HIS20460 Islam and Christianity in the Middle Ages

Academic Year 2023/2024

The first part of the module will examine how Muhammad's revolutionary new message gave rise to a vibrant new religion and culture and brought about enormous change in Arabia. The expansion of Islam in the Middle East and North Africa and its impact up to c.750 CE will also be investigated. The second part of the module will consider the continuation of the Arab conquests in the Mediterranean and southern Europe between the 8th and 10th centuries CE , the interaction between Latin Christendom and the Islamic world and the Christian resurgence of the 11th century. Throughout the module students will have the opportunity to read a selection of primary sources including key Arab and Christian narrative histories of the period; religious and legal texts, literature, letters and epigraphy.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On completion of this module student should be able to:
1. Show knowledge and critical understanding of the origins and early development of Islam.
2. Critically assess key episodes concerning relations between Muslims, Christians and other religious groups in the Middle East and the Mediterranean during the Early Middle Ages.
3. Identify and offer critical analysis of selected primary sources relating to the Islamic world and western Christendom.
4. Demonstrate familiarity with relevant modern historical literature and knowledge of scholarly interpretations relating to the history of Islam and Christianity in the Early Middle Ages.

Indicative Module Content:

Lecture 1 – The Birth of Islam
Students will be introduced to the life of the Prophet and to the socio-political context of Islam’s emergence.
Seminar 1 – Orientation: The Religions of the Book.

Lecture 2 – The First Caliphs, 632–661
The lecture will examine the Qur’ān, the development of Islamic thought & the first successors to the Prophet.
Seminar 2 – Approaching the Qur’ān.

Lecture 3 – The Conquering Caliphate
The lecture will explore the reasons for the expansion of Islam, in terms of both conquest and conversion. Why did the heartlands of early Christianity become Islamic?
Seminar 3 – Jihad.
Documents : Accounts of the conquest of Syria; accounts of the conquest of Egypt.

Lecture 4 – Life in the Caliphate
Muslims were a minority in the lands that they conquered. Arab Muslims were joined by non-Muslim Arabs, non-Arab converts, Christians and Jews. Islam was deeply influenced by the experience and expectations of converts.
Seminar 4 – Peoples of the Book.
Documents : Constitution of Medina; Pact of Umar; Syrian Christians under Muslim rule.

Lecture 5 – Rebellion, Revolution, Reconfiguration?
The period c. 700 – 800 was crucial in the formation of Islamic identity. It also saw various expressions of communal and individual authority which had a deep influence on the emergence of a truly international and multi-ethnic Muslim culture. The emergence of the Abbasid dynasty and the foundation of Baghdad marked a new phase in Islamic history.
Seminar 5 – Authority and Legacy
Documents: A legal text; Sinbad the Sailor’s first voyage.

Lecture 6 – The Arab Conquest of Spain
The continuation of the Arab conquests into mainland Europe and the first encounter between Islam and western Christianity which took place in the Iberian peninsula (modern day Spain and Portugal).
Seminar 6 – The creation of al-Andalus
Documents: Ibn Abd-el-Hakem, The History of the Conquest of Spain; Al Maggari, The Breath of Perfumes: ‘Tarik’s address to his soldiers’; The Chronicle of Alfonso III.

Lecture 7 – Charlemagne, the Franks and the Islamic world
Under the emperor Charlemagne the Franks dominated Europe. He and his successors were strongly conscious of their position as Christian rulers, and believed that they and their people were chosen by God. This lecture considers the significance of this for relations between the Franks and Islamic world.
Seminar 7 – Christendom: the birth of an idea
Documents: The Battle of Poitiers (732): Christian and Muslim accounts; Biographies of Charlemagne by Einhard and Notker; Song of Roland (Le Chanson de Roland).

