Robert Somerville

This professor has earned a CULPA silver nugget

May 2018

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.

Aug 2015

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

Jul 2015

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.

Feb 2014

Before I delve into this review, let me state that this was one of the most average classes I took while a carefree coed at CU. The class's contents were intrinsically boring, as nothing that has occurred historically prior to 1986 is at all interesting. That said, it's saving grace —its savior, if you will— came in the form of its impressive prof. Ol' Bob Sommerville is commendable for a number of reasons, not least among them his remarkable age. Born before reliable record keeping, it's unknown how old he is, but rest assured, he is a primary source on biblical studies. Every day he walks into class, it's a goddamn miracle. I theorize that he has been dead for some time, but that his synapses still errantly fire, his daily affairs sorted our by dying muscle memory. He knows how to captivate a classroom, only to trail off at the end of his statement, rendering the preceding background information useless. Furthermore, he gets a ton of mileage off self-disparaging regarding his age and death. Like any good biblical scholar, he has ammassed a following of effeminate graduate student followers, and for his class's TA's he selects the meekest members of his intellectual harem. Of course, Bobby S. does toss you the occasional curveball by wearing a backward baseball cap or vomiting up blood in class, and for these reasons I rate the class 4/5 stars. Would take again.

Dec 2008

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.

Jun 2008

Lectures were boring and the room was always hot. But Sommervile is literally the coolest and sweetest dad professor ever. I only went to a few classes, and when I did go, I fell asleep, and still came out with an A. Definitely attend the Discussion sections, there aren't many and they go over exactly what you need to know for the quizzes. Not all of the readings in the course packet are necessary but can pop up on the final. There are two or 3 quizzes which are based on primary texts (ones from the packet) and which were discussed in the discussion section. If you read the pieces and maybe do a little background info on the internet you will be more than fine. Take it for an easy A with little work. The final wasn't bad except for the True/False at the end which were only about the books we were supposed to buy for the course - which I never bought.

Dec 2006

This intro to christianity course was good if you want an easy course with very little work and you want to learn a little something along the way. Go to lectures, take a couple of notes, and listen. Don't bother doing the readings (except for the coursepack). Oh - and go to the discussion sections. This will boost your grade and tell you EXACTLY what is on the quizzes (aka midterms) and what to write for them. Prof. Somerville is a dry and somewhat boring lecturer and the material covered was pretty general nonpsecific. it was a bit of waste of time, but a poretty good way to get an easy A.

Jul 2006

As many reviewers have said, Bobby Somerville (as I affectionately came to call him), is a great professor. He does deliver whole lectures without notes, filled to the brim with facts, helpfully writes the main points on the boards, tells adorably corny jokes, and is an overall nice guy. The TA's too: nice and approachable, if just a little awkward, guys. Extremely, if just a little scarily, intelligent too. Who speaks 7 languages including Aramaic? That said: the class. Its a little boring. For the sake of your grade, you should probably attend every lecture, but sometimes that seems overwhelmingly painful to do. But you should do it. The class can be interesting (especially if you are at all familiar with modern Catholicism), but sometimes spending a whole class on the inclusion of two words into the Nicaean Creed can be.... excruciating (etymology joke for y'all). At other times though, like I said, if you're familiar with modern Catholicism, the reason for some obscure thing will just click, and you'll find yourself noticing it in every mass you go to thereafter. If you're not Catholic though, I don't know how interesting that would be. There's not a lot of work, that's true. But that's not to say the little bit of work you have is graded easily. Its not. Two midterms worth 25% each, and a final worth 50%, with the question "read this passage and relate its importance to Christianity" sounds easy, but you're expected to include EVERY RELEVANT PIECE OF INFORMATION. A text analysis, text summary, historical context (past, present, and future consequences of the text), other movements it was related to, etc. Really hard. I think most people were unpleasantly surprised at the grades they received on them (especially since these expectations weren't related to you till after the test). Easy A? Pah. 16% A's does not an easy A make. Final word of caution: the syllabus will craftily inform you that attendance of discussion sections is not mandatory, and not attending "will not hurt your final grade". But that's not entirely true. Say you received B+'s on your two midterms, and a B on your final. 50/50. If you attended discussion sections, your final grade will be a B+. If you didn't, B. This criterion as part of your final grade is also conveniently never mentioned. And sucks. Go to the discussion section. There's only 4 anyway. Overall: Bobby's great, the TA's are great, but going to a pretty boring class twice a week where 84% receive less than an A? Why would you do that?

