School of Athen by Raphael

LBST 220/320 (6): Passion, Faith, Reason: The Middle Ages and Renaissance

Course Outline (Spring 2015)


The 6-credit courses in Liberal Studies involve the study of contributions made to the Western tradition from a number of disciplines, including art, philosophy, literature, science, and history. But the goal of the Liberal Studies Program is not to produce artists, philosophers, literary critics, scientists, or historians. Instead, it is designed to help you respond intelligently to the whole range of human intellectual endeavour. We seek what every good liberal education seeks: not the knowledge of the technical expert but the understanding of the informed generalist, the well-educated citizen, who can grasp the essence of complex questions and see subjects in their relationship to each other. The Liberal Studies Program aims to develop the understanding of a liberated, empowered mind, an understanding that results in better knowledge of ourselves, appreciation for others, and reasoned judgements about how we ought to live.

In LBST 320 we will examine some deeply influential works and ideas from the medieval and renaissance periods of European thought. Medieval thinkers engaged in a remarkably diverse dialogue about the nature of, and relationship between, faith and reason and did so in ways that can be quite startling to contemporary readers; the Renaissance deepened this conversation and furthered a medieval concern with the imagination by returning to classical sources of learning in a remarkably original and productive fashion. And, as diverse as the thinkers and the eras that we are covering are, we find in them an implicit and ongoing conversation about forms of human passion: intellectual passion, artistic passion, and spiritual passion. We seek to engage in some significant parts of these cultural conversations through reading select original texts. In doing so, we have a dual goal in mind: understanding something of the intellectual nature of the eras and thinking about the relevance for ourselves today of the sometimes startling ideas and art forms we will encounter.

Things To Do Before the First Class (Nanaimo students):

  • Read this course outline carefully.
  • Read The Letter of Paul to the Romans and The Gospel According to John (in the New Testament of the Bible).
  • Prepare your seminar note on one of these readings and submit it to D2L before the start of your seminar (see below for instructions on writing the seminar note).
  • We recommend that you start The Divine Comedy prior to the start of the term.

Things To Do Before the First Class (Duncan and Powell River students):

  • Read this course outline carefully.
  • Read The Letter of Paul to the Romans and The Gospel According to John (in the New Testament of the Bible).
  • View the lecture on D2L sometime between Tuesday afternoon and the Thursday evening seminar.
  • Prepare your seminar note on one of these above readings and submit it to D2L before the start of your Thursday night seminar (see below for instructions on writing the seminar note).
  • We recommend that you start The Divine Comedy prior to the start of the term.

Class Times and Dates  

Please note that Students in Duncan and Powell River are not required to come to the lecture in Nanaimo; the lecture will be made available via streaming video for you. If you are in Nanaimo during the lecture time, you are more than welcome to attend. Also, please note, as indicated in the table below, that seminars LBST 220 S15D01, LBST 220 S15N02, LBST 220 S15R01, LBST 320 S15D01, LBST 320 S15N03, and LBST 320 S15R02 will all be linked via video-conferencing technology on Thursday evening.


Tue 10:30-12:30


Nanaimo, bld. 355, rm. 107

Seminars LBST 220 S15N01 &

LBST 320 S15N01

Tue & Thu 1:00-2:30

Mark Blackell

Nanaimo, bld 355, rm. 108

Seminars LBST 220 S15N02 &

LBST 320 S15N03

Thu 6:00-9:00 PM

Maureen Okun

Nanaimo, bld. 305, rm. 509

(video-conference room)

Seminars LBST 220 S15D01 &

LBST 320 S15D01

Thu 6:00-9:00 PM

Maureen Okun

Cowichan, bld. 700, rm. 135

(video-conference room)

Seminars LBST 220 S15R01 &

LBST 320 S15R02

Thu 6:00-9:00 PM

Maureen Okun

Powell River, bld. 610, rm. 152

(video-conference room)

Professors' Office Hours


Office Hours (until April 14, 2014)



Mark Blackell

Mon. and Wed. 1:00-2:30, Thur. 12:30-1 PM, and by appointment.

