Review Comment

[V2610] Christianity

May 14, 2018

Somerville, Robert Silver_nugget
[V2610] Christianity

Lives up to the silver nugget. I very much disagree with reviewers who found the subject matter/delivery boring or irrelevant; on the contrary, this class taught me a lot about how key events and people in history employ various precedents to organize and advance their agendas. I am not a history major, nor did I come into the class familiar with/drawn to the Christian tradition. If anything, take the class for Somerville–he's been teaching at Columbia for decades and recites his wealth of knowledge each class in a way that is both humble and remarkable.

Workload:

- 2 quizzes: ID one of two quotes and write about the passage's significance for the development of Christianity. The quotes are from the primary sources listed on the syllabus. I crammed them the night before and did very well, but there was one quiz with obscure quotes that students seemed to find difficult. Most of the primary sources are only a few pages long though, so it really isn't that hard to just look over them.

- Mandatory recitation (bimonthly): Just attend them. I found them pretty interesting; they actually forced me to read the texts I was procrastinating on, and the TA gives a lot of helpful information for the quizzes. It's only an hour, so not much commitment. Yanchen Liu was a pretty solid and funny TA this semester, so definitely recommend him if he's still there.

- Cathedral visit and one page "journal entry." Pretty self-explanatory and relaxed. Had been to St. John the Divine for ArtHum before, but actually learned a few cool things about the role of social class in shaping New York's religious institutions.

- Final Exam: Choose two IDs out of four (like the quizzes), choose two essay questions out of four (list of questions given a week before the test), and short answer questions asking simple questions about who our guest speakers were, etc. Just make sure to attend the classes that have guest speakers: super cool material from solid academics that you wouldn't want to miss. I particularly enjoyed the lecture on Christianity in India. Received an A in the class without too much work, but I still attended every lecture and studied a decent amount for the tests. You might have issues if you skip lecture.

August 27, 2015

Somerville, Robert Silver_nugget
[V2610] Christianity

Somerville is a fucking pimp; that's all you need to know.

Workload:

Easy A

July 01, 2015

Somerville, Robert Silver_nugget
[V2610] Christianity

Professor Somerville is extraordinarily knowledgeable. He speaks articulately and strives to answer students' questions as thoroughly as possible. Still, he is honest enough to say "I don't know, but I will try to answer as best I can" when students want to know about something that is not very familiar to him. He is poised and direct but has a very dry sense of humor that can be truly delightful. He isn't cold or unkind, but he rarely smiles, so that, every time I achieved a smile (through hard work and my own rather dry sense of humor) from Professor Somerville, I felt truly rewarded.

I don't know what the TA situation is going to look like in coming semesters. One TA was bright, engaged, and kind; the other was cold, rude, and bored. If you meet the TAs and feel strongly about one or the other, even based purely on instinct, try to take a discussion section with the one you like. As in any class, this can really make a difference as the semester moves forward; I dreaded my discussion sections because I did not listen to my instincts.

Finally, I would like to say a word about other reviews here, because a lot of them mention that Professor Somerville is boring - or at least that the topic is boring. My earnest advice to anyone thinking of signing up for this course is to take thorough notes, review them comprehensively, and ask Professor Somerville or one of the TAs (again, preferably whichever you like best) about any topic that seems confusing to you. The material is only boring if you enter the class thinking, "This material is going to be boring." I advise any prospective student not to think that way: enter with an open mind and let yourself get excited about the richly complex history of the Christian religion.

Workload:

There are two midterms, both of which do require scrupulous study. Again, take notes and review them more than once.

There is one final, which is not agonizingly hard if you prepare well for it. Look at your notes and (re)read the material that Professor Somerville assigns (yes, do your best to read all of it. There are a lot of books he insists upon, and I don't believe you will have to read every last paragraph in order to succeed, but you should try your best to do so.) My class received a study guide before the final, and I found it invaluable. Make sure to show up to class on that day!

As indicated above, there is a great deal of reading. The reviews before mine don't lie about the enormous amount of literature to which the class is exposed. This is, naturally, both a blessing and a curse; it is fascinating material but there is a lot of it. Again, don't push yourself too hard, but read as much as you possibly can: it makes a tremendous difference. You'll be solidly prepared for both the lectures and the tests if you keep up with the reading.

Finally, make sure to attend the (mandatory) tour at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine when the time comes to study religious art and architecture. Our class was led by the Reverend Dr. Andrew C. Blume, who was dynamic, witty, and articulate when he guided us through the cathedral. Professor Somerville asked students to compose a one-page response to the tour, citing the topics that most intrigued us. The paper was not graded but every student had to submit it. Make sure you're there.

December 26, 2008

Somerville, Robert Silver_nugget
[V2610] Christianity

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

It's true that Prof. Somerville's lectures are pretty dry, but the material is definitely interesting if you care about the subject. I personally am a devout Catholic and was fascinated to see how Christianity would be portrayed here differently than in my high school theology classes. There were some clear differences. For one thing, we didn't use the word "heresy" but instead said "form of Christianity prevalent before the formation of a formalized orthodox consensus". It was also a much less streamlined history than I was used to; it wasn't all aimed at "where we are now" because the course obviously doesn't presume its students have any relationship with the Christian faith. That said, Somerville was very fair to the faith, not at all judgmental of believers and not at all "blasphemous" by the believers' standpoint.

The class is VERY historical and not very theological.

