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The Surprising Lives of Christian Saints

Examine the remarkable tales of faith that shape the history of Christianity, in these 24 fascinating lectures.
The Surprising Lives of Christian Saints is rated 5.0 out of 5 by 7.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Positive and Negative Mixed in an Impartial Retell First of all, Dr. Graham selected a wide variety of saints from diverse traditions and historical periods. She considered the evolving role of saints in Christianity and how saints were created and their role in popular piety and devotion. She examined the historical context of each saint and how they were involved in it. These figures may have lived apart from society to some extent or another, but they were still products of society. One thing I enjoyed was her views on a particular saint, either positive or not so-positive. Dr. Graham certainly has the knowledge to present such a course, and her ability to be personable as well as thorough is much appreciated.
Date published: 2023-11-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Surprising Lives of Christian Saints Very enjoyable and meditative course. Emily Graham does a noble job presenting very interesting and in many cases heart-wrenching details of the brutal and dedicated lives of numerous christian saints. This course can be enjoyed in any setting as Emily's gentle voice and passion for sharing each saints unique life circumstances and single-mindedness to mirror Jesus love of humanity make it very reflective. The one rub with the course as with so many recent Wondrium courses is the lecturers slide reading. The presenter hesitates or stops briefly to let the slides catchup to the discussion. Emily would have displayed more energy if she used her natural classroom flow. I enjoyed the course much as I was enlightened about saints I was not aware of. I do recommend the course as it was worth the investment.
Date published: 2023-11-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Saintly Ruminations Emily Graham's presentation contains well documented information and her method of combining facts with events in a story like fashion makes the lectures interesting and memorable. She provides a balanced and insightful look into some unusual and significant lives. This course was enjoyable and illuminating.
Date published: 2023-10-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of My Favorite Courses! This wonderful course explored saints from many angles and I appreciated the historical context and cultural background that Professor Graham expertly presented. Each lecture was packed with excellent research and visuals. The course inspired me to do some investigation of saints and I was fascinated to discover people that I had previously not heard about who have awesome stories. I highly recommend this wonderful course.
Date published: 2023-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! Although I am Jewish, I studied at Catholic school and therefor became familiar with the lives of many Saints. Two words in the title of this course caught my attention: "surprising" and "Christian." The former puzzled me--Saints were holy; that's it, right? Nothing "surprising" about that. The latter revealed itself to show that Catholicism was not the sole purveyor of Saints--there were Protestant and Orthodox Saints to be considered, also. Refreshing! Dr. Graham takes us down a twisting and bumpy road full of contradictions. Many may think of Saints as "holy from birth," leading a life of virtue and goodness from cradle to grave. But they are revealed all too--and thankfully--human, overcoming obstacles to which we can all relate. Some, one might wonder, why they were ever canonized at all. Take Elizabeth Ann Seton. Yes, she overcame personal hardships, as most Saints in this course did. And she did found the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, whose charitable work was as well know then as it is today. However, her charity was limited only to those of the Catholic faith and who were white. Much of her funding came from plantation owners while her free schools were not open to the slaves who were owned by those same donors who funded her. Her mental status, at least for a time, could be said to be disturbed at best, psychotic at worst as she took great pleasure in the suffering her of children, convinced it was for their spiritual good. Yet the good work her Order has done cannot be dismissed. But for me, the true value of this course comes from Dr. Graham's presentation of those Saints that are unknown to many of us. Tekle Haymanot, Radegund, Andrei Rublev and Josephine Bakhita--do any of these ring a bell with you? They certainly didn't to me, yet brava to Dr. Graham for including them and other "unknowns." Dr. Graham is a joy. Her delivery style is poised yet very pleasant. I felt as if I was sitting across from her and she was speaking just to me. Having taught, I can attest that this is a rare gift that makes being her student a pleasure. Even if you don't believe in Saints, consider this course as tutorial of how ordinary people can evolve to lead exemplary lives. The world is full of Saints, those who give of themselves to make this sad world a better place. Their official recognition does not matter; but their deeds do. Thank you, Dr. Graham, for bringing this home!
Date published: 2023-10-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Breezed through these interesting tales There is a danger when teaching religion: the adherents may be offended if you are not properly pious - and the rest of us will hate it if you are! So I had major qualms b4 I plunged in. I'm nearly done with the class and it is quite interesting. The instructor uses individuals as the entry way to a time in history, to illumine the key issues, economic, social, military, political - and of course doctrinal. So interesting to see the underpinings of some of the key religious synods, councils and meetings. The Nicea II meeting was so consequential, and the later semi-heresies were driven by so many issues other than religion as well. Ideas about power, about the relation of the individual to the group, on and on. Thoroughly fascinating and a good presenter.
Date published: 2023-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptional, sure to become a classic! I approached this course with skepticism, but am amazed at the depth and clarity of the presentations. The range of the individuals and historical settings extends from the foundational years of Christianity to the present. The presentations are filled with rich details of the lives of famous and of less well known religious figures, against the background of their historical circumstances (which were often unsettled and dangerous). The discussions of Josephine Bakhita and Oscar Romero, near the end of the course, were especially engaging. Spoiler alert: saints are often flawed and troubled, and struggle with challenges and difficulties. This course is eye-opening and mind-opening!
Date published: 2023-10-11
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Delve into the global history of Christian sainthood in The Surprising Lives of Christian Saints. Over the course of 24 in-depth lectures, Professor Emily Graham of Oklahoma State University takes you on an enlightening journey through time, revealing the profound lives of individuals who have left an indelible mark on our world.


