Christianity in Rome: Church vs. Empire, Church as Empire
Upcoming Information Session: Thursday, November 17th | 3:30-5pm | Savery Hall 409
The Christian church began as a small group of people who gave up material comforts, status and even their personal safety, to preach a message of nonviolence and concern for the poor and outcast. This message was fundamentally at odds with the values of the Roman Empire, which responded with vicious persecutions. In the course of a few centuries, however, the tables were turned: Christianity became first tolerated, then the official religion of Empire. In a time that knew no separation of church and state, the church became the dominant temporal power in Europe, and carried out its own persecutions on critics without and within.
This program turns the lens of sociology on the church and asks, “How did this institution change in its transition from a small foreign sect to the seat of power in Europe, and how did it change Europe in its turn? What happened to the ideals of the founder and his followers when popes became princes and controlled armies?” We will begin with the relationship between church and Empire in ancient Rome, and follow that relationship as it changes in the medieval period and the Protestant Reformation. We will close by examining the church-world dynamic in the present time.
The program consists of three courses totaling 15 credits. All students take all 15 credits. Students in the program will maintain their UW residency and any financial aid eligibility already established. Credits earned may be used to satisfy requirements for the Sociology major, as well as UW graduation requirements.
SOC 401a The Roman Empire and Christianity (5 credits)
This course will examine the Roman Empire into which Christianity was born, and how the Roman world changed as the church moved from the margins to the center of power. There will be an emphasis on visiting the sites in and around Rome where events key to this story took place. This course and Soc 401b (below) will be taught by the program director, guest speakers and local guides.
SOC 401b Secularization and Revival in the Church (5 credits)
This course will focus on the tensions between the church and the world: What factors pushed the church in the direction of seeking worldly status, wealth and power, and what factors pushed it back toward its original mission? The topics we’ll be discussing include, among others: the persecution of the early church; the effects of the Emperor Constantine’s legalization of Christianity; various reform movements; and the ongoing tension between the mystical and institutional forms of Christianity.
SOC 195 Study Abroad: Sociology (5 credits)
For this “service learning” program, students will serve as volunteers at centers serving poor Italians, women, refugees from a variety of countries and other marginalized groups. Each student will be assigned to one center for the duration of the program. In addition to making a contribution to the community, in this course students will be reminded that Rome goes on; life in Rome today is full of modern issues and challenges. This course will be supervised by the program director and the center directors. Additionally, students will be required to turn in periodic reflections on their service learning (and other) experiences, and to discuss those experiences in a group setting.