History of Christianity(focus on Britain) for law degree.Where to start?
January 17, 2013 3:37 PM   Subscribe

Hi. I was wondering if anyone here could help to recommend resources for a complete beginner to better understand the history of Christianity, etc so I may have a deeper, more contextualised understanding of british history and politics. Some stuff I'd like to know better are:

- great Schism
- the Protestant revolution in Britain
- the separatists who came to America
- origin/history/development of the papacy and its relations with Britain
- Puritans, Calvinists, etc
- James II, Henry VIII
- Western Legal past (common law, civil law)

I realise that my question is somewhat broad, but I am hoping to be able to compile suggestions I'll receive into some sort of logical order to get through.

I will be studying the modules constitutional law (Coke, Davis, Hale Bacon, Sovereignty, are the overlapping modules with legal history) as well as legal history (which will cover Ancient Greece, Fall of Roman Empire, Identity and origin of common law) at a British university next year, and so would like to be familiar with the backdrop of defining events in British legal and political history.. basically to make things easier for me before starting the year

Different suggestions or general advice are also welcome. I do have some of the recommended bibliography including journals for the course, but they are not beginner friendly; the latter being the worst to get through.

Thank you for your time
posted by ethelwulf to Religion & Philosophy (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
christian history is a great site.

the story of christianity by justo l. gonzalez is a very readable intro to church history book with a bit of a world perspective. i have this 2-volume set which was really inexpensive when i bought it. it looked expensive on your amazon but maybe a used copy is available for cheap.
posted by wildflower at 4:37 PM on January 17, 2013

A bit earlier than the era you're asking about, but a lot of the foundations of the Great Schism and the forming identity of "the West" as an entity distinct from the Roman Empire are covered in Judith Herrin The Formation of Christendom.
posted by deanc at 5:39 PM on January 17, 2013

What you need to do is read Law and Revolution and Law and Revolution II. Both are by the late Harold J. Berman. While they're not necessarily up to scratch in the best history departments, they're some of the strongest works of legal history out there. The second volume in particular focuses on the changes that the Protestant Reformation had on the development of the Western legal system. For example, Berman argues that the modern corporation has some of its conceptual roots in the concept of covenantal community embraced by the Scottish Presbyterians, which in turn strongly influenced the development of the Scottish Enlightenment. Etc.

Neither of these is specifically focused on Britain, but they're both good reads.

If you're interested, I could send you a copy of the syllabus for the English Legal History course I took during law school...
posted by valkyryn at 5:46 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Diarmiad's book The First Three Thousand Years of Christianity is very well-reviewed and has an accompanying fairly short TV series. I only watched the first part up to the great schism, and dipped in and out for the chapters I was interested in because it winds up going global early church --> schism --> catholics --> protestants in europe, and has a lot less about the rest of the world's Christianity and orthodoxy, so I would say it's just right for a look at English Christianity! What I read was good - well-paced, informative and interesting.
posted by viggorlijah at 6:35 PM on January 17, 2013

Eamon Duffy's The Stripping of the Altars is a good look and pre- and post-Reformation English religion.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:03 AM on January 18, 2013

So, this may sound kind of silly given the depth of the work you're going to be doing at university, but I've been teaching myself about British history by watching chronologically-ordered movies about it. One day I realized that putting faces to names helped me remember things a lot better than starting with just the texts, and I never looked back.

It gives you a bit more context as a starting point for research, and it's also really helped me to place world events in historical context, which is something that I never got from school, and have found useful, and more importantly, interesting.

I begin by watching the relevant episode of A History of Britain by Simon Schama, then watch the film(s), then do the research/reading afterward, to learn about discrepancies and inaccuracies, the lens of the time period in which the film was made, etc.

Enough of the films are related to religion and how those conflicts formed the British political landscape that you could probably use my list (self-link) as a general guide.

Some examples: Ben-Hur [not British, but useful for context], Eagle of the Ninth (Roman legion officer passing Hadrian's Wall to confront northern tribes), St. Patrick: The Irish Legend (a young Christian is taken as a slave to Ireland, escapes, then returns to convert his captors), Mists of Avalon (for the King Arthur legend, presented as a conflict between patriarchal Christianity and matriarchal Celtic culture), The Secret of Kells (begins with the sacking of Iona, set in an early Christian abbey), Alfred the Great (a man turns from the priesthood to become a king, to unite the tribes and save the country from gangs of Danes), Cadfael (a former Crusader who's become a Benedictine monk), etc.
posted by lhall at 7:16 PM on January 18, 2013

You could try poking around the Catholic Encyclopedia for the Catholic view. Here's the entry for post-Reformation England. Pretty thorough, and there's a bibliography.

For the earliest history, you've got to read Bede.
posted by resurrexit at 7:54 AM on January 22, 2013

Also, if your library has the book Anglican and Puritain: the Basis of Their Opposition, 1558-1640, you really should read or at least skim it.
posted by resurrexit at 8:02 AM on January 22, 2013

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