Nanaimo, 355/332

753-3245, #2173

Maureen Okun

Tue. 1:30-2:30, Thurs. 1:00-3:00, and by appointment

Nanaimo, 355/334

753-3245, #2174


Please note: because of the essential participatory nature of Liberal Studies courses, it is Department policy that attendance is required at all classes. Failure to attend regularly will have a significant negative impact on your mark for participation. All students in Nanaimo seminars are required to attend the Thursday morning Lectures, where attendance will be taken.

The Liberal Studies Department prohibits audio- or video-taping of  seminars , except in cases where this is a required accommodation. Students with documented disabilities requiring academic and/or exam accommodation should contact Accessibility Services, Building 200, or call 740-6446.


Please note: where selections are not indicated, we will be reading the entire primary text (i.e. not the editorial or secondary material, which is optional).

Augustine, Confessions, trans. Chadwick, Oxford World's Classics, ISBN-13: 9780192817747. Selections: Books 1-5 and 7 (complete); also Book 8, pages 144-154 and Book 9, pages 170-174.

The Bible (any edition): Paul's Letter to the Romans and The Gospel According to John.

Dante, The Divine Comedy: Volume 1: Inferno, trans. Mark Musa, Penguin, ISBN-13:  978-0142437223.

Dante, The Divine Comedy: Volume 2: Purgatory, trans. Mark Musa, Penguin, ISBN-13:  978-0140444421.

Dante, The Divine Comedy: Volume 3: Paradise, trans. Mark Musa, Penguin, ISBN-13: 978-0140444438.

Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, trans. Ian Johnston, Broadview Press, ISBN-13: 9781554811526.

Machiavelli, The Prince, trans. Adams, Norton Critical Edition, ISBN: 9780393962208.

Montaigne, Michel de, trans MA Screech, The Essays: a Selection, Penguin, ISBN-13: 978-0140446029. Selections: "We reach the same means by discrepant means," "That it is madness to judge the true and the false from our own capacities," "On the Cannibals," "On repenting," and "On experience."

Sells, Michael, Approaching the Qu 'ran, White Cloud Press, ISBN-13: 9781883991692.

Shakespeare, The Tempest, ed. Peter Holland, Penguin, ISBN-13: 9780140714852.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, trans. Winny, Broadview Press, ISBN-13: 9780921149927.

Web Resources

There are a number of valuable and helpful web resources for your use in LBST 320:

1) The  Liberal Studies Homepage: this departmental page contains a vast amount of information about the theory and practice of Liberal Studies courses, and all the links you will need to other resources. Please explore it at your leisure: Take especial note of the links under the "Current Students" tab.

2) Helpful advice on essay writing and other aspects of study is available at "johnstonia" - the homepage of Ian Johnston, one of the founding professors of Liberal Studies and now a Research Associate in the Liberal Studies Department. To reach this instructional material, go to and follow the links to "General Study Materials." We recommend especially Essays and Arguments and Participating in Seminars.

3) There is a Facebook group created by the Liberal Studies Club for all those involved in Liberal Studies: it is called VIU Liberal Studies and is listed under Student Groups - General at Use it to stay in touch with other students, past and present. The Liberal Studies Club is a student-run organization which aims to help students get the most out of their experience in the program.

Assignments and Grades

Participation (seminar participation and lecture attendance or viewing)


Short essay 1 (draft due via D2L on Friday, Jan. 30; final paper due one week after you receive comments on your draft)


Short essay 2 (draft due via D2L on Friday, Mar. 27; final paper due one week after you receive comments on your draft)


Long essay (draft due via D2L on Friday, Mar. 6; final paper due one week after you receive comments on your draft)


10 seminar notes


Art project (due on March 19)


Presentation at end-of-year conference


Short Essays

The short essays will focus closely upon one or two of the readings to be discussed in the seminar. You will receive a list of questions for each paper at the start of the term.

Once you have selected the question you will answer, write your first draft: write the essay in time to hand it in via D2L on or before the due dates indicated above.

