Marymount University

  2807 North Glebe Road  Arlington, Virginia  22207-4299      (703) 284-1560        FAX (703) 284-3859


                School  of

Arts and Sciences



 Course Number

POL 404

Course Title

Roots of Political Ideologies

 Fall Semester


 Spring Semester


Summer Semester




Name of Instructor

William Miller


Meeting Day, Time, and Room Number

Wednesday, 3:30pm, Lee Center Honors Room


Final Exam Day, Time, and Room Number

Thursday, April 28th, 3:00pm


Office Hours, Location, Phone

Tuesdays and Fridays, 11:30 to 12:30pm, Wednesdays, 1:00 to 3:00pm, and by appointment. Rowley 62 A, (703) 284-1687. Always email me ahead of time.

 E-mail and Website; I do not use blackboard!




Academic Integrity

By accepting this syllabus, you pledge to uphold the principles of Academic Integrity expressed by the Marymount University Community. You agree to observe these principles yourself and to defend them against abuse by others.

Special Needs and Accommodations

Please advise the instructor of any special problems or needs at the beginning of the semester.  If you seek accommodation based on disabilities, you should provide a Faculty Contact Sheet obtained through Disability Support Services located in Gerard Hall, (703) 284-1615.

Access to Student Work

Copies of your work in this course including copies of any submitted papers and your portfolios may be kept on file for institutional research, assessment and accreditation purposes. All work used for these purposes will be submitted anonymously. 

Student Copyright Authorization

For the benefit of current and future students, work in this course may be used for educational critique, demonstrations, samples, presentations, and verification.  Outside of these uses, work shall not be sold, copied, broadcast, or distributed for profit without student consent. 

University Policy on Snow Closings

Snow closings are generally announced on area radio stations. For bulletins concerning Marymount snow or weather closings, call (703) 526-6888. Unless otherwise advised by radio announcement or by official bulletins on the number listed above, students are expected to report for class as near normal time as possible on days when weather conditions are adverse. Decisions as to snow closing or delayed opening are not generally made before 5:00 AM of the working day. Students are expected to attend class if the University is not officially closed. 


1. BROAD PURPOSE OF COURSE   (Include the catalog description) The course focuses on the ancient and medieval religious and philosophical roots of the distinctive ideas underlying contemporary ideologies. In particular, we shall focus on the influence of Gnostic, chiliastic, hermeticist, and neo-Platonic ideas upon eighteenth and nineteenth century American political thought and upon several modern political-religious movements.



2.    COURSE OBJECTIVES  (For core courses, include writing, critical reasoning, and information literacy as appropriate)            Upon successful completion of this course students will be expected to:

1. be able to describe the distinctive features of political ideologies in contrast to other forms of political thought;

2. demonstrate familiarity with the related concepts of "millennialism," "millenarianism," "gnosticism," “hermeticism,” "orthodoxy," "heresy," and "utopia;"

3. demonstrate familiarity with the basic outlines of several past and present political-religious movements;

4. demonstrate in writing a detailed knowledge of the tenets, the genesis, and the historical impact of one particular such movement as a result of the individual student's research;

5. be able to assess the nature of the ideological aspects of the movement in light of the concepts and approaches discussed in the course.


3.    TEACHING METHOD   (lecture, laboratory, audio-visual, clinical experience, discussion, seminar, tutorial)


The class will consist of seminar discussions, including student presentations. Reading assignments will be approximately 75 to 100 pages per week.


4.    GRADING POLICY  (i.e., number of graded assignments, weight given to each)

The final grade will consist of three components:


·         Mid-term Essay Exam 20%

·         Final Essay Exam 25%

·         Article Review (See guidelines on article and book reviews) 10%

·         Book Review (See guidelines on article and book reviews) 15%

·         Short research paper (See guidelines on research papers)15%

·         Class presentations and participation 15%

 The class presentations, or seminar papers, will be commentaries of about three pages (typed) on some aspect of the readings assigned for that evening's class. One-third to one-half of each paper summarizes the point to be focused on, and the rest of the paper offers comments. Those not giving seminar papers will prepare one discussion question on the assigned readings; the questions will be graded.

Attendance, Late Paper, and Make-up Exam policies:

Because seminars require and expect the attendance of all of their members, each student is allowed only one unexcused absence. For each unexcused absence thereafter, the final grade will be decreased by one-third grade (e.g., A to A-, B+ to B, and so on). To be excused, an absence must be explained to and approved by me before it occurs or documented in writing after it occurs. Note: Coming to class late—even real late—once or twice is not considered an absence, but if your job or internship prevents you from regularly coming to class on time, please see me after the first class. Coming to class without the textbook or leaving class at the break or after taking an announced quiz or giving a scheduled presentation without prior permission is considered an absence.

Excessive excused absences may also be a problem, and you should discuss such situations with me well before the last month of the semester. This is not a distance learning class. Any absence prevents you from participating in the class, but if your job or an illness keeps you away from class for more than a quarter of the semester, it will significantly affect the class participation component of your grade and may be a good reason to drop the course and take it another time. All of us find ourselves in these situations from time to time and have to deal with them appropriately. You also have an obligation to report this to a University office (see page 35 of the 2010-2011 University Catalogue).