Get Todd French as your TA. If he isn't, change discussion sections. He's awesome. He's laid back but brilliant. Todd Berzon is also awesome but SO INTIMIDATING and seems like a MUCH harder grader.

Lots of interesting guest lectures that ARE ON THE FINAL.

Study hard for the quizzes. Study in advance for the final and plan your essays well.

Read all the packet assignments and read the discussion section works.

Workload:

INSANE AMOUNT OF READING, but the only necessary part is the course pack. I look forward to reading the five other textbooks this summer when I have time, but GET REAL. No one can do that much reading during the year.

Two quizzes. Know the primary sources.

Final is tough, but you just have to study in advance.

February 19, 2002

Somerville, Robert Silver_nugget
[V2610] Christianity

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

Professor Somerville is an outstanding lecturer. His ability to convey course themes through cogent and concise presentations is truly a gift. Having basically no interest in Religion initially, I soon found myself engrossed in each lecture. His rapport with students is wonderful, and he is excellent about responding to students' concerns via email.

Workload:

A very lengthy syllabus and reading list. However, I obtained an A- and only read 3 or 4 passages attentively, and did not read most of the texts. One nice aspect of this class is that the quizzes are very straightforward and there are never any surprises. This allows the student room to read the other texts at his/her leisure, and only read those texts closely that he/she is interested in.

February 19, 2002

Somerville, Robert Silver_nugget
[V2610] Christianity

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

Prof. sommerville is amazing. absolutely the best teacher i have ever had. My first impression of him reminded me of Mr. Rogers--extremely pleasant, warm, and enthusiastic. The class itself was interesting, and at the end of every lecture i found myself taken back in awe of sommerville's intelligence and passion about the class. I was never disappointed that i had to gone to class. I was also extremely amazed by his eagerness to help with student questions or concerns. he was very responsive to emails, questions, and anything else you were curious about. it seems like he genuinely cares about the students and their understanding of the material. his occaisional cute tibits of humor (sort of like dad-jokes gone wrong) only add to his already engaging class. one good thing to note--he does not take attendence. i missed several classes, missed most of the discussion sections, but still got an A in the class. take the class!!! its great!

Workload:

the reading list is large and very intimidating, but note that they are all on reserve at butler. i wouldn't buy them all, most students dont end up reading all of them. they are all skimmable, if not skippable because sommerville's lectures are very complete. two very straightforward (=easy) quizzes, and a final exam whose exact essays are given to you in advance. ((you can chose two out of the given four.)) again, attendance of discussions are not required but very helpful. ((you discuss what you soon find out to be the quiz!!!))

January 27, 2002

Somerville, Robert Silver_nugget
[V2610] Christianity

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

A deeply intelligent and thoughtful person, also a kind human being. Manages to cover a huge history clearly, organizes his thoughts and lectures incredibly well. A highly recommended class.

Workload:

relatively light. Two quizzes and a comprehensive final (final questions given out in advance). As a general rule, only the primary-text readings are necessary.

January 06, 2002

Somerville, Robert Silver_nugget
[V2610] Christianity

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

Somerville is well-organized, intelligent, witty (though he tends to hide it), and happy to get to know his students. The lectures are full of information, and while you may not find yourself sitting on the edge of your chair, he keeps you awake. He could probably move through the material a little more quickly if he didn't constantly repeat himself. The TAs do the grading, but he's always happy to chat. He also speaks like a news anchor and paces to and fro making stange gestures with his hands. Often seen walking in Morningside Heights holding his eight-year-old son's hand.

Workload:

One-page paper about St. John the Divine; two quizzes; final. The quizzes are easy if you pay attention in class, write about the history (not your personal interpretation of some passage) and read the primary sources (all of the secondary sources books are irrelevant to the tests). Hands out essay questsions for the final in advance. Easy to do well if you can think in terms of movements (social, liturgical, ecclesiastical, theological, soteriological).

August 13, 2001

Somerville, Robert Silver_nugget
[V2610] Christianity

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

Some athletes just radiate competence. On the Mets, Robin Ventura isn't flashy, he isn't the most talented, but you can always trust him to do his best and take care of the job. One might be able to tell from this metaphor that I am not an English major. Anyway, Somerville is one of the best professors I've had. His classes aren't fascinating, but they're very well organized (and delivered without notes). The grading is easy, the sections are unnecessary, and the quizzes are a little silly. Nevertheless, great class, though I recommend that you actually be interested in the topic. As I indicated, he's not going to win you over with charisma, just sheer competence and dedication. The first day of class, someone asked a question he couldn't answer off the top of his head. The next day he brought in a book and discussed it for 5-10 minutes. You have to like that.

Workload:

Two quizzes, a final, one paper.

April 09, 2001

Somerville, Robert Silver_nugget
[V2610] Christianity

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

Somerville knows his stuff, and he's good if you like the stuff. Not the most animated lecturer, he occasionally throws in a miserably humorless joke from religion circles. A nice, helpful man, there's nothing to be said against him. The reading is not crucial to success (gradewise) although some short texts must be read. Fortunately it's not hard to figure out which ones are important. The discussion sections are vital if you want to do well on the two quizzes (short essay questions), and they help for the final too. I didn't come off very pleased with the course, though I must say that Christianity isn't my thing. One problem that frustrates me: I still have no clear idea of what Christianity is.

Workload:

Two short quizzes, a one-page description of anything in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

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