Syllabus: "Religious Roots of Social Welfare"


About this Course:

"Religious Roots of Social Welfare" was a seminar offered at Boston University in the spring of 1990, co-taught by Professors Emily Albu Hanawalt and Carter Lindberg. In addition to seminar discussion, the course consisted of a lecture series by international scholars, funded by the Boston University Humanities Foundation and the Lilly Endowment. For the final, published lectures, see Emily Albu Hanawalt and Carter Lindberg, ed., Through the Eye of a Needle: Judeo-Christian Roots of Social Welfare, Kirksville, MO: The Thomas Jefferson University Press, 1994)

The class met twice a week (first and second meetings of each week are noted below as "a" and "b"). Students were graded by their active participation in the seminar and one 20-page research paper; doctoral student papers were expected to be suitable for publication.

Note: Full bibliographic information is lacking from a number of the readings listed below but should be easily available from your library catalog or the ATLA (American Theological Library Association) database of journal articles.

Books to Purchase:

  • Julio de Santa Ana, Good News to the Poor: The Challenge of the Poor in the History of the Church, Maryknoll, NH: Orbis, 1979
  • Michel Mollat, The Poor in the Middle Ages: An Essay in Social History (trans. Arthur Goldhammer), New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986
  • Redmond Mullen, The Wealth of Christians, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1984


Week 1a: Introduction and Historiography of Religion and Welfare

Week 1b: Religious Roots of Social Welfare: An Overview; Reading: Carter Lindberg, "Through a Glass Darkly: A history of the Church's vision of the poor and poverty," The Ecumenical Review 33 (1981), 37-52.

Week 2a: Classical Greek and Roman Teaching on Wealth and Poverty; Reading: Mullen pp 9-24.

Week 2b: Ancient Israel on Wealth and Poverty; Readings:

  • Old Testament: Gen 16; 21:7-21; Exod. 21:2; 22:21-27; 23:9-11; Lev. 23:22; 25; Deut 11:13-17; 15; 24:10-15, 17-22; Job 29:1-18; Isaiah 3:13-15; 10:1-3; 25:5-6; 41:17; 58:6-7; 61:1-2; Jer. 7:5-7; 34:12-17; Zechariah 7:8-10; Prov. 6:10-11; 10:4; 13:18; 29:19; Tobit 4:5-11, 14-17; 12:6-10; 14:10ff; Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 3:30; 4:1-10; 7:32; 20:21; 21:4ff; 29:12ff; 40:24.
  • Mullin, pp 25-39
  • Santa Ana, pp 1-11
  • Schwantes, "Hagar and Sarah" in D. Kirkpatrick, ed., Faith Born in the Struggle for Life, 76-83

Week 3a: Guest lecture: Paul Hanson (Harvard University): "Prophets and Profits: Ancient Israel's Contributions"

  • Recommended reading: Hanson, The People Called: The Growth of Community in the Bible, 1988.

Week 3b: The New Testament on Wealth and Poverty; Readings:

  • New Testament: Mt. 5:3; 11:18-19; 20:16; 25:31-46; Lk. 1:46-55; 4:17-19; 6:20-26; 7:20-23; 12:15-21, 32-34; 14:12-14; 16:19-31; 18:18-25; 1 Cor 8:11; Jn. 2:1-10; 1 Tim. 3:8-13; 6:9-10; 17-19; James 1:27; 2:1-7; 5:1-6; Eph. 4:28; 1 Jn. 3:17-18; Acts 2:32-35, 44-45; 6:1-3; 20:28, 35 (and parallels)
  • Mullin, pp 40-67
  • de Santa Ana, pp. 12-35
  • E. Krentz, "Property and Poverty in the New Testament," in B. Harmati, ed., Christian Ethics: Property and Poverty, pp. 26-35.

