, I'll take a look for those as well.

Anonymous said...

I like Hillaire Belloc's "The Great Heresies" for Islam and reformation(s), but that's not primary sources... I think Jacques Maritain has a compilation of some writing from 3 of the major figures from early Protestantism, but I can't find it at

Congratulations on Baby Diana! The two babies look adorable together :)