The seminar leader will make comments on the first draft and assign a  provisional  mark. Revise and resubmit the essay via D2Lone week after the annotated draft is given to you. Please note, your grade will not increase much, if at all, if your revisions consist in only correcting the grammatical and typographical errors flagged by your instructor.

For LBST 320 students, the short essay should be 1250-1500 words long, while LBST 220 students should write a 1000-word paper; the short essays are not  to be research papers but thoughtful responses to particular topics in the core reading. The essay must consist of a convincing argument, with textual evidence (using MLA style referencing -- see for details), for a thesis which captures your own point of view and constitutes an answer to the question selected. No reading other than the study material of the week is required before you write the essay.

Seminar Notes

Before the start of the first seminar of each week you must submit to D2L a seminar note (200-300 words long) on the text (or one of the texts) under discussion for that week. The main purpose of these seminar notes is to encourage you to engage in critical reflection on the text under discussion and to have at least one thoughtful contribution to offer to the seminar; this is why we do not want you writing the seminar notes after the seminar (or, worse, during the seminar!).

Although each note must be written in complete sentences, it is not an essay; it need not have a thesis statement, conventionally designed paragraphs, and so on. Unlike polished essays, seminar notes can be speculative and can take more intellectual risks. The best seminar notes focus on a single aspect of a work rather than making generalizations about its entirety. Choose a feature that engages or puzzles you, and explore its possibilities.

In writing these notes, please keep in mind some important guidelines: a) make sure each note asks a question about some significant point with respect to the text, a question that takes one into the text rather than away from it, which addresses interpretative issues rather than matters of fact or context which cannot be answered solely by reading the text; b) avoid making a list of many points, and stay firmly focused on one; c) avoid a mere summary or description of the text; and d) don't make each note simply a personal response (e.g., an indication of whether you liked or didn't like the work). The instructors will be looking for evidence of engagement with the text, as well as attentive reading and thoughtful consideration. You may find, also, that your note can suggest an interesting topic for the rest of the class to explore in seminar discussion.

Students in Duncan and Powell River will be watching the lecture via streaming-video, and their seminar notes have two components: one part of the seminar note requires a response to the assigned reading, as described above, and a second part, of about 100 extra words, requires a response to the week's lecture. Respond to something in the lecture and do so in a manner that also demonstrates that you have viewed the lecture. This second component is important for your participation grade.

Ten (10) notes are required (one per week for 10 of the 12 weeks we have material to discuss) and each note will be given a pass or fail grade with comments and returned to the student.

Seminar Participation

Participation is a critical part of this program, and the skills of intellectual discussion among the most important it endeavours to foster. Some of the criteria for good performance in a seminar are explained in the  Advice on Seminar Participation at; you should read this if possible before the first seminar.

The most important components in the assessment of your performance in the seminar are the following: attendance, preparation for the seminar (usually required reading and seminar note), and quality and quantity of your participation in the discussion (factors which include your contributions to creating and sustaining a worthwhile and well-mannered seminar conversation for all participants). Note that mere frequency of contribution is not necessarily an all-important factor. You are expected to listen well and to encourage others to contribute.

If you know that you are going to have to miss a seminar, you should offer an acceptable reason to your professor in advance; anyone who misses a seminar without giving a reason should speak to the professor before the next seminar. Note that, in exceptional circumstances, it is possible for a student to make up a missed seminar, for example, by attending one at a different time.

The seminar experience is absolutely central to what Liberal Studies 320 is trying to achieve, and we are very concerned to see that students all contribute effectively, especially those who may still find themselves somewhat reluctant to speak up in a group discussion. The principle is that we learn best from discussion of important ideas with one another: those who do not contribute to seminar are reaping the benefits without contributing anything of benefit to others. Still, some people are naturally shy; if you still find this a problem after the first few weeks, you should discuss the matter thoroughly with the seminar leader so that together you can work out some ways of resolving the difficulties.