Jan 2006

this was the most boring class that i have ever taken! though my ta was very nice and very friendly, somerville was such a tremendous bore that nothing could redeem the class for me. the subject matter is actually interesting, but somerville kills it as much as possible and the 'jokes' that he tells are the msot atrocious things i have ever heard. the class fills up because you can do little reading and get a decent grade, but IT IS NOT WORTH IT! DON'T DO IT TO YOURSELF!

Aug 2004

Prof. Somerville is without a doubt the best professor in the religion department and one of the best and most underrated undergraduate professors at Columbia. The only reason I can come up with that people think he is boring is that they are simply uninterested in the material. If you have more than a passing interest in Christianity, the class is a must. Somerville made me a religion major by presenting thoughtful, intelligent analysis of the roots of Christianity. He's a giant in his field, and with good reason: he knows his stuff and communicates it well. Taking something from this man should be a requirement for religion majors, and strongly recommended for everyone else--these are the types of classes we came to Columbia to experience.

Dec 2003

This course is the best course I have taken in college so far. Prof. Somerville is one of the most amazing lecturers I have ever had the privilage of listening to. He comes into class, writes terms on the board, and just TALK S at you, no notes and all. He is SO articulate, just listening to him improves your vocbulary. Many a day passed when I would skip all my classes, and then walk all the way from my dorm just to go to Prof. Somerville's class. I am a Religion major because of him. Take this class! Oh yeah, and his not funny jokes make him such a cutie!

Oct 2003

Ok he's a really nice guy probably and obviously very intelligent but i must agree with these other reviewers that this class was painfully boring. his lectures are monotone and you can barely hear him (which is interesting because he can barely see you without his glasses). the material is pretty interesting and he chooses interesting readings. i attended about less than half of the lectures and that was more than enough. not as easy a grader as other people might lead you to believe

May 2003

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.

May 2003

Sure, Somerville is interested in Christianity of the Middle Ages and it is an easy good grade, but I urge you only to take this class if you are compelled by early Christianity and willing (and able) to start drooling over your notes from boredom. If you long to learn anything even slightly associated with the theology of modern Christianity and you are not fascinated by the intricacies of medieval cannon law then .... stay away!

Apr 2003

This is not a review of Prof. Somerville, he is an excellent lecturer, clear and fair. That being said, before you sign up for this course, please be aware that it is heavily history based. If you love history, you'll love this class. For the most part it was names and dates, with little or no analysis of theological/philosophical/sociological undercurrents. Also, it only goes up to the Reformation, so if you want to learn anything substantial about Protestantism, the Enlightenment, or modern Christianity, you'd best go elsewhere.

Apr 2003

Although I'm currently taking the class, and have therefore not had the full Somerville experience, I felt the duty to review him prior to fall registration. I registered for this class because it fulfills a history major requirement and because I read that Somerville is a God. I must agree, Somerville is AWESOME!!! His lectures are very consise & he is extremely articulate. The class right now is 140+ and in a huge lecture hall, and from the back of the room I can here him perfectly. The class is not a theology class (you're not going to learn about how to worship Jesus), but instead talks about the religious history of Christianity. Somerville's lectures are easy to follow, and he writes the key terms on the board, so you can take notes that follow his lecture. The readings are really interesting, and he compiles a course reader with primary sources. DEFINITELY TAKE THIS CLASS!!!

May 2002

Very clear lecturer but can get a little boring. He is very easy to follow becasue he writes all the key terms for the lecture on the board before class starts so you know where class is going. He does try to spice things up with his jokes but inevitably he can get boring. The best part of the course is his course reader which is all primary sources. Those readings are pretty interesting.

Feb 2002

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.

Feb 2002

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!

Jan 2002

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.

Jan 2002

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.

Aug 2001

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.

Apr 2001

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.

Jan 2000

Hands down, the best lecturer i have had at Columbia. Perfectly organized lectures make the material accessible for even those students with no background in the subject. Reading is extensive but the books are, for the most part, fascinating. A very fair grader. Highly recommended.