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Political Theology, Justice, And The State – New Addition To PTT Syllabus Project (Richard Davis)

Political Theology Today has added another item to its syllabus project.  The most recent posts of syllabi for the project are from 2015 and 2014.

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.

Course Assessment

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 Sources

 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

  1. W. Dyson. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer.

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

  1. Phelan, revised by I. Th. Eschmann, O.P. Online: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/DeRegno.htm Giles of Rome. c. 1270s. De Regimine Principum (On the Rule of Princes)

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 –

  • https://archive.org/details/medievalpolitica01lewi | Vol. 2 –
  • https://archive.org/details/medievalpolitica02lewi
  • McGrade, Arthur Stephen, John Kilcullen and Matthew Kempshall. 2001. The Cambridge Translations of Medieval Philosophical Texts: Volume 2, Ethics and Political Philosophy Cambridge, U.K. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • O’Donovan, Oliver and Joan Lockwood O’Donovan, eds. 1999. From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought, 100–1625. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Secondary sources on this literature include

  •  Lambertini, Roberto. 2011. “Mirrors for Princes.” In Encyclopedia of Medieval Philosophy: Philosophy between 500 and 1500. Editor Henrik Lagerlund 791–797. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.
  • Leithart, Peter J. 2015. “Good Rule.” In The Cambridge Companion to Christian Political Theology, edited by Craig Hovey and Elizabeth Phillips, 256–273. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Parsons, Wilfrid. 1942. “The Mediaeval Theory of the Tyrant.” In The Review of Politics 4(2): 129–143.

Course Texts

Required Texts

 The set text for this course will be a course reader available from the bookshop.

Further Reading

 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

  • Gutiérrez, Gustavo. 1973. A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation. London: SCM Press. [in library]
  • Katongole, Emmanuel. 2011. The Sacrifice of Africa: A Political Theology for Africa. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. Roberts, J. Deotis. 1974. A Black Political Theology. Philadelphia: Westminster Press. [in library]
  • Song, C. S. 1981. The Tears of Lady Meng: A Parable of People’s Political Theology. Geneva: World Council of Churches. [in library]
  • Tinker, George E. 2004. Spirit and Resistance: Political Theology and American Indian Liberation. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. [in library]
  • De La Torre, Miguel A. 2015. The Politics of Jesús: A Hispanic Political Theology. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield. [in library]

Selected Books on Politics in the Pacific

  • Busch, Werner vom, et al. 1994. New Politics in the South Pacific. Rarotonga and Suva: Institute of Pacific Studies in association with the Pacific Islands Political Studies Association. [in library]
  • Ewins, Rory. 1998. Changing Their Minds: Tradition and Politics in Contemporary Fiji and Tonga. Christchurch: Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies. [in library]
  • Holtz, Andreas, Matthias Kowasch Oliver Hasenkamp, eds. 2016. A Region in Transition: Politics and Power in the Pacific Island Countries. Saarbrucken: Universaar. Online: http://universaar.uni-saarland.de/monographien/volltexte/2016/143
  • Levy, Josh. 2008. Micronesian Government: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. A Micronesian Civics Textbook. Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia: Micronesian Seminar. Online: http://www.micsem.org/pubs/books/microcivics.htm

Selected Journals Covering Politics in the Pacific

  • Development Bulletin, Development Studies Network, ANU https://crawford.anu.edu.au/rmap/devnet/dev-bulletin.php

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.

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