Religion and Political Thought: Europe 1200-1700 - lecture

Course Description: 

The course is be offered as two 2-credit courses. The lecture is mandatory for students registered for the Specialization in Political Thought. It is possible to take the lecture without the concomitant reading class. However, it is not recommended to take the reading class without the lecture.

The periodical scope, which extends over half a millennium from 1200 to 1700, was chosen to illustrate important trajectories in European political thought, for instance:

  •           from the rediscovery of Aristotle’s Politics and Nikomachean Ethics in the 13th century to the final rejection of Aristotelian political thought in Hobbes
  •           from the reconciliation of philosophy and theology Thomas Aquinas to their intended radical separation in Spinoza
  •           from imperial political thought to the intellectual foundations of civic government and the sovereign nation state

However, beyond these rather linear narratives, the course also points to recurring phenomena:  

  •           the perennial question for the relation between church and secular government
  •           the alternating dominance of rational and non-rational political thought
  •           the question of the supreme good
  •           the question of the moral qualification of the ruler
  •           authoritarian rule versus participatory governance in church and state
  •           the religious justification of violence and religiously motivated pacifism

Learning Outcomes: 

The goal of the course is to develop a comprehensive, historical, and critical understanding of the intellectual and spiritual foundations of European social order and, thereby, to show that European modernity was not just shaped against religion but also out of religion. The course deliberately transgresses the alleged borderline between the medieval and the early modern history around 1500 in order to make ruptures and continuations visible. 


The final grade is composed of:

  1. a take-home exam in week 6, covering the first half of the course (45%). Format: Students will have to answer 1 out of 2 general questions about the course content. Total length: about 1000 words.
  2. a take-home exam in week 12, covering the second half of the course (45%). Format: Students will have to answer 1 out of 2 general questions about the course content. Total length: about 1000 words.
  3. class participation (10%)