May 17, 2003

Somerville, Robert Silver_nugget
Christianity

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

Somerville is a great professor. His lectures are very straightforward, and he writes the key terms on the board before class, so if you write them down, your notes will be in very good order and chronological for the most part. This course is more of a History-based Christianity course than a Religion-based one... not too much theology but it is still very interesting. This is probably because Somerville is a religious historian. Nevertheless, this is good for history majors as it can be used to fulfill part of the major requirement. Somerville's lectures are great, and he had 4 guest lecturers (2 of whom were TAs), and each of them added another facet to the class, ranging from Dr. Boynton's lecture on Music in the Church, complete with sound clips of psalms, to Steven Schoenig SJ's lecture on St. Ignatius and the Jesuits. The reading may seem heavy, but he usually writes the reference book & pages where you can find more info about a key item, so you can usually look it up rather than reading the whole book, although some of the course books are really interesting. He has everyone buy a course reader (and apologizes profusely over the $25 cost), which is composed of primary sources ranging from the Didache to writings of Martin Luther, and he goes over some in class. 2All of these readings create further understanding of the lecture, and they are really helpful to read right after his lectures. There are 6 additional books, 3 of which are sort of reference about the time period (2 are good, one's pretty dense), and 3 shorter books, 2 used for discussion sections and one used for the alternative paper. All of these are really interesting. As far as his exams go, they're pretty fair, and it is definitely ideal to go to the lectures as it's easier to make connections between what he says and what the books say, as they're more complementary than anything. And if you don't go, then you're missing out on one of Columbia's clearest, most dedicated lecturers and professors.

Workload:

2 "quizzes" (1/2 hr each), final. The first quiz was IDs, the second was True-False, but the results on the second one were so varied that he offered a "balanced retake" and will probably not use this format again. The final was pretty difficult, although he gave the essay questions (which equated to appx 60% of the test) ahead of time. Discussion sections, which meet 4x during the semester, discuss primary sources (Rule of St. Benedict, St. Francis of Assisi, Martyrdom of Perpetua, Calvin/Satoledo) and participation in these helps your grade, but are not mandatory. Also, in lieu of the second test you can opt to write a paper/ reaction/ review up to 8pgs on Chesterton's St. Francis of Assisi.