Lecture 8 – Arab expansion in the Mediterranean
During the ninth century the Arab took control of the major islands of the Mediterranean (the Balearics, Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily and Crete). These gains guaranteed them dominance in commerce and communications between east and west for another hundred years or more. Moreover, the coastline of Christian Europe became exposed to Arab raiding. Even Rome, seat of the Papacy, was not safe from attack as this lecture shows.
Seminar 8 – Mohammed and Charlemagne
Documents: Abu al-Quasim Muhammed ibn Hawqual, The Book of the routes and Kingdoms.; Theodulf of Orleans, The Bribery of Judges; The Book of the Popes (Liber Pontificalis): biographies of Pope Sergius II (844-47) and Pope Leo IV (847-55); Chronicle of San Vincenzo al Volturno.; Liutprand of Cremona, Retribrution, Books I, V.

Lecture 9 – The beginning of the Reconquista in Spain
The emirs – and from 929 Caliphs – of Córdoba presided over a period of economic prosperity, demographic growth and cultural achievement in al-Andalus. But in the early tenth century the Caliphate imploded into civil war and the Christians of the north took the opportunity to seize and occupy territory. When the armies of León and Castile were joined by French knights, encouraged by spiritual rewards offered by the Papacy, the conflict began to be seen increasingly in religious terms in the West.
Seminar 9 –Christian and Islamic Spain: forging new identities
Documents: The poem of the Cid (El cantar del mio Cid).; The Deeds of Rodrigo the Champion (Gesta Roderici Campi Docti).; A letter of Pope Urban II regarding the rebuilding of Tarragona.

Lecture 10 – Pirates and mercenaries - the maritime republics and the Normans in southern Italy.
Throughout the tenth century the Mediterranean was virtually closed to western shipping. But in the early eleventh century Italian coastal cities launched a series of coordinated raids on North Africa designed in the short-term to acquire booty but in the longer-term with a view to establishing markets. Simultaneously Norman adventurers arrived in southern Italy and rapidly carved out a new territorial state at the expense of the Byzantines and Muslims. The Church gave full backing to this aggression and an ideology of Christian holy war or Crusade began to be formulated.
Seminar 10 – Christian resurgence and the origins of the Crusades
Documents: Norman chronicles from southern Italy: Amatus of Monte Cassino, Geoffrey of Malaterra; Anna Comnena, Alexiad.

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours


Seminar (or Webinar)


Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
This module is based a combination of lectures and seminar work. The lectures provide broad overview of the module content whilst the seminar focus is on the study of primary source materials. One seminar is off campus in which students will have the opportunity to view original documentary material and artefacts relevant to the module. This is linked to the mid semester assignment. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Continuous Assessment: Participation and contribution to class discussion and engagement with module materials on Brightspace. Throughout the Trimester n/a Graded Yes


Portfolio: A short piece of writing based on a template, and relating to source material studied in seminar in the first four weeks of the module. See module handbook for further details. Week 6 n/a Graded No


Essay: A 2000-word essay on a topic from a selected list. For details see module handbook. Week 12 n/a Graded No


Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Spring No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, on an activity or draft prior to summative assessment
• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

- Oral feedback on the portfolio is provided (in the virtual classroom) post submission. - Oral or written feedback ( online) is available on an essay plan prior to submission of the essay. - Oral or written feedback ( online) is available on the essay post submission.

Name Role
Assoc Professor Elva Johnston Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Miss Krystal Carmichael Tutor
Ms Tasneem Filaih Tutor
Nathan Millin Tutor
Timetabling information is displayed only for guidance purposes, relates to the current Academic Year only and is subject to change.
Lecture Offering 1 Week(s) - Autumn: All Weeks Wed 15:00 - 15:50
Seminar Offering 1 Week(s) - Autumn: All Weeks Wed 16:00 - 16:50
Seminar Offering 2 Week(s) - Autumn: All Weeks Wed 16:00 - 16:50
Seminar Offering 6 Week(s) - Autumn: All Weeks Thurs 10:00 - 10:50
Seminar Offering 8 Week(s) - Autumn: All Weeks Thurs 11:00 - 11:50
Seminar Offering 9 Week(s) - Autumn: All Weeks Thurs 11:00 - 11:50