Religious Discord & Dissent in the Medieval West

Date: Every Tuesday at 03:30 pm
Place: FHS UK, Jinonice building
Lecturer: Martin Pjecha
Language: English


The aim of the course will be to present students to the religious thought and controversies over the Western middle-ages, especially focusing on the 11th to 15th centuries. In approaching the topic from an ‘emic’ perspective, the course will necessarily refer to the philosophical, historical, and political weltanschauung which contemporary ‘religious’ agents drew from. The first half will be devoted to the historical background of early Christianity and its key thinkers, as well as the dominant conceptual and methodological concerns involved in studying “sectarian” or “heretical” groups. We will also introduce the most persistent symbolic forms of opposition to “orthodoxy”: Gnosticism, Mysticism, and Apocalypticism. Several case studies will then be presented, spanning the temporal and geographic range of Latin Christendom. The lectures will provide the relevant historical background, while the interactive seminar portion will introduce discussion of short primary texts and issues.


Evaluation will be based on two exams, one at midterm and one final exam, as well as six short response papers, and in-class participation.

The exams will be take-home essays (3-5 pages) based on a question posed by the instructor which will relate to the course content. They are meant to be opinion essays drawing on the course readings and discussions, but not research essays. The response papers should summarize a reading, and also pose at least one question which the student found relevant or problematic from the text. It is up to the student to decide which readings to choose, though the paper should be submitted on the week of the selected reading, and should add to 6 by the end of the semester. In-class participation will be assessed via course attendance and active participation in class discussions.


Week 1: “Introduction & background: historiography and methods” (no readings)

Week 2: “Historiography, grand narratives, and methods”

Week 3: “Church and sect; orthodox and heterodox”

  • Troeltsch, Ernst, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches, vol. 1, Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992, pp. 331-349.
  • Kaminsky, Howard, “The Problematics of ‘Heresy’ and ‘Reformation’,” in: František Šmahel (ed.), Häresie und vorzeitige Reformation im Spätmittelalter, Munich: Oldenburg, 1998, pp. 1-14.

Sources: 1 Corinthians (selections) [in class]

Week 4: “Concepts: apocalypticism, mysticism, Gnosticism”

  • Williams, Michael, “Gnosticism” in Encyclopædia Britannica.
  • Riedl, Matthias, “Christian Mysticism,” in A New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, ed. Maryanne Cline Horowitz, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2005, pp. 1546-1549.
  • Riedl, “Eschatology”, in ibid., pp. 708-10.


  • “The Hymn of the Pearl” (from the Acts of Thomas), in J.K. Elliott, The Apocryphal New Testament, Oxford: Oxford UP, 1993, pp. 488-490.
  • Pseudo-Dionysius, “The Mystical Theology,” in Pseudo-Dionysius. The Complete Works, trans. Colm Luibheid, New York/Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1987, pp. 135-141.
  • Revelation of John (selections).

Week 5: “Roman Empire and early Christians”

  • Pelikan, Jaroslav, “Christianity”, in Mircea Eliade (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Religion, vol. 3, New York: Simon & Schuster Macmillan, 1987, pp. 348-51, 354-62.
  • Riedl Matthias, “Truth vs Utility: The Debate on Civil Religion in the Roman Empire of the Third and Fourth Centuries”, in Ronald Weed, John von Heyking (eds.), Civil Religion and Political Thought: Its Perennial Questions and Enduring Relevance in North America, Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 2010, pp. 47-59.
  • Lyman, J. Rebecca, “Heresiology: The invention of ‘heresy’ and ‘schism’,” in The Cambridge History of Christianity vol. 2: Constantine to c. 600, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007, pp. 299-302.


