The School of Theology. Sewanee: The University of the South

Core Courses

MNST 503 Foundations of Christian Spirituality


This class explores the theological foundations and practice of Christian spirituality that lie at the heart of all Christian ministry, whether lay or ordained. We begin with what shapes Christian identity most fundamentally: the grace and covenant of Holy Baptism. Since baptism unites us with Christ in his death and resurrection, we will observe throughout the course how the pattern of the paschal mystery is stamped on every aspect of Christian experience. For instance, we examine what it means to worship and to live eucharistically. We ponder the ways in which the seasons of the church year invite us to fuller participation in Christ. We look at what it means to live in the bonds of charity in community, whether in seminary or in the parish. We discuss some of the disciplines of Christian discipleship such as a rule of life. We learn how to prepare for and use the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And finally, we explore methods of prayer and meditation, developed over centuries in the Christian tradition, as the very life of the Trinity in us.


CHHT 543 Christian Origins


This course introduces students to the tumultuous first three-hundred years of the Christian church, from its origins as a small apocalyptically-minded Jewish reform movement, through its centuries-long struggle to define and assert itself in a pervasively hostile "pagan" environment, to its eventual establishment as an imperial church complete with canon and creed, and an increasingly influential cadre of powerful bishops.  A theme running throughout the course will be the surprising variety that existed among these early Christ believers, as well as the significant challenges this diversity posed for developing orthodoxy.

CHHT 545 Reformation to Revolution: Religion and Politics in Early Modern England


This seminar examines political and religious change in England in the tumultuous sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a period marked by religious schism, two revolutions, and a failed experiment in republican government.  Topics include reformation of church and government, patterns of rebellion and political instability, puritan culture, and the shaping of domestic life.

CHHT 550 Classics of the Christian Journey


This is a course of readings in Christian spirituality that share the motif of “journey” or “pilgrimage.” The readings, which are all primary sources, come from many ages and places in the church. They are highly diverse, though related by their profound Christianity and their use of the biblical motif of “journey” or “pilgrimage.” The readings change each year the course is offered. Recent versions have selected among Ignatius of Antioch, Perpetua, Origen, Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, Ephrem of Edessa, Bernard of Clairvaux, Dante, Julian of Norwich, Martin Luther, Teresa of Avila, John Bunyan, George Herbert, C.S. Lewis, and Dorothy Day.

This is not a course that directly takes the instructor’s or the student’s own spiritual life as a primary text. It does expect that the work of assessment, appropriation, and criticism go on in the context of courteous shared reflection and commitment to prayer. The course centers on the readings, which are exclusively primary texts.

MNST 528 Introduction to Spiritual Direction


Spiritual direction is an aspect of pastoral ministry. It is centrally concerned with discerning the workings of God through focused, spiritual conversation. While the course does not, by itself, qualify one to exercise this ministry, it offers a broad overview of it though reading, lecture, and class discussion. It explores the nature of spiritual direction, the role and preparation of the spiritual director, and occasions for spiritual guidance in parish ministry. The course is not a practicum in spiritual direction, although it will take account of personal experience. After noting the pastoral tradition concerned with the “cure of souls,” it concentrates on the current literature that deals, theologically and practically, with this ministry.

MNST 555 Classics of Medieval Spirituality and Spirituality


Most classic texts of Christian spirituality are actually works of spiritual guidance. Rooted in a profound experience of God, they move from prayer to pastoral art, seeking to guide others in the ways of grace through the written word. Over the centuries, Christians in a variety of circumstances have continued to draw wisdom and insight from these spiritual mentors of the past. Through a close reading of primary texts by authors such as Benedict of Nursia, Bernard of Clairvaux, Aelred of Rievaulx, Francis of Assisi, Clare of Assisi, the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, and Julian of Norwich, we sample some of the diverse schools of Western Christian spirituality from the sixth through the fourteenth centuries. The course examines perennial tensions in spiritual theology such as the affirmative and negative ways, contemplation and service, liberty and discipline. While reading these authors critically and in their own historical context, we also explore how their teaching might inform our prayer, theological vision, pastoral oversight, and spiritual counsel.

MNST 561 The Emergent Church in Anglican Perspective

Staff [3]

The ecclesial trend in the United States garnering the most attention in the last decade is widely referred to as the “Emergent Church.” A theological hybrid, liturgically mixed, and denominationally undefined movement, it welcomes a variety of churches, pastoral leaders, inquirers and observers. This seminar will explore the key thinkers (e.g., Butler-Bass, McLaren, Tickle), practitioners (e.g., Jones, Kimball), and practices (e.g., “ancient-future” worship, social-justice concerns, “green” ecclesiology, contemplative youth ministry) that are beginning to define the Emergent Church movement, welcome some of them to campus, and visit nearby exemplars. Students will present a project, paper, or sermons. Limit 12.

THEO 531 Theology of the Holy Spirit and the Spiritual Life


Theology of the spiritual life is being excitingly regrounded in a revived interest in the doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Pneumatology), itself part of a revival of Trinitarian theology. This course allows students to explore these interesting developments through consideration of important texts and sharing personal and pastoral experience. Both lecture and seminar time with student presentations are envisioned during the class time slot. For credit, a final paper of some 20 pages is required, on a topic of the student’s choosing in consultation with the professor. A previous course in theology is a prerequisite.

THEO 540 Modern Spiritual Writers


In this course we read theologians of the past one hundred years whose writings can enlarge our vision of God, disclose the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and deepen our life in the Spirit. We encounter authors such as Evelyn Underhill, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Thomas Merton, Kenneth Leech, Miriam Pollard, and Rowan Williams. Only primary texts are used, and both reading and written assignments are designed to foster meditative reflection and prayerful appropriation of the spiritual wisdom of these writers. Through close reading, students should grow in their ability to exegete texts. They should also find encouragement and practical help for their spiritual practice as well as a wealth of insight that can sustain prayer, preaching, and pastoral care.

THEO 541 Biblical, Patristic, and Eastern Orthodox Spirituality


This course is a reading seminar considering classic texts from Athanasius's Life of Anthony through Luther's Theologia Germanica. Class presentations plus final paper.

THEO 542 The Catholic Reformation to the Present


This course is a reading seminar considering classic texts (one per week) from Teresa of Avila to Martin Luther King Jr. and Simone Weil. Class presentations plus final paper.