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First-Year Interdisciplinary Seminar: Holy Grails

Semester and Year FA 2016
Course Number FIRST-UG70
Section 001
Instructor Andrew Romig
Days MW
Time 12:30 PM - 1:45 PM
Units 4
Level U
Foundation Requirement  


Open to Gallatin first-year students only.


The Quest for the Holy Grail has captured the modern Western imagination, inspiring bestselling fiction, scholarly and conspiratorial study, and no fewer than fourteen feature films since the silent era. In this course, students will discover the ways in which our twentieth-century fascination with the legendary Cup is only the most recent incarnation of a long obsession in popular Western culture—one that reaches back in time to at least the twelfth century, and possibly earlier still. The Holy Grail will serve as a case study for learning about the Middle Ages and medievalism in our world today. We will study the flourishing of the Grail legend in twelfth- and thirteenth-century courtly society, but we will think about other “Grails” as well: quests for the unknown, the unseen, and the unconquered; fascination with conspiracy; fear of cultural and religious difference; and above all, the hope that human beings invest in symbols, not just of the divine, but also of transcendent kindness, compassion, and sacrifice. Readings will include the Perceval romances of Chrétien de Troyes and Wolfram von Eschenbach, Robert de Boron’s Merlin, and Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. We will examine our modern associations of the Grail legend with Crusade, the Knights Templar, the Papacy, and Christian spirituality. And in dialogue with theorists of anthropology, political science, psychology, and comparative mythology, we will discuss why we pursue holy grails in the first place—what keeps us striving for those tantalizing, ultimately unreachable goals that nevertheless compel us ever forward.

Course Type

First-Year Program: Interdisciplinary Seminars (FIRST-UG)