Emily Graham

The more we read and learn about the holy dead, and what people have made of their legends and legacies, the better we can understand our own history and the forces that shape our beliefs and our world.


Oklahoma State University

Emily Graham is an Associate Professor of History at Oklahoma State University, where she teaches religion, gender, and medieval history. She received her PhD and MLitt in Medieval History from the University of St Andrews. She is a recipient of the Regents Distinguished Teaching Award, Oklahoma State University’s highest teaching honor. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Medieval History and Studies in Church History.

By This Professor

The Surprising Lives of Christian Saints
The Surprising Lives of Christian Saints


Saints and the People Who Make Them

01: Saints and the People Who Make Them

The course begins with the seemingly outlandish story of a dog, Guinefort, who allegedly had healing powers. Where did this legend come from? And what does that have to do with Christian saints? In a roadmap for this course, Professor Graham shows how you’ll delve into the mystery of legendary saints and their historical records.

22 min
Philip Neri: Playful Pragmatist

02: Philip Neri: Playful Pragmatist

The first saint you explore is the 16th-century Florentine Philip Neri, who developed a congregation of followers and founded the early Oratory—a community which gathered for discussion, prayer, and meditation. Explore his pragmatic teaching as well as his wry humor and determined independence.

32 min
Peter and Mary Magdalene: Early Saint Stories

03: Peter and Mary Magdalene: Early Saint Stories

Learn about the earliest Christian saints in the New Testament. Here, you’ll examine two important—and mysterious—figures in Christian history: the apostle Peter and the biblical Mary Magdalen. Consider how their lives have been interpreted compared to what we know about them from history.

34 min
Perpetua and Felicity: Mothers and Martyrs

04: Perpetua and Felicity: Mothers and Martyrs

Shift your attention to the city of Carthage, which was home to a fledgling community of Christians in the third century. Here, the martyrdom of two women—Perpetua, the daughter of a wealthy civil servant, and Felicity, a young slave in the household—sheds light on the role of women and the uneasy state of Christianity in its early centuries.

32 min
Empress Irene and the Veneration of Images

05: Empress Irene and the Veneration of Images

Delve into the intersection of power and religion with the story of Irene of Athens. During her reign, she negotiated a conflict between people for and against the use of imagery for veneration (iconophiles versus iconoclasts). Explore her rule, her reforms of the Byzantine Church, and her legacy as a savior of images.

30 min
Radegund: Survivor, Queen, Abbess

06: Radegund: Survivor, Queen, Abbess

The medieval St. Radegund gives us a powerful story of political violence, liberation, and humble servitude. Born in a Germanic kingdom amid political strife, Princess Radegund negotiated a pathway for female sanctity, before settling into a simple life near Poitiers, in modern-day France, where she founded a monastery.

29 min
Saint Making in the Middle Ages

07: Saint Making in the Middle Ages

In this lecture, you’ll take a pause from examining the lives of specific saints to reflect on the nature of sainthood. Initially, saints were recognized based on local acclaim, but the Catholic Church gradually developed a system for officially identifying and approving saints. Also, survey the history of canonization.

29 min
Mendicants: Francis of Assisi and Louis of Toulouse

08: Mendicants: Francis of Assisi and Louis of Toulouse

Francis of Assisi and Louis of Toulouse both came from comfortable family backgrounds, but over the course of their lives, they lived in poverty and ministered to the poor as part of the Franciscan order. As you uncover their biographies, you’ll reflect on the changes to canonization in the 13th and 14th centuries.

30 min
Margaret of Cortona: Midwife and Mystic

09: Margaret of Cortona: Midwife and Mystic

Continue your study of Franciscan saints with a look at the extraordinary life of Margaret of Cortona. After a luxurious life as a lover’s companion, she became homeless and a penitent. With her life of self-denial as well as her mystical visions, she attracted followers and eventually became the patron saint of the midwives, orphans, single mothers, and more.

30 min
Thomas Aquinas: The Saintly Scholar

10: Thomas Aquinas: The Saintly Scholar

Thomas Aquinas is arguably the most important theologian of the Middle Ages, and his work continues to inspire scholars today. Delve into heady issues such as the relationship between faith and reason, the existence of God, and the nature of the soul, in this examination of Aquinas’s life.