The following scale gives a guide to the factors the seminar leader will consider in evaluating seminar participation, as well as a rough picture of their impact on your mark:

  • F: is physically absent without a valid reason;
  • D: has written a seminar note and is physically present, but otherwise quite absent;
  • C-: provides some potentially useful participation, but is very poorly prepared or insensitive or uncooperative in the group setting;
  • C: is present, evidently prepared and interested, but offers quite limited verbal contributions to the discussion;
  • C+ to B-: is present, well prepared, and offers some useful comments (which might be more incisive or more relevant or further developed);
  • B to B+: is present, very well prepared, maintains a good relationship with the others (i.e., contributes actively to the dynamics of the seminar), and offers useful comments in a constructive way;
  • A range: makes a major contribution and not just to the understanding of the material but to the social dynamics of the session, a contribution which would be difficult to imagine being much better.

The lectures serve to introduce the texts that will be the main focus of the seminars later on. As such, the lectures are important for you to attend as part of your preparation for seminar. Often the lectures will establish points that the seminars will discuss in more detail.

Long Essay

The long essay questions, which will be given out in due time, will all focus on Dante's Divine Comedy . LBST 220 and LBST 320 students will write different types of assignments for the long essay.

LBST 220 students will write a long essay of 1500 words and will use only the primary course material asked about in question they select. The essay must consist of a convincing argument, with textual evidence (using MLA style referencing -- see for details), for a thesis which captures your own point of view and constitutes an answer to the question selected. No reading other than the study material of the week is required before you write the essay. In other words, LBST 220 students are not asked to incorporate secondary-source research into their long essay.

LBST 320 students will write a long essay of 3000 words which must develop a convincing argument on the course text(s) in answer to the question selected, as is always the case, giving evidence for its argument from the course texts being examined. MLA style should also be used here. In addition, and while developing that argument about the text(s) from the course, LBST 320 students should incorporate research from at least three relevant and legitimate research or "secondary" sources. The idea here is not to string quotations together from secondary sources. Rather, the Long Essay should display original thought (in interpreting the "primary source," that is, the course text) against the background of scholarship in the area chosen (that is the "secondary" sources about the primary source). Any references to research outside the scope of the course must be explained in sufficient detail to be comprehensible to the intelligent layperson.

Art Project

For this assignment, you must choose one of the two following projects:

  1. Since its publication, The Divine Comedy has been the object of fascination for artists. For this assignment you should create a work of art, in any medium, that explores some aspect of The Divine Comedy. Your work should not simply illustrate a scene; it should somehow provide insight into the meaning of the subject chosen.
  2. It has been argued that the Renaissance was, at heart, an expression of fascination with perspective and/or human experience. For this assignment, you should produce a work of art, in any medium, that somehow captures this essence of the Renaissance.

We do not expect artistic expertise for this assignment. In evaluating the piece we will ask the following questions about the overall presentation: How carefully has the project been put together, and with what kind of attention to detail? How fully has the student engaged with the project: is there attention to composition, materials, and crafting? How visually (or aurally) effective is the overall presentation? In addition, we will ask what kind of creative thought the project demonstrates: how original, creative, interesting, and unique is the approach to the assignment? How well has the project thought about/worked with the chosen concept(s)? How sophisticated are the ideas?

Include a 1-2 page, double-spaced, write-up in which you explain and discuss the rationale behind your piece. The write-up will be evaluated by asking the following questions: How clear and complete is the write-up? How well does it explain the rationale behind the work? How well does it articulate the student's ideas and reflect on the form as well as on the content of the piece (and on the relationship between form and content)? Grammar, spelling, punctuation, and word usage are all factored in here.

Conference Presentation

You will give a presentation on one of your essays at the Liberal Studies Spring Conference held from April 9-11 at the Nanaimo Campus. The presentation, lasting approximately 10 minutes and worth 5% of your total grade, should be a condensed version of your paper. Visual aids may be used. There will be no Liberal Studies classes on the last week to give you time to present and to attend some of your peers' presentations.

General Writing Requirements

Word-Processing:  All written work should be typed or printed at font size 12, and double spaced on standard paper (8.5" x 11"). The title page should clearly identify the writer, course, instructor name, assignment title, question answered (if applicable), and date submitted.

