School of Athen by Raphael

LBST 320: Medieval and Renaissance Thought:  Imagination, Reason, Faith

Course Outline (Spring)

The core courses in Liberal Studies involve the study of a contributions made to the Western tradition from a number of disciplines, including art, music, philosophy, literature, science, and history. But the goal of the Liberal Studies Program is not to produce artists, musicians, 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. 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 of the sometimes startling ideas and art forms we will encounter for ourselves today.

Things To Do Before the First Class

The first class for Nanaimo Section 01 is on Tuesday January 8 while the first class for the Nanaimo section 02 and the Cowichan and tiwšɛmawtxʷ Campus (Powell River) sections is on Thursday, January 10):

  1. Read this Course Outline carefully. 
  2. Read The Letter of Paul to the Romans and The Gospel According to John (in the New Testament of the Bible). 
  3. Prepare your seminar note on one of these readings (see below for instructions on writing the seminar note and instructions on how to submit it).

Class Times and Dates  

Please note that Students in Duncan and Powell River are not required to come to the lecture; the lecture will be made available via streaming video for you. If you are in town during the lecture time, you are more than welcome to attend. Also, please note that seminars N02, D01, and R01 will be linked via video-conferencing technology.


Tue 10:30-12:30


Nanaimo, Bld. 355, rm. 203

Seminar S13N01

Tue & Thu 1:00-2:30

Maureen Okun

Nanaimo, Bld 355, rm. 108

Seminar S13N02

Thu 6:00-9:00

Mark Blackell

Nanaimo, Bld. 305, rm. 274 (video-conference room)

Seminar S13D01

Thu 6:00-9:00

Mark Blackell

Cowichan 700/135 (video-conference room)

Seminar S13R01

Thu 6:00-9:00

Mark Blackell

Powell River 610/152 (video-conference room)


Professors' Office Hours


Office Hours (until April 12)



Mark Blackell

Mon. 1:30-2:30, Tues. 1:00-1:30, Wed. 10:30-11:30

Thurs. 1:00-2:00


753-3245, #2173

Maureen Okun

Tues. 3:00-4:00 and Wed. 1:00-2:00.


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 text.

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

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

Ibn Khaldun, The Muqqadimah , trans. Rosenthal, Princeton UP, ISBN: 9780691120546. Selections:  Please read the following: Chapter 3, sections 1-6, 9, 15, 17, 23, 24, 32 (just up to page 190 in Section 32), 41, 44, 45, 50; and Chapter 6, sections 18-30 (pp. 371-405).

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

Dante, Inferno, trans. Musa, Penguin Classics, ISBN: 9780142437223.

Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, ed. Black et al., Broadview Press, ISBN: 9781554810369.

Martin Luther, Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings , trans. Dillenberger, Anchor (Random House), ISBN: 9780385098762. Selections: "The Freedom of a Christian", "Two Kinds of Righteousness", "Theses for the Heidelberg Disputation" (pp. 42-96, 501-503).

Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, ed. Davis, Broadview Press, ISBN: 9781551119359.

Leonardo Da Vinci, Notebooks , ed. Richter et al., Oxford World's Classics, ISBN: 9780199299027. Selections: t.b.a.

Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy , trans. Cress, Hackett, ISBN: 9780872201927.

Machiavelli, The Prince, trans. Adams, Norton Critical Edition, ISBN: 9780393962208. Selections : all of The Prince , and pp. TBA from the Discourses .

LBST 320 Readings Package: Selections from Meister Eckhart, Hildegard of Bingen.

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 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.

4) 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 organisation which aims to help students get the most out of their experience in the program.


Assignments and Grades

Please see the Liberal Studies Essay Grading Guidelines at the bottom of this Outline.

Participation (seminar participation and lecture attendance or viewing)


Short Essay


10 Seminar Notes


Op/ed (editorial assignment)


Long Essay (Final Essay: 25%; Topic Proposal, Outline, and Draft: 5%; Presentation: 5%)


Short Essay:

The short essay will focus closely upon one of the readings to be discussed in the seminar. There is a procedure to follow:

* Select some material to write on: in the first week you will receive a list of questions on the material for each of the weeks in the term; think about which of the weekly readings you would like to write on. (Make sure that VIU has your correct email address, in case we need to email additional potential questions during the term).

* Write your first draft: write the essay in time to hand it in at or before the first seminar after the week in which we read the material you are writing on. Students in Nanaimo must submit their essays in paper form. Students in Powell River and Duncan will have to submit drafts and final papers as attachments to an email sent to their seminar leader ( prior to the start of the seminar. The Long Essay will take up much of your time towards the end of the term. We will provide Short Essay questions on all of the material in the course and you will be able to write on material we read nearer to the end of the course; however, in order to spread out your workload, all Short Essays on material to be discussed on or after the week of Feb. 19 are due in that week .

* Final draft: The seminar leader will make comments on the first draft and assign a provisional  mark. Revise and resubmit the essay, along with the copy annotated by your seminar leader (that is if you have a paper copy -- not needed if the first draft was sent back to you in electronic form), to your seminar leader a week after the original deadline. Please note, your grade will not increase much, if at all, if your revisions consist in only correcting the grammatical and other errors flagged by your instructor.

The short essay should be approximately 1000 words long; it is  not  to be a research paper but a thoughtful response 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: 

At or before the start of the first (or only) seminar of the week you must hand in some notes (200-300 words) on the text (or one of the texts) under discussion for that week. Students from Duncan and Powell River will need to submit these notes to their seminar leader via email attachment sent before the seminar begins. The main purpose of these seminar notes is to encourage students to engage in critical reflection on the text under discussion and to have at least one thoughtful contribution to offer to the seminar.