32 min
Tekle Haymanot: Ethiopian Hermit-Teacher

11: Tekle Haymanot: Ethiopian Hermit-Teacher

The oldest, continuously inhabited Christian monastery is located in the Kingdom of Aksum, in what is Ethiopia today. There, 800 years ago, the saintly figure of Tekle Haymanot founded monasteries, trained religious leaders, and evangelized in Ethiopia and beyond.

29 min
Saints and the Protestant Reformation

12: Saints and the Protestant Reformation

While Christianity has always had differing views on sainthood, the Protestant Reformation unleashed a wave of new religious groups across Europe. The Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation led to new expressions of sainthood. Here, learn about Teresa of Avila, Benedict the Moor, Jesuit missionaries, and more.

28 min
Martín de Porres: Healer of Peru

13: Martín de Porres: Healer of Peru

The lives of saints often reflect the powerful connection between a person and his or her moment in history. As the first Black saint from the Americas, Martín de Porres faced social prejudice as he ministered to the poor and the sick in Lima, Peru. Reflect on the dispossessed lives under 16th-century Spanish law and Martin’s long road to sainthood.

31 min
Kateri Tekakwitha: Mohawk Ascetic

14: Kateri Tekakwitha: Mohawk Ascetic

Although she only lived to age 24, Kateri Tekakwitha was recognized as a holy person within the Mohawk tribe in upstate New York. As a convert and ascetic, she’s been canonized as the patron saint of Native Americans, people living in exile, and ecology. Survey her short but fascinating life.

33 min
Absalom Jones: Abolitionist Priest

15: Absalom Jones: Abolitionist Priest

Born into slavery in the mid-18th century, Absalom Jones secured his family’s freedom, become an Episcopal priest, and founded one of the first Black churches in the United States. Find out about Philadelphia churches, Jones’s work as an abolitionist, and the relationship between freedom and religion.

32 min
Elizabeth Ann Seton: Convert and Caretaker

16: Elizabeth Ann Seton: Convert and Caretaker

As a widow and Catholic convert, Elizabeth Ann Seton established a women’s religious community in Maryland, the Sisters of Charity. Today, both the Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church recognize her as the patron saint of widows, deaths of children and parents, and problematic in-laws.

31 min
Saints and Modernity

17: Saints and Modernity

The world has changed rapidly in recent decades, and the process for saint-making has changed alongside it. Survey the changes ushered in during the 20th century, including the medical verifications for miracles. Then, take a look at the wave of recent canonizations that have diversified the saintly choir.

21 min
Joan of Arc: Peasant-General

18: Joan of Arc: Peasant-General

Joan of Arc is an enigma, yet her story of leading France to victory during the Hundred Years War, followed by her execution by burning, is one of the most powerful tales in this course. Meet the woman behind the myth, survey her battlefield tactics, and reflect on the role of women in war.

30 min
Andrei Rublev: Artist-Monk

19: Andrei Rublev: Artist-Monk

You can learn a great deal about religion by its art. In the 14th century, the artist Andrei Rublev ushered in a golden age of icon painting, combining Byzantine and Russian influences. Review some of his stunning compositions, including the icon of the Holy Trinity, his most famous artwork.

32 min
Josephine Butler: Victorian Feminist

20: Josephine Butler: Victorian Feminist

Josephine Butler played an important role in the political changes of Victorian England. As an advocate for women’s rights—including women’s access to education and employment—Butler led the charge for numerous social reforms. She’s remembered for campaigns against child prostitution and human trafficking, among other causes.

29 min
Padre Pio: The Science of Miracles

21: Padre Pio: The Science of Miracles

The life of Padre Pio illustrates the tension between the modern need for evidence and the miraculous workings of a charismatic saint. In his long career as a Capuchin monk, he reportedly was responsible for miracles during both world wars, but he also faced accusations of fraud as well as doubts from the Vatican.

29 min
Josephine Bakhita: Freed from Slavery

22: Josephine Bakhita: Freed from Slavery

Although her birth name has been lost to history, the saint we know as Josephine Bakhita is recognized around the world as a symbol of freedom from slavery. Born in Sudan, she was sold by traders an eventually landed in Italy, where there was a legal struggle for her freedom. She eventually became a nun and dedicated her life to public service.

25 min
Óscar Romero: Voice for the People

23: Óscar Romero: Voice for the People

Archbishop Óscar Romero has been acclaimed a martyr and a hero of the popular movement in El Salvador since his assassination in 1980. But his life’s story was richly textured, and he was highly acclaimed even before his martyrdom. Delve into the political strife of the mid-20th century and his work for peace amid civil war.

33 min
Saints in Our Everyday World

24: Saints in Our Everyday World

The choir of saints continues to evolve alongside Christianity itself, meeting the challenges of each new generation. Reflect on the saints you’ve met in this course and then round out your study with a look at saints in our popular culture today, including St. Valentine and St. Nick.

25 min