When in doubt about any of these policies, please come and talk to me. They have been formulated with our substantial commuter and working student population in mind and are intended to be fair to everyone. You should also review the University's policies on absenteeism on page 35 of the 2010-2011 University Catalogue.

Class presentations must be presented or, if you are ill, submitted on time. Failure to present or submit any single class presentation on time will result in the loss (zero) of half the Class Presentation grade. Each class will be based on one or two student presentations. Failure to show up cripples the proceedings. So if you feel the sniffles coming on, do not wait until the last minute to prepare your presentation and thus risk a major reduction in your final grade for the course.

Late Papers and Make-up Exams: All presentations and other papers must be submitted in hard copy form by the due date for full credit! For each day that a paper or other assignment is late, one full letter grade will be deducted until the grade is an “F” (50%). Deadlines may be met by submitting an electronic copy before the deadline as long as (1) a hard copy is then submitted at the earliest possible time and (2) the reason you are unable to hand in the hard copy on time is an excused absence as defined above. If the paper is never handed in, your grade will be a zero. To get partial (50%) credit, the review or the research paper may be turned in by the last class of the semester, no matter how late it is. To get this 50%, the paper must be a good faith effort, however, not just a piece of junk.

If, because of an excused absence, you are unable to take the mid-term, you may take it the same day as the final exam. If your absence is not excused, you will receive a zero for the mid-term. The same reasoning applies to the final exam.          

5.    CLASS SCHEDULE   (List topics to be covered with approximate dates of presentation, subject to change for academic or meteorological reasons.)

Class One (1/12): Introduction to the course; basic concepts; ancient and medieval antecedents.

Class Two (1/19): Genesis, chs. 3, 4 & 6; Daniel, ch. 7-10; Matthew, chs. 24 & 25; Mark, ch. 13; Luke, ch. 21: 5-36; Acts of the Apostles, ch.1:1-11; 2 Thessalonians, ch 2; 1 & 2 John; Revelation, ch. 20 (or all); Ronald Knox, Enthusiasm, chapter 4, “Donatist and Circumcellian”; Tuveson, Redeemer Nation, chapter 1, “Apocalyptic and History.”

Class Three (1/26): Medieval Millenarian and Apocalyptic Movements. Cohn, Pursuit of the Millennium, Introduction and chapters 1 to 3.

Class Four (2/2): Cohn, chapters 4 to 7.Article Review, Friday, 2/4.

Class Five (2/9): Cohn, chapters 8 to 10.

Class Six (2/16): Cohn, chapters 11 to 13.

Class Seven (2/23): Gnosticism: Hans Jonas, The Gnostic Religion, chapters 1 & 2; Gerhart Niemeyer, “Loss of Reality: Gnosticism and Modern Nihilism.”

Class Eight (3/2): Mid-term

Class Nine (3/16): Hermeticism and Neo-Platonism: Readings by van den Broek from Gnosis and Hermeticism from Antiquity to Modern Times, and McKnight from Sacralizing the Secular.

Class Ten (3/23): McKnight, Sacralizing the Secular, 74-159.

Class Eleven (3/30): Millenarianism in 18th and 19th Century America. John Adams, Dissertation on Canon and Feudal Law; Richard Price, "The Evidence for a Future Period of Improvement in the State of Mankind"; Thomas Paine, Rights of Man: Part Two, chapters 1-3. Other sites for the Adams essay are the Liberty Fund Library and the Teaching American History sites.

Class Twelve (4/6): Wessinger, selected cases.

Class Thirteen (4/13): Wessinger, selected cases. Papers Due.

Class Fourteen (4/20): Wessinger, selected cases.



 Cohn, Norman. The Pursuit of the Millennium. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970.

McKnight, Stephen. Sacralizing the Secular: The Renaissance Origins of Modernity. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989.

Voegelin, Eric. Science, Politics, and Gnosticism. Wilmington: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 1968, 2005.

Wessinger, Catherine. Millennialism, Persecution, & Violence: Historical Cases. Syracuse: Suracuse University Press, 2000.

Articles, Essays, Book Chapters for Review Assignment.

Hoffman, Bruce. “’Holy Terror’: The Implications of Terrorism Motivated by a Religious Imperative.” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 18 (1995): 271-284.

David Rapoport, “Fear and Trembling: Terrorism in Three Religious Traditions.” American Political Science Review 78 (1984): 658-677.

Voegelin, Eric. Ersatz Religion,” in Eric Voegelin. Science, Politics, and Gnosticism. Wilmington: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 1968, 2005.





Studies in Conflict and Terrorism


Terrorism and Political Violence


Politics, Religion & Ideology (formerly Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions)



Barkun, Michael. A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.


