Fall 2022 - HUM 330 D100

Religions in Context (4)

Celtic Christianity

Class Number: 6266

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Fr 2:30 PM – 5:20 PM
    BLU 10031, 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 

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“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 beliefs 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%
  • Quizzes 20%
  • Research paper 20%
  • Discussion board (Celts in popular culture) 15%
  • Midterm exam 25%
  • Writing exercises (2) 10%


This course counts towards a concentration in Mythologies for students in a Humanities major or minor program as well as the Religious Studies Certificate.



All sources will be made available for free on Canvas, except for the following title which must be purchased (in print or digital form):

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

Registrar Notes:


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