More than 3,500 people are following the hashtag for what is essentially a MOOC on The City of God, one of the greatest works by medieval theologian and philosopher St. Augustine - apparently a first for Twitter.

Chad Pecknold, associate professor of systematic theology at The Catholic University of America, who floated the idea of teaching the course via his personal Twitter account, says he has seen reading groups use Facebook to discuss the book, but not Twitter.

Pecknold, who is currently writing a book about The City of God , says that approximately 1,600 people have purchased the text and/or committed to the 15-week reading schedule. They include Harvard University law professors, court justices, lawyers, stay-at-home mothers, fathers, pastors, and at least one bishop.

The course, which starts Thursday, Jan. 12, will include a two-hour Twitter discussion every Thursday from 8 to 10 p.m. using the hashtag #CivDei, an abbreviation for the book's Latin title, De Civitate Dei .

Pecknold, who tweets @ccpecknold , says he found that after Sept. 11 , his undergraduate students "really resonated with the similarities between Augustine's time and our own. They could recognize analogies between the surprise Sack of Rome by Visigoths, and the attack on New York City and Washington, D.C."

Even now, as the attacks of 9/11 fade into the past, he says his students "are no less gripped by the timeliness of this fifth-century work. It's a compelling, epic, demanding read on a world as complex as their own. Going deep into history gives them perspective on their own time, its order, and its effect upon them."

More than 112,000 of Pecknold's Twitter followers have viewed his invitation to join the course. "People are hungry for this," says Pecknold. "They want substance. And so it's wild to take a medium not known for substance and turn it to these ends."

Pecknold has taught in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at Catholic University since 2008. He teaches in the areas of fundamental theology, Christian anthropology, and political theology.

Pecknold is a frequent commentator for the media on the Catholic Church, the papacy, and the relationship between the Church and politics in American culture. He has been quoted in The New York Times , The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post . He has appeared on NPR's "All Things Considered," Vatican Radio, BBC World News, and EWTN News Nightly, among other outlets.

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