Spring 2020 - HUM 330 D100

Religions in Context (4)

Celtic Christianity

Class Number: 5468

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Mo 1:30 PM – 5:20 PM
    WMC 2521, Burnaby

  • Prerequisites:

    45 units.



An in-depth investigation of a specific case of religious history and tradition. Religions will be studied through the cultural and historical contexts that pervade and structure religious meaning and expression. Students may repeat this course for further credit under a different topic. Breadth-Humanities.


“Celtic” Christianity 

In the so-called Dark Ages, a religion flourished in the islands of Britain which had more in common with Buddhism than with the institutional Christianity of the West. It was based on a church founded without martyrs, and one that neither inflicted suffering nor encouraged bitter theological disputes.
                                                                                             -- Shirley Toulson, The Celtic Alternative (1987)

Shirley Toulson’s comment reflects a perception of the past which has inspired efforts to recover the supposedly more peaceful, ecologically sensitive, and sexually egalitarian Christianity of the early “Celtic” church. Modern Celtic Christianity is not a formal denomination but a style of thought and worship whose influence has touched many Christian churches; it draws on a conception of “Celtic spirituality” to which a broad coalition of new religious movements is also indebted. They include neo-Druids, Wiccans, Goddess worshippers, and New Agers.  

Such Celtic spiritualists are guided by historical interpretations that are dubious, at best. If they are unhelpful in describing the religious culture of “the so-called Dark Ages,” however, these misunderstandings say a lot about the modern societies in which they have emerged. They also provide an invaluable resource for analysing the three-hundred-year process of symbolic manipulation which has positioned the “Celtic” peoples as the defining “others” of European modernity: superstitious, impulsive, emotional; deeply in touch with nature; and dreamily connected to a mystical twilight world of harp music and prophecy.  

We in HUM 330 will pursue our study of Celtic Christianity through three interlocking frames of reference. First, we will consult the most important ancient and early medieval sources for understanding who the Celts were, and how the distinctive form of Christianity practiced by some of them was related to the older patterns of belief that Christianity displaced. Second, we will trace the rediscovery and redefinition of the Celts in the scholarship, literature, and nationalist discourses of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Finally, we will examine the origins and elaboration of the modern concept of Celtic spirituality and its promotion by Christian thinkers. Students will come away with a richer sense of the history and contemporary practice of Christianity; with an understanding of the evolution of modern Celtic stereotypes; and with an appreciation for the ways in which the past can be (mis)used to quench a spiritual thirst.    


  • Attendance, participation & reading quizzes 20%
  • First paper 15%
  • Midterm 25%
  • Papers 2 and 3 (20% each) 40%


[N.B. All papers will be 3-5 pages in length.]



Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization (Anchor 1996)
ISBN: 978-0385418492

René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, Asterix and the Goths, trans. A. Bell and D. Hockridge (Orion 2004)
ISBN: 978-0752866154

Patricia Robson, A Celtic Liturgy (SPCK 2015)
ISBN: 978-0281074105

Registrar Notes:

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