TFF3400 – Mary - From Maiden to Madonna

Schedule, syllabus and examination date

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Course content

She was a Jewish girl who grew to be one of the important female figures in Islam. The Virgin Mary has been interpreted as the “woman clothed in the sun” and her womb hailed as “wider than the heavens.” According to many Christian traditions she is the “Mother of God,” and the Quran knows her as purified and chosen “above all women in the world”. White marble statuettes show her as a beautiful young maiden, while paintings and icons often present a crowned queen. The Catholic tradition boasts a wealth of Marian revelations, both official and unofficial.

The Virgin Mary is probably the most venerated woman in the history of humankind. Even marigolds and ladybugs whisper her name. Edvard Munch has painted his bare-breasted Madonna, and a pop singer has borrowed Mary’s name and sings “Like a Virgin.” Even in the modern world, Mary does not seem to go away. How did this young maiden grow to be so important?

This course explores the historical background for the complex and multifaceted Marian figure. We will study the diverse interpretations of the unique woman, whom National Geographic has dubbed “The World’s Most Powerful Woman.” How did she come to be so powerful? How has she been praised and problematized?   

The course is structured as a chronological journey from the first Christian centuries. The main emphasis is on the formative years, as we will trace the emergence of the Mary in the late ancient world. The course will focus on devotion to Mary and popular relations with her. We follow her from and the earliest interpretations – between heterodoxy and orthodoxy – and study how the Christian East and West have construed her in various media. Her role in the Quran and in Islam will be considered. We will follow her to Scandinavia and through the reformation, and we will discuss modern Marian devotion and modern critique of the Virgin.

Learning outcome

  • In-depth knowledge of the history of Marian interpretation
  • Knowledge of some important sources
  • Understanding of how the Virgin Mary has functioned as a resource for grappling with the human condition and human–divine relation
  • Knowledge of how questions of power and gender are negotiated through an archetypal figure such as Mary
  • Development of research and writing skills


Students who are admitted to study programmes at UiO must each semester register which courses and exams they wish to sign up for in Studentweb.

If you are not already enrolled as a student at UiO, please see our information about admission requirements and procedures.


The classes will amount to twenty-four hours of teaching, partly lectures and partly seminars. The teaching is concentrated to one week per month in January, February, March, and April. The student papers will be presented in March and April.

Mandatory requirements:

The students will present (orally, ca 10 minutes) or write a short paper (ca 2500 words) based on secondary literature in the syllabus during the teaching classes. The teacher will provide topics to choose from.

The mandatory paper is not graded, but needs to be satisfactory. In cases where the paper is not satisfactory, the student may present another or a revised paper. A student who has not presented a satisfactory paper, however, will not be able to write the exam.


A three-day take-home exam (ca 3000-4000 words).

Submit assignments in Inspera

You submit your assignment in the digital examination system Inspera. Read about how to submit your assignment.

Use of sources and citation

You should familiarize yourself with the rules that apply to the use of sources and citations. If you violate the rules, you may be suspected of cheating/attempted cheating.

Language of examination

You may write your examination paper in Norwegian, Swedish, Danish or English.

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail. Read more about the grading system.

Explanations and appeals

Resit an examination

Withdrawal from an examination

It is possible to take the exam up to 3 times. If you withdraw from the exam after the deadline or during the exam, this will be counted as an examination attempt.

Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.

Facts about this course






Spring 2018


Spring 2018

Teaching language


The lectures will be given in English (unless all the students are Norwegian speaking)