Plagiarism:  You should be familiar with the policy on academic misconduct outlined in the Vancouver Island University Calendar and take care to avoid such practices. Plagiarism consists in passing off the work or ideas of others as your own. It ranges from word-for-word copying from other sources to summarizing their content in one's own words, when this is done without acknowledgement. When you do borrow from other people, you must indicate the source to the fullest extent possible. Otherwise, you will incur severe penalties for intellectual dishonesty: a plagiarized paper will normally receive a mark of zero, and the student will not have an opportunity to make up the assignment. A second occurrence will normally result in a mark of F for the course, and further disciplinary action may be taken by the VIU authorities.

Students should be aware that plagiarism is surprisingly easy to detect and expose. They should also be aware that professors have at their disposal powerful Internet tools which enable them easily to detect sources which have been plagiarized from the Web. If you are at all unclear as to what constitutes plagiarism, please speak to your professor.

Appropriate Language: Wherever appropriate, students should follow good contemporary practice and use gender-free language in their writing and speech. (Where absurd, however, such practice should be avoided: e.g. "Aristotle expresses his or her views about friendship in Books 8 and 9 of the  Nicomachean Ethics.")

Outline of Main Topics

Please note that seminars LBST 220 S15N01 and LBST 320 S15N01 have a Tuesday and a Thursday Seminar with the following reading schedule. The other seminars are all on Thursday from 6-9 PM and, if you are in the Thursday evening seminar, you should read all of the material for that week for that seminar time.

Week of (Tue)

Tuesday Lecture

Tuesday Seminar (see note above)

Thursday Seminar (see note above)

Jan 6

Christianity: The Narrative of Exit and Return
(Maureen and Mark)

The Gospel According to John

Paul's Letter to the Romans

Jan 13

Augustine: A Journey of Reason and Faith

Augustine:  Confessions (see the 'Booklist' section above for selections)

Augustine:  Confessions (see the 'Booklist' section above for selections)

Jan 20

Islam and The Qur'an
(Mark) and Medieval Art (Maureen)

Approaching The Qur'an (please also read Michael Sells' "Introduction" to Approaching The Qur 'an )

Approaching The Qur'an

Medieval art images (on D2L)

Jan 27

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Renaissance Art (Maureen)

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Renaissance art images (on D2L)

Short essay 1 draft due, via D2L, on Fri. Jan. 30

Feb 3

Dante, The Divine Comedy (1): The Nature of the Self and the Soul, Part 1 (Maureen)

Dante:  Inferno

Dante:  Inferno

Feb 10

Dante, The Divine Comedy (2): The Nature of the Self and the Soul, Part 2 (Maureen)

Dante:  Inferno

Dante: Purgatory

Feb 17

Dante, The Divine Comedy (3): Love in The Divine Comedy , Part 1 (Mark)

Dante: Purgatory

Dante: Purgatory

Feb 24




Mar 3

Dante, The Divine Comedy (4): Love in The Divine Comedy , Part 2 (Mark)

Dante: Paradise

Dante: Paradise

Long essay draft due, via D2L, on Fri. Mar. 6

Mar 10

Machiavelli and the Ends of Politics

The Prince

The Prince 

Mar 17


The Tempest

The Tempest

Art project due on Thur. Mar. 19

Mar 24

Montaigne's Renaissance Scepticism (Mark) and Galileo (Maureen)

Montaigne, Essays
(see the Booklist section above for selections)

Galileo, “Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina” (see D2L for reading)

Short essay 2 draft due, via D2L, on Fri. Mar. 27

Mar 31

Descartes: an Interior Journey

Meditations on First Philosophy

Meditations on First Philosophy


Apr 7





Grading Standards for Essays

We will use the following general grading standards, based upon the typical features of essays which fall into the different grade categories, to mark all essays.

