BA History and Spanish

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Becoming Christian in The Early Middle Ages

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST31951
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
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. 


Restricted to History programmes, History joint honours programmes and Classics and Ancient History programmes (please check your programme structure for further details).


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:

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

Source analysis 40%

Essay 60%


Feedback methods

Oral feedback on group discussions and presentations - Formative

Written feedback on coursework submissions - 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
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Ingrid Rembold Unit coordinator

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