SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Eastern Christian Texts On Martyrs and Monks

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2017/2018
Year of study:
Taught in:
Full Year

The course aims to impart an understanding of the role of martyrdom, the contribution of asceticism to the formation of identity in Eastern and Orthodox Christianity and finally the emergence and development of monasticism, a legacy that was transferred to Western Christianity. 

It uses primary sources (in English translation) to investigate accounts of martyrdom and to assess the rise of asceticism which reached its apogee in Syria during the fourth and fifth centuries. It examines the emergence of monasticism in Egypt, primarily focusing on the traditional figures of St. Antony and St. Pachomius and evaluates the development of cenobitism in Asia Minor, Georgia, Syria and Iraq. 

The final part of the course explores the matrix of monasticism, best epitomised in the defense of icons, as well as in the nurturing of mystical traditions. Texts studied include: 

  • The Letters of St. Ignatius,
  • The Martyrdoms of St Perpetua and Felicity, 
  • Eusebius 'Martyrs of Palestine', 
  • The Martyrdom of Shushanik, 
  • Theodoret of Cyrrhus 'History of the Monks of Syria', 
  • Gregory Nyssa 'Vita Macrina', 
  • John of Damascus 'De Fide Orthodoxa' and 'Against Iconoclasts', 
  • the mystical writings of John Moschus and Isaac of Nineveh.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

By the end of the course students should be able to:

  • to develop familiarity with the principal sources of Classical Hinduism
  • the techniques of textual exegesis
  • historical contextualization
  • the handling of central religious, philosophical and mythological themes from primary sources
  • clarity of expression and argument


2 hour lecture and 1 one hour seminar each week.

Method of assessment

Coursework: two 1,500 word essays (50%), one oral presentation (10%), Assessment: two hour exam paper (40%).

Suggested reading


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