  • “The Passion of the Scillitan Martyrs”, in Herbert Musurillo (trans.), The Acts of the Christian Martyrs, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972, pp. 87-9.
  • Nicaean creed (in class)

Week 6: “Church, Papacy, and the Empire”

  • Pelikan, Jaroslav, “Christianity in Western Europe”, Mircea Eliade (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Religion, vol. 3, New York: Simon & Schuster Macmillan, 1987, pp. 379-82.
  • Canning, Joseph, A History of Medieval Political Thought, 300-1450, London: Routledge, 1996, pp. 29-39.
  • McGinn, Bernard, “Introduction,” in Matthias Riedl (ed.), A Companion to Joachim of Fiore, Leiden: Brill, 2017, pp. 2-5.
  • Chadwick, Henry, “Christian Doctrine”, in The Cambridge History of Medival Political Thought c.350-c.1450, ed. J.H. Burns (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 11-20.


Week 7:  “Investiture controversy”

  • “Medieval Papacy” in Encyclopædia Britannica
  • Canning, A History of Medieval Political Thought, pp. 42-3, 84-89.
  • Riedl, Matthias, “The Secular Sphere in Western Theology: A Historical Reconsideration”, in: The Future of Political Theology: Religious and Theological Perspectives, ed. Péter Losonczi, Mika Luoma-Aho, Aakash Singh, Surrey: Ashgate, 2011, pp. 17-18.
  • Watt, J. A., “Spiritual and Temporal Powers”, in: The Cambridge History of Medieval Political Thought c.350-c.1450, ed. J.H. Burns, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991, pp. 370-83.

Sources: “Various Documents on medieval political thought”, pp. 1-5

Week 8: “Cathars and Waldensians”

Biller, Peter, “Christians and heretics,” in The Cambridge History of Christianity vol.4: Christianity in Western Europe c.1100 – c.1500, ed. Miri Rubin and Walter Simons, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009, pp. 170-186.


  • Moore, R. I., The Birth of Popular Heresy, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995, pp. 132-8.
  • “Select Waldensian sources” pp. 1-3.
  • “The Book of Two Principles” in Walter L. Wakefield, Austin P. Evans (trans.), Heresies of the High Middle Ages, New York: Columbia UP, 1991, pp. 519-25

Week 9 : “Spiritual Franciscans & Joachites”

Lambert, Malcolm, “Spiritual Franciscans and heretical Joachimites,” in Medieval Heresy. Popular Movements from the Gregorian Reform to the Reformation, 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 1992, pp. 189-214.

Source: McGinn, Bernard, Apocalyptic Spirituality, Mahwah, Paulist Press, 1979, pp. 136-41.

Week 10: “Schism & Conciliarism”

Black, Anthony, “The conciliar movement”, in The Cambridge History of Medieval Political Thought c.350-c.1450, ed. J.H. Burns, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991, pp. 573-87.


  • Marsilius of Padua, Defensor pacis, pp. 367-75.
  • Nicholas of Cusa, The Catholic Concordance, pp. 118-26.

Week 11: “Wyclif and the Lollards”

Lambert, Malcolm, Medieval Heresy: Popular Movements from the Gregorian Reform to the Reformation, 2nd ed., Oxford: Blackwell, 1992, pp. 225-42.

Source:John Wyclif, Tracts and Treatises, pp. 173-7, 193-7.

Week 12: “The Hussites”

  • Ozment, Steven, The Age of Reform: 1250-1550: An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe (New Haven: Yale UP, 1980), pp. 164-74.
  • Soukup, Pavel, “Religion and Violence in the Hussite Wars,” in The European Wars of Religion. An Interdisciplinary Reassessment of Sources, Interpretations, and Myths, ed. by Wolfgang Palaver, Harriet Rudolph and Dietmar Regensburger, Farnham: Ashgate 2016, pp. 19-22.


  • Jan Hus, De Ecclesia, pp. 183-6.
  • “Selections from utraquist controversy”, pp. 1-4.
  • McGinn, Bernard, Visions of the End. Apocalyptic Traditions in the Middle Ages, New York: Columbia University Press, 1979, pp. 259-269.
  • Fudge, Thomas A., The Crusade against Heretics in Bohemia, 1418-1437, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002, pp. 99-100.


Illustration : “The story of a dispute with the Cathar heretics, where St. Dominic’s books prove their superiority by miraculously being preserved from the flames”.