The A Paper:

  • has a well-defined focus and a strong thesis.
  • provides a strong introduction and conclusion.
  • presents careful, original, and creative thinking.
  • displays a smooth, logical, and coherent organization of the material. The reader does not stumble or hesitate over the sequence of facts or ideas.
  • gives relevant and sufficient supporting evidence that is used consistently.
  • is written in an informative and thoughtful manner. Examples or comparisons are carefully chosen. Occasionally there is a vivid image or deft comparison.
  • conveys immediately a sense of person behind the words: an individual voice speaking firmly and clearly from the page.
  • has varied sentences, with rhythm and emphasis appropriate to the meaning. Phrasing is often fluent, even graceful. Sentences read well aloud, and are structured in a sophisticated way.
  • uses well-chosen words that are accurate and sensitive to connotations.
  • demonstrates depth of reading of the relevant material and uses a vocabulary and a conceptual framework consistent with the level of the course.
  • has very few mechanical errors [grammar, punctuation, and spelling].
  • uses punctuation that is appropriate and helpful to the reader.

A-range research papers also incorporate carefully chosen secondary source arguments into the paper in a fluid, thoughtful, clear, and relevant manner.

The B Paper:

  • has many of the characteristics of the A paper but may be somewhat uneven in quality.
  • has reasonably sound content that may be a little thin. Examples or illustrations may be slightly forced or exaggerated.
  • is generally clearly organized so that the reader does not stumble over sequence.
  • may display less creativity or sophistication  in its reading of sources than an A-range paper.
  • may have a weak introduction or conclusion.
  • uses relevant supporting evidence consistently, but not always sufficiently.
  • has only, at most, minor mechanical errors [grammar, spelling, or punctuation] that do not interfere with the flow of the argument or the intellectual focus of the paper.
  • has a workable thesis.
  • uses words clearly, although phrasing may be pedestrian, awkward, or wordy.

B-range research papers also correctly cite secondary sources, but the research element is less engaged than in an "A" paper: it does little to extend the work beyond basic understanding of secondary sources.

The C Paper:

  • lacks engagement with the material and may be characterized by insufficiently developed thought.
  • may present adequate information and ideas that are nonetheless thin or unconvincing.
  • has a thesis, but one that may need more explanation or supporting evidence, that is too narrow to be arguable, or that is too broad to be adequately supported. The argument may suffer from some inconsistency or irrelevancy.
  • might lack an introduction or conclusion.
  • might have a structure that is not entirely coherent.
  • may summarize rather than analyse narrative (especially for papers on literature).
  • may make assertions without argument or defence.
  • occasionally shows unclear organization, causing the reader to stop and re-read previous material to be sure of meaning.
  • presents sentences with little or no structural variety.
  • may be characterized by wordiness, clichés, or poor word choices. Unnecessary words and phrases make the writing loose.
  • may have several mechanical errors: grammar (such as fragments, run-on or fused sentences, subject/verb agreement problems, comma splices, reference errors), spelling, and punctuation errors that hinder the reader's ability to follow the argument easily, and demand editorial correction for clarity.

C-range research papers:

  • may also make arbitrary references to secondary sources, as if filling a quota.
  • may also use secondary sources to substantiate obvious points of exegesis, or in place of a close reading of the primary text.
  • may also make vague or non-specific references to a secondary source.

The D Paper:

  • shows limited knowledge of the subject matter .
  • has a thesis that is extremely weak or has no thesis .
  • has little evidence or generally irrelevant evidence.
  • may suffer from serious inconsistency.
  • is cluttered by technical errors that overwhelm readers' ability to make sense of the writing. The paper may make some sense, but only when the reader struggles to find the sense. Writers of "D" papers have little control of their material.
  • may not answer the question to which the paper is a response.

D-range research papers also have poorly chosen sources that are inadequate, or not fully documented. Secondary source references appear arbitrarily selected , as if the writer is filling a quota. Secondary sources may be used to substantiate obvious points of exegesis or in place of reading the primary text.

The F Paper (any of the following is reason for a failing grade):

  • shows inadequate knowledge of the subject matter.
  • inadequately addresses the question.
  • does not have a thesis  or has an inappropriate thesis for the topic.
  • has serious structural problems.
  • is incoherent and confusing.
  • has an excessive number of technical errors.

The Liberal Studies Department would like to acknowledge and thank the English Department at VIU for the use of their excellent grading guidelines.