Medieval Sacred Kingship: Embodied Power and the Divine in Europe and Africa c. 500-1500

History 100U

Fall 2018
Section: 
1
Instructor: 
Location: 
108 Wheeler
Day & Time: 
Tue/Thu 11am–12:30pm
Class Number: 
25941
Units: 
4

If contemporary popular culture is any guide, we are fascinated by rulers with super-human abilities: from Black Panther's King T'Challa to Aragorn's foresight and healing power, sovereigns with special gifts loom large in our imaginary realms. This course explores the historical origins of ideas about sacred rulers during the centuries usually called "medieval" (c. 500-1500). It will compare the development of Christian sacred kingship in Western Europe—the idea that sovereigns ruled by "divine right"—with the influence of Islam on ideas and practices of rulership in several African kingdoms. In both cases, the impact of indigenous "tribal" beliefs and practices on the acceptance and development of Abrahamic faiths will be considered. What relations between rulers and the sacred are attested? What kinds of divine powers are attributed to kings and how are they related to their earthly, political authority? How were power and holiness mobilized in the creation of early states? Close reading and analysis of primary sources in translation (such as biographies, letters, chronicles, and traveler's accounts) will be emphasized as well as interpretive frameworks drawn from modern scholarship. Course requirements include brief analytical responses to primary sources; a take-home midterm examination; and a final exam as scheduled by the Office of the Registrar during the university's final examination week.