________. Millennialism and Violence. Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 1996.

________. Religion and the Racist Right. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

Baylor, Michael, ed. The Radical Reformation. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Baumgartner, Frederic J. Longing for the End: A History of Millennialism in Western Civilization. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.


Billington, James H. Fire in the Minds of Men: Origins of the Revolutionary Faith. New Brunswick: Transaction, 1980, 1999.


Boyer, Paul S. When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Beliefs in Modern American Culture. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1992.


Brown, Harold O.J. Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1984, 1988.


Cohn, Norman. Cosmos, Chaos, and the World to Come. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.

Cooper, Barry. New Political Religions, or An Analysis of Modern Terrorism. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2004.


Copenhaver, Brian. Hermetica: The Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius in a New English Translation, with Notes and Introduction. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.


Debus, A. & Merkel, I., eds. Hermeticism and the Renaissance: Intellectual History and the Occult in Early Modern Europe. Washington: Folger Books, 1988.


Eliade, Mircea. The Sacred and the Profane. New York: Harcourt, 1988.


Ellis, Richard J. The Dark Side of the Left: Illiberal Egalitarianism in America. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1998.


Fromm, Erich. Marx's Concept of Man: with a translation of Marx's Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts by T.B.Bottomore. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1961, 1966.


Guitton, Jean. Great Heresies and Church Councils. New York: Harper and Row, 1963, 1965.


Hofstadter, Richard. The Paranoid Style in American Politics. New York: Vintage Books, 2008.

Hogan, Richard M. Dissent from the Creed: Heresies Past and Present. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 2001.


Jonas, Hans. The Gnostic Religion. 3d ed. Boston: Beacon Press, 2001. (On Reserve)

Juergensmeyer, Mark. Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence. 3d ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.


Knox, Ronald. Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion : With Special Reference to the XVII and XVIII Centuries. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994.


Lee, Philip J. Against the Protestant Gnostics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Lovejoy, A.O. The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea. New Brunswick: Transaction Publications, 1936, 1964.


Marx, Karl. Early Writings: The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts. Translated T.B.Bottomore. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1964.


Marx, Karl, and Frederick Engels. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 and the Communist Manifesto. Translated by Martin Milligan. Great Books in Philosophy. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1987.


McGinn, Bernard. Apocalypse in the Middle Ages. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992.

________. Apocalyptic Spirituality. New York: Paulist Press, 1979.

________. Apocalypticism in the Western Tradition. Brookfield, Vt.: Variorum, 1994.

________. Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism. New York: Continuum, 1998.

________. Meister Eckhart and the Beguine Mystics. New York: Continuum, 1994.

________. Meister Eckhart: Teacher and Preacher.

________. Meister Eckhart: the Essential Sermons.

________. Foundations of Mysticism. New York: Crossroad, 1991.

________. Growth of Mysticism. New York: Crossroad, 1994.

________. Visions of the End. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979. (On Reserve)

McGrath, Alister. Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth. New York: HarperCollins, 2009.


McKnight, Stephen A., ed. Science, Pseudo-Science, and Utopianism in Early Modern Thought. Columbia. University of Missouri Press, 1992.


Meyer, Marvin W., trans. Secret Teachings of Jesus: Four Gnostic Gospels. New York: Random House, 1984.


Minogue, Kenneth. Alien Powers: the Pure Theory of Ideology. 2d ed. New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 2007; reprint, Wilmington: ISI Books, 2008.


Molnar, Thomas. Utopia: the Perennial Heresy. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1967; reprint, University Press of America, 1990.


Mooney, James. The Ghost Dance Religion and Wounded Knee. New York: Dover, 1973.

Murawiec, Laurent. The Mind of Jihad. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Niemeyer, Gerhart. Aftersight and Foresight: Selected Essays. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1988. (On Reserve)


________. Between Nothingness and Paradise. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1971; reprint, South Bend: St. Augustine Press, 1998.


________. Within and Above Ourselves: Essays in Political Analysis. Wilmington, DE: ISI Press, 1996.


O'Leary, Stephen D. Arguing the Apocalypse. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

O'Sullivan, Noel. Fascism. Modern Ideologies Series. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1983.

Robinson, James McC. Nag Hammadi Library in English. 3d ed. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988.


Rudolph, Kurt. Gnosis: the Nature and History of Gnosticism. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1983.

Runciman, Steven. The Medieval Manichee. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1947; reprint, 1991. (On Reserve)


Tucker, Robert C. Marxian Revolutionary Idea. New York: Norton, 1969.

________. Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1972.

Tuveson, Ernest Lee. Millennium and Utopia. Berkeley: University of California, 1949. (On Reserve)

________. Redeemer Nation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968; reprint, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Midway Reprint, 1980.


Van den Broek, Roelof, and Wouter J. Hanegraaff, eds. Gnosis and Hermeticism: From Antiquity to Modern Times. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1997. (On Reserve)


Weber, Eugen. Apocalypses: Prophesies, Cults, and Millennial Beliefs through the Ages. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999.


Yates, Frances A. Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964.


________. The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age. London: Routledge, 2001.