BA Politics and Modern History / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Becoming Christian in The Early Middle Ages

Unit code HIST31952
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by History
Available as a free choice unit? No


The early middle ages were an age of conversion. Starting with the famous 312 vision of the Roman Emperor Constantine, the period is full of stories of people suddenly – and often miraculously –becoming Christian. Yet Christian conversion meant different things to different people, in different areas and at different times. This course examines the historical contingencies of conversion. It investigates the ways in which people were persuaded or forced to convert, and how those recruits understood their conversion. This will in turn lead to consideration of the many ways that people could be Christian in the early middle ages. 


HIST31952 is only available to students on History-owned programmes; Euro Studies programmes; CLAH-owned programmes; and History joint honours programmes owned by other subject areas (please check your programme structure for further details).

This module is only available to students on History-owned programmes; Euro Studies programmes; History joint honours programmes owned by other subject areas; and CLAH-owned programmes. Available to students on an Erasmus programme subject to VSO approval.


This course aims both to develop students’ historical methods and to foster intellectual engagement with significant issues surrounding early medieval Christianity. Students will engage with a varied body of source material (e.g. hagiography, laws, and burial archaeology) and will learn to connect their readings of these sources to existing debates. By the end of this course, students will be able to construct arguments regarding the use and application of relevant primary sources, for example regarding the salience of religion in burial archaeology, the reliability of autobiographical accounts of conversion, and the institutional contexts and aims of hagiography. Drawing on their own interpretations, they will be able to evaluate debates on conversion and Christianization, the ‘Other’ and Christian boundary management, syncretic and normative Christianities, and the effects of conversion on social and political life.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, students should be able to:


Indicative seminar topics:

Week 1: Introduction: defining Christian conversion

Week 2: Constantine: a Christian Roman emperor?

Week 3: Syncretism and survivals: Roman Egypt

Week 4: Gender and conversion: women and families in late antiquity

Week 5: Individuals in the spotlight: Paulinus and Augustine

Week 6: Royal conversions: Clovis and Æthelberht

Week 7: Reconstructing conversion: archaeology and its limitations

Week 8: Mission and missionaries: Boniface and the Anglo-Saxons in Germany

Week 9: Correctio and Christianization: Carolingian Francia

Week 10: Conquest and conversion: Carolingian Saxony

Week 11: Conversion and the ‘Other’: the northern mission

Teaching and learning methods

  • Eleven 3-hour seminars, which will include short lectures, presentations by students, seminar-based activities, and general discussion
  • Required reading will be digitally available through Blackboard
  • Written work will be submitted on Turnitin.

Knowledge and understanding

  • evaluate recent historiography of early medieval conversion and Christianization
  • understand boundary management and its role in the construction of religious identities
  • analyze the effects of conversion and reform movements on social and political structures
  • critically engage with issues surrounding the reconstruction of ‘conversion from below’

Intellectual skills

  • produce original arguments from the analysis of primary texts
  • situate their contributions within existing historiography
  • analyze the history of conversion from a critically engaged, historical perspective

Practical skills

  • essay writing
  • seminar participation
  • primary source analysis
  • independent research

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • written and oral communication
  • participation in group discussion
  • critical thinking

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Analysis and synthesis of complex ideas
Group/team working
Working autonomously and in groups
Working autonomously and in groups
Oral communication
Argumentation and oral presentation
Written communication
Writing in clear, well-structured prose
Effective use of evidence

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 40%
Written assignment (inc essay) 60%

Feedback methods

Oral feedback on group discussions and presentations - formative

Written feedback on coursework submissions and examinations - summative

One-on-one oral feedback (during office hours or by making an appointment) - formative


Recommended reading

Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph and Diversity, 200-1000 (Oxford, 1996).

Birgitte Secher Bøgh, Conversion and Initiation in Antiquity: Shifting Identities – Creating Change (New York, 2014).

Roy Flechner and Máire Ní Mhaonaigh (eds.), The Introduction of Christianity into the Early Medieval Insular World, Converting the Isles I (Turnhout, 2016).

David Frankfurter, Christianizing Egypt: Syncretism and Local Worlds in Late Antiquity (Princeton, NJ, 2017).

Owen Phelan, The Formation of Christian Europe: The Carolingians, Baptism, and the Imperium Christianum (Oxford, 2014).

Ingrid Rembold, Conquest and Christianization: Saxony and the Carolingian World, 772-888 (Cambridge, 2017).

Richard Sullivan, Christian Missionary Activity in the Early Middle Ages (Aldershot, 1994).

Ian Wood, The Missionary Life: Saints and the Evangelisation of Europe, 400-1050 (Harlow, 2001).

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 165

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Ingrid Rembold Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Assessment Methods

Source analysis, summative, 1500 words, 30%

Essay, summative, 2500 words, 30%

Exam, summative, 2 hours, 2 questions, 40%

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