Week 4a: Guest lecture: Howard C. Kee (Boston University): "Through the Eye of a Needle: Rich and Poor in the New Testament and Early Christianity"

Week 4b: The Early Church; Readings:

  • de Santa Ana, pp. 36-80; select readings from 1st to 5th centuries
  • (Recommended:) W.L. Countryman, The Rich Christian in the Church of the Early Empire; and Charles Avila, Ownership: Early Christian Teaching

Week 5a: Guest lecture: Susan Ashbrook Harvey (Brown University): "The Holy and the Poor: Models from Early Syriac Christianity"

Week 5b: The Medieval Church; Readings:

  • Mollat, pp. vii-53; selected readings from 6th to 11th centuries

[week 6a: no class]

Week 6b: Byzantine Bases for Social Welfare; Readings:

  • Gregory of Nazianzus, sermon 14, "On the love of the poor"
  • Demetrios Constantelos, Byzantine Philanthropy and Social Welfare, pp. 18-136

Week 7a: Guest lecture: Alexander Kazhdan (Dumbarton Oaks): "Byzantium and Social Welfare"

Week 7b: The Medieval Church; Readings:

  • Mollat, pp. 55-113; selections from canon law and Thomas

Week 8a: Medieval Destitution and Plague; Readings:

  • Mollat, pp. 115-190

Week 8b: Guest lecture: Timothy S. Miller (Salisbury State University): "Byzantine Hospitals and Orphanages"

  • Miller, The Birth of the Hospital in the Byzantine Empire, pp. 1-29

Week 9a: Hospitals and Institutions of Charity in the West

  • Readings: Selections from Jacques de Vitry

Week 9b: Beggars, Vagrants and the Police in the Late Middle Ages; Readings:

  • Mollat, pp 191-300
  • Selections from the Liber Vagatorum

Week 10a:Guest lecture: Brenda Bolton (University of London): "Hearts not purses: Pope Innocent III's Attitude to Social Welfare"

[week 10b: Seminar discussion]

Week 11a: Guest lecture: Alice-Mary Talbot (Dumbarton Oaks): "Byzantine Women, Saints' Lives and Social Welfare"

Week 11b: Guest lecture: Lester K. Little (Smith College): "Religion, the Profit Economy, and St. Francis"

  • Recommended reading: Little, Religoius Poverty and the Profit Economy in Medieval Europe (1978).

Week 12a: Worship and Welfare in the Early Reformation; Readings:

  • "There Should be no Beggars among Christians," in Lindberg, ed., Piety, Politics and Ethics, pp 157-166
  • "Ordinance of a Common Chest," Luther's Works 45, pp. 159-194
  • Miriam Chrisman, "Urban Poor in the Sixteenth Century," in Chrisman and Gründler, eds., Social Groups and Religious Ideas in the Sixteenth Century, pp 59-67

Week 12b: Post-Reformation Developments; Readings:

  • Mullin, pp 71-223
  • (recommended:) de Santa Ana, ed., Separation without Hope?

Week 13a: Guest lecture: Thomas Riis (Danish Committee for Urban History, Denmark): "Religion and Early Modern Social Welfare"; Recommended readings :

  • Riis, ed., Aspects of Poverty in Early Modern Europe, vol. 1 (1984)
  • Gertrude Himmelfarb, The Idea of Poverty: England in the Early Industrial Age (1983)

Week 13b: Discussion

Week 14a: Guest lecture: Max Stackhouse (Andover-Newton Theological School): "Religion and Modern Social Welfare"; Recommended readings:

  • Stackhouse, Public Theology and Political Economy: Christian Stewardship of Modern Society (1987)
  • Michael Katz, In the Shadow of the Poorhouse: A Social History of Welfare in America (1986)
  • Thomas Gannon, SJ, The Catholic Challenge to the American Economy (1987)
  • Robert Clouse, ed., Wealth and Poverty: Four Christian Views of Economics (1984)

Week 14b: Guest lecture: André Vauchez (University of Paris-Nanterre): "Confraternities and Guilds in the Late Middle Ages"

  • Recommended reading: Black, Italian Confraternities

Week 15a: Concluding Session


As noted above, the text of the guest lectures is now available in print: Emily Albu Hanawalt and Carter Lindberg, ed., Through the Eye of a Needle: Judeo-Christian Roots of Social Welfare, Kirksville, MO: The Thomas Jefferson University Press, 1994)

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