The following syllabus is for the course Political Theology (P50SF06) offered as part of the Master of Theology Degree at Pacific Theological College, Semester 2B in 2016. The course Lecturer is Dr Richard Davis, who can be emailed at Richard.Davis@ptc.ac.fj.
The relation between politics and religion has been one of the most contentious issues in the modern period. This course will examine the tradition of theological reflection on the nature of justice and the state. This survey course will expose students to the key texts from this tradition, including those of Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Barth. The key developments of Christendom, modernity, and the secularization of politics will all be covered. Issues covered in the course will include the nature of politics, sovereignty, justice, law, and democracy. Students will be encouraged to reflect on the relationship of church and state in their own countries, and reflect theologically on global and regional politics.
Method of Teaching
A combination of lectures, readings, writing and discussion.
To complete this course you need to write six minor assignments and one major assignment.
1) Minor Assignments
There are six pieces of minor assessment, being the weekly tasks in weeks two to seven as found below. All are due in class on the Thursday for that week’s readings (15, 22, 29 September and 6, 13, 20 October 2016). They will be graded and returned with comments. Each piece of work should be 500 words, which should be considered a minimum guide for this work. Each piece is worth 8% of the course, making a total of 48% of the overall grade for the course.
2) Major Assignment
The one major assignment (worth 52%, due end of Assessment Week) is to write a “Mirror for Princes” (speculum principis) for a fictitious political leader in your country. In 3000–4000 words you must outline how a good political leader from your country ought to rule. You can write this specifically for a male or a female ruler, or a generic one. Your essay must demonstrate an understanding of the genre of “Mirror for Princes” and draw on scripture, Christian theological traditions, and your own culture. In outlining your advice for how a political leader ought to and ought not to conduct themselves, you might write about what they must and must not do and why, what company they should keep and what to avoid, what virtues they should cultivate and how they should acquire and keep them. You might also discuss how they conduct the internal affairs of the nation, the administration of justice, international affairs, and the use of violence to achieve their aims.
In understanding what is required you might find this quote helpful:
As a genre, the mirror for princes follows certain conventions. It typically begins with a “humility topos.” The author disclaims any particular linguistic or political ability to advise the prince, but accepts the responsibility either because his work was commissioned by him, or because the author believes it to be in the best interests of the kingdom. The substantive discussion of political ideas is organized around a narrative order – the transformation of the prince into an ideal king. In some works this presented in part as a physical transformation, and the advice includes principles of nutrition, hygiene, and instruction in a variety of subjects. In others the transformation is metaphorical; the princes moral and intellectual infancy is gradually exchanged for a mature wisdom and virtue. The text is characteristically enlivened by exempla from Scriptural and classical stories of good and bad rulers. All political mirrors emphasize the development of character, good judgement, and the classical virtues of courage, justice, temperance, and prudence, as well as the princely qualities of liberality, magnificence, generosity, and authority. The differences in mirrors stem from their authors’ disagreements about the essential nature of kingship and the problems of ruling as well as the differences brought about by political culture and context.
(Kate Langdon Forhan’s editorial “Introduction” to Christine de Pizan’s The Book of the Body Politic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994, pp. xvii–xviii.)
Sources for the Major Assignment include (but should not be limited to) these:
Cultural expectations of rulers drawn from appropriate sources, such as stories, songs, fables, scholarly materials and biographies of past rulers.
Selected Biblical Sources
Deuteronomy 17; Job 29; the narratives of Solomon and David, including Psalm 72
Primary Source examples of this literature include (in chronological order)
Augustine. 426. De Civitate Dei (City of God). Book V, Chapter 24. Various translations in the library and online: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/120105.htm
Sedulius Scottus. c. 843–869. De rectoribus Christianis. English translation 2010, On Christian Rulers, edited by
John of Salisbury. 1159. Policraticus. English translation 1990, Policraticus: Of the Frivolities of Courtiers and the Footprints of Philosophers, edited and translated by Cary J. Nederman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Also online at http://www.constitution.org/salisbury/policrat.htm
Thomas Aquinas. c. 1265. De Regno, Ad Regem Cypri (On Kingship, to the King of Cyprus). translated by Gerald
Christine de Pizan. 1407. Livre du corps de policie. English Translation: 1994. The Book of the Body Politic, edited by Kate L. Forhan Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Erasmus. 1516. Institutio principis Christiani (The Education of a Christian Prince). Online: http://www.stoics.com/erasmus_s_education_of_a_chris.html
George Buchanan. 1579. De Iure Regni apud Scotos Dialogus (A Dialogue on the Law of Kingship). English translation, A Dialogue Concerning the Rights of the Crown in Scotland by Robert MacFarlan online: http://www.portagepub.com/products/caa/buchanan.html
King James I. 1603. Basilikon Doron. Original version online:
Selections of some of these texts can be found in:
Lewis, Ewart. 1954. Medieval Political Ideas, 2 Volumes. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Online: Vol. 1 –
Secondary sources on this literature include
The set text for this course will be a course reader available from the bookshop.
In addition to the required readings for each session there are other readings listed. These are often the source material for lectures and provide further sources to assist with completion of assignments. Below are further readings relating to contextual political theologies and the Pacific region.
Selected Works in Contextual Political Theology
Selected Books on Politics in the Pacific
Selected Journals Covering Politics in the Pacific
The full syllabus in PDF format with extensive course outline and a lengthy list of suggested readings can be downloaded from here.
Dr. Richard A. Davis is Lecturer in Theology and Ethics at the Pacific Theological College in Suva, Fiji Islands. He tweets on @rad_1968.