Fall 2021 - HUM 330 D100

Religions in Context (4)

Class Number: 4456

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Fr 12:30 PM – 4:20 PM
    AQ 5009, 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. It was marked by compassion and moderation in all its dealings.”
–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 and Participation 10%
  • Reading Quizzes 20%
  • Cinematic Sidebars 15%
  • Midterm Exam 25%
  • Essay 20%
  • Writing Exercises (2) 10%



Students are required to obtain their own copies, print or (if applicable) digital, of the following works:

Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization (Anchor 1996) ISBN: 978-0385418492[also available as an e-book]

Patricia Robson, A Celtic Liturgy (SPCK 2015) ISBN: 978-0281074105 [apparently not available as an e-book] not available at all!

All other sources will be made available on Canvas.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html


Teaching at SFU in fall 2021 will involve primarily in-person instruction, with approximately 70 to 80 per cent of classes in person/on campus, with safety plans in place.  Whether your course will be in-person or through remote methods will be clearly identified in the schedule of classes.  You will also know at enrollment whether remote course components will be “live” (synchronous) or at your own pace (asynchronous).

Enrolling in a course acknowledges that you are able to attend in whatever format is required.  You should not enroll in a course that is in-person if you are not able to return to campus, and should be aware that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who may need class or exam accommodations, including in the context of remote learning, are advised to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112) as early as possible in order to prepare for the fall 2021 term.