Although it must be written in complete sentences, the note is not an essay; it need not have a thesis statement, conventionally designed paragraphs, and so on. The notes must be typed on 8 ½ x 11 paper and double spaced. Unlike polished essays, seminar notes can be speculative and can take 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.

Because Duncan, Powell River and Nanaimo student in the Thursday night seminar have their seminar well after the lecture, their seminar notes have two components: one part of the seminar note requires a response to the assigned reading, and one part of the seminar note requires a response to the lecture for that reading.

In writing these notes, please keep in mind some important guidelines: a) the notes should ask 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.

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 and returned to the student.

Op/ed (editorial assignment):

One of the purposes of the Liberal Studies program is to develop critical thinking, which we define as thinking creatively and critically, addressing complex issues precisely and cogently, and speaking and writing clearly and effectively. Liberal Studies also situates you in a conversation about the perennial questions for human beings, a conversation that is pitched at a high level, avoids clichés, and is enriched by the thoughts of intelligent people from the past and the present. In this exercise, you will bring these elements together by addressing a contemporary topic in the form of a well-crafted persuasive argument similar to what might appear in an editorial in a serious newspaper.

It's a good idea to read several op/eds from different newspapers in order to get a sense of the style used. You should do this at least a few weeks before beginning writing your own op/ed.

Your article should present a cogent, concise, balanced, and insightful argument in no more than 750 words; to deliver a persuasive argument in so few words, it will need to be tightly focused and precise. Write as though you were submitting it to a national newspaper for publication (maybe you will).

The best editorialists approach their subject with a good, general knowledge (a Liberal Studies education!). Your piece must connect to the themes and ideas discussed in Liberal Studies 320, or to a work we have studied, as a way of anchoring your discussion; however, your article must appeal to a wide audience composed of many who are not familiar with the works and authors we have studied. The Op/ed is due on March 7

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:

At the end of the semester, we will hold, in conjunction with the fourth year of the program, an academic conference featuring a guest speaker and small-group presentations by students. Fourth-year students will present their Senior Projects; you will present your Long Essay, a paper of approximately 3,000 words on a topic agreed between you and your instructor, a topic bearing some relationship to material from LBST 320. It must display original thought against the background of scholarship in the area chosen. Any references to research outside the scope of the courses must be explained in sufficient detail to be comprehensible to the intelligent layperson. You must have your thesis statement approved in advance by your instructor, who will act as advisor during the writing of the Essay. The Long Essay assignment includes a number of stages:

a) Topic proposals:  Topic proposals for the Long Essay will be due by  January 31  and will explain, in approximately one page, what your topic is, what question or questions you are seeking to examine, and what texts you will be looking at.

b) Outline:  An outline of the Long Essay is due by  February 14 . The outline should contain the following:

  • The (at least, tentative) thesis for which you intend to argue;
  • A more elaborate re-working of the Topic Proposal that narrows it down into a focused thesis and is more specific about the questions you will explore and the works you intend to use;
  • A detailing of the sections into which the essay will be divided, and the purpose of each section;
  • A working Bibliography.

c) Draft: draft of the Long Essay is due by  March 21. It will be returned to you with comments to rework for the final version of the paper.

The draft, outline, and topic proposal together will be given a mark for 5% of your final grade, and this mark will be based on the quality, thoroughness, and timeliness of your work on these three preparatory exercises.

d) Final Long Essay: Due by April 12, and worth 25% of your final grade.

e) Conference presentation: You will give a presentation on your Long Essay 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.


General Writing Requirements

Word-Processing: All written work should be typed or printed at font size 12, double spaced on standard paper (8.5" x 11") with the right justification removed if your printer does not provide proportional spacing. 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 plagiarised 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 plagiarised 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 Seminar N01 has a Tuesday and a Thursday Seminar with the following reading schedule. The other seminars are all on Thursday from 6-9 PM and 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 8

Christianity: The narrative of exit and return

Maureen Okun and Mark Blackell

The Gospel According to John

Paul's Letter to the Romans

Jan 15

Augustine: A journey of reason and faith

Mark Blackell

Augustine: Confessions

See the 'Booklist' section above for selections

Augustine: Confessions

See the 'Booklist' section above for selections

Jan 22

Meister Eckhart and Hildegard von Bingen

Maureen Okun

Meister Eckhart

See the Reading Package for readings

Hildegard von Bingen

See the Reading Package for readings

Jan 29

Islam and Ibn Khaldun

Mark Blackell

Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah

See the 'Booklist' section above for selections

Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah

See the 'Booklist' section above for selections

Long Essay Topic Proposals due

Feb 5

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Maureen Okun

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Feb 12

Dante's Journey to Hell

Maureen Okun

Dante: Inferno

Dante: Inferno

Long Essay Outlines due

Feb 19


Mark Blackell

The Prince

The Prince and selections from the Discourses

See the 'Booklist' section above for selections

Short Essay drafts for the material from the weeks to follow due.

Feb 26




Mar 5

Leonardo da Vinci and Renaissance art and science

Mark Blackell

The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci

See the 'Booklist' section above for selections

The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci

See the 'Booklist' section above for selections

Op/ed (editorial assignment) due

Mar 12


Richard Dunstan

"Freedom of a Christian"

"Theses for the Heidelberg Disputation"

"Two Kinds of Righteousness"

Mar 19


Maureen Okun

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night

Long Essay First Drafts due

Mar 26

Descartes: an interior journey.

Mark Blackell

Meditations on First Philosophy

Meditations on First Philosophy

Apr 2

Daniel Defoe: Voyage into Homo Economicus

Janice Porteous

Robinson Crusoe

Robinson Crusoe

Apr 9-11




Long Essay Final due on Friday, April 12, after the Conference.


Liberal Studies Essay Grading Guidelines

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 in developing the above.