Medieval Studies


CRAIG WILLIAMSON (English Literature)


Tariq al-Jamil (Religion)
Stephen P. Bensch (History) 3
Alan Berkowitz (MLL: Chinese)
Michael W. Cothren (Art History) 2
Steven Hopkins (Religion)
Rosaria V. Munson (Classics)
Ellen M. Ross (Religion)
William Turpin (Classics)

2 Absent on leave, spring 2015.
3 Absent on leave, 2014–2015

Swarthmore’s Medieval Studies Program offers students the opportunity to study in an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural fashion a variety of often interrelated medieval civilizations—European, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Islamic, South and West Asian—from the 4th to the 15th centuries. The program draws upon a variety of critical and cross-disciplinary approaches to explore medieval cultures, their distinctive qualities and historical connections, their material and spiritual productions, their artistic creations, and their relation to earlier and later cultures.

The heart of the Medieval Studies Program is its interdisciplinary approach. The faculty and students in this program believe that the medieval period, its history, languages and literatures, art and architecture, religion and philosophy, music and meaning, are best studied from a variety of critical perspectives in which discipline and dialogue go hand in hand, where each person’s knowledge is tested and expanded by another’s approach, and where we come together in the words of Chaucer’s Clerk to “gladly lerne and gladly teche.”

The Academic Program

Students may major or minor in medieval studies in either the Course or Honors Program. Students must take work in a variety of medieval subjects to be drawn from art history, history, literature, music, religion, and philosophy. Majors often do research abroad on college-sponsored fellowships during the summer of their junior year and then write a thesis, which they present as seniors to an interdisciplinary Medieval Studies Committee or a panel of honors examiners.


All students who major or minor in medieval studies, either in honors or course, must fulfill the program’s distribution requirements by taking medieval courses from the following distribution areas: 1. art history 2. history 3. literature (English, classics, etc.) 4. music 5. religion or philosophy. The list of Swarthmore medieval studies courses as well as medieval courses at Bryn Mawr and Haverford is regularly updated on the program website.

Course Major

Course majors must take at least 8 credits in medieval subjects, including at least one medieval course in three of the five distribution areas (must include history), and pass a senior comprehensive which includes a written and oral exam given by the student’s instructors in her or his medieval courses. These examinations are intended to be a culminating exercise to facilitate the review and integration of the various subjects and methods involved in the interdisciplinary field of medieval studies.

Honors Major

Honors majors must take at least one medieval course in three of the five distribution areas (must include history). The Honors Program itself will include four double-credit preparations in medieval subjects which reflect the interdisciplinary nature of the major and must include work in at least three of the distribution areas. The preparations may be constituted by some combination of the following: seminars, preapproved two-course combinations, courses with attachments, or a thesis. Senior Honors Study for honors majors in medieval studies will follow the policies of the individual departmental preparations used in the program. Honors majors will have a 90- to 120-minute oral panel examination with all four examiners present. These examinations are intended to be a culminating exercise to facilitate the review and integration of the various subjects and methods involved in the interdisciplinary field of medieval studies. Honors major normally do not have a separate minor as part of their Medieval Studies Honors Program, but they may apply one of their four honors preparations toward an honors minor. In such a case, a student must fulfill all the requirements set by the relevant department or program of that honors minor.

Course Minor

Course minors must take 5 credits in medieval subjects in at least two distribution areas. Only one of these credits can also be in the department of the student’s major.

Honors Minor

Honors minors must take 5 credits in medieval subjects in at least two distribution areas. The honors preparation in a medieval subject should reflect the interdisciplinary nature of the minor and may be satisfied by one of the following: a seminar, a preapproved two-course combination, a course with an attachment, or in special cases a thesis. The minor preparation must be in a department distinct from the student’s major. Senior Honors Study and written and oral honors exams will follow the pattern of the department in which the preparation is offered.

Courses and seminars in the various departments which are counted as medieval studies courses are listed in the College Catalog and online. Students may also take medieval courses at Bryn Mawr or Haverford as part of their program.


The following medieval studies courses are currently offered at Swarthmore. Other courses may be considered on petition to the Medieval Studies committee. Courses marked with an asterisk may count as a Medieval Studies course if the student chooses to focus on medieval materials; see the instructor for details. Majors and minors are also allowed to include medieval courses from Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and the University of Pennsylvania in their curriculum.
ARTH 002, The Western Tradition*
ARTH 014. Early Medieval Art and Architecture
ARTH 045. Gothic Art and Architecture
CHIN 016 (LITR 016CH): Substance, Shadow, and Spirit in Traditional Chinese Literature and Culture
CHIN 027: The Story in Dynastic China*
CHIN 033 (LING 033): Introduction to Classical Chinese
CHIN 066: Chinese Poetry
CHIN 069 (LITR 069CH): The Art of Living: Taste and Aesthetics in Chinese Cultural Traditions*
CLAS 060. Dante’s Divine Comedy
CLAS 091 (LING 091). Hero Time Travel*
ENGL 010. Survey I: Beowulf to Milton*
ENGL 014. (LING 014). Old English/History of the Language
ENGL 016. Chaucer
ENGL 019. Chaucer and Shakespeare
ENGL 046. Tolkien and Pullman and Their Literary Roots*
HIST 001A. The Barbarian North
HIST 001T. Cross and Crescent: Muslim-Christian Relations in Historical Perspective
HIST 002A. Medieval Europe
HIST 006A. The Formation of the Islamic Near East
HIST 012. Chivalric Society: Knights, Ladies, and Peasants
HIST 014. Friars, Heretics, and Female Mystics: Religious Turmoil in the Middle Ages
HIST 015. From Rome to Renaissance Florence: Making Urban Europe
HIST 016. Sex, Sin, and Kin in Early Europe
LATN 014. Medieval Latin
MUSI 020. Medieval and Renaissance Music
MUSI 047. Fetter Chamber Music Program (in which one can focus on medieval repertory)
RELG 008B. The Qur’an and Its Interpreters
RELG 011B. The Religion of Islam: The Islamic Humanities
RELG 014B. Christian Life and Thought in the Middle Ages
RELG 020. Christian Mysticism
RELG 031B. Religion and Literature: From the Song of Songs to the Hindu Saints
RELG 053. Gender, Sexuality and the Body in Islam
RUSS 047 (LITR 047): Russian Fairy Tales*
MDST 096. Thesis
MDST 180. Senior Honors Thesis


ARTH 147. Visual Narrative in Medieval Art
CHIN 104: Chinese Poetry
ENGL 105. Tolkien and Pullman and Their Literary Roots*
HIST 111. Medieval Mediterranean
RELG 100. Holy War, Martyrdom, and Suicide in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam
RELG 101. Jesus in History, Literature, and Theology*
RELG 108. Poets, Saints, and Storytellers: The Poetry and Poetics of Devotion in South Asian Religions
RELG 114. Love and Religion
RELG 119. Islamic Law and Society
RELG 127. Heresy and Secrecy