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Tools and Theories in the Study of Religion: Historical, Cognitive, and Social-Scientific Approaches


Admission requirements

Tools and Theories is a mandatory course in the MA Religious Studies.
The course is also open to MA students from other programmes who have a good BA level knowledge of the study of religion (for example, students who have followed the minor Religion in a Changing World).
The course also usually attracts a few PhD students from across the humanities.
Students who are interested in following the course but have little prior knowledge of the study of religion, should contact the instructor. In some cases, students can be admitted upon working through extra readings over the summer.


Tools and Theories is about transforming theory into concrete analytical tools that can help us study stuff and solve research problems. Concretely, students are introduced to a range of tools for analysing religious narratives and discourses, religious thinking and belief, as well as religious traditions and fields. These tools are drawn from a wide range of humanistic and social-scientific disciplines, including literary studies, cognitive science, sociology, and history. We discuss the theoretical foundation of the analytical tools we work with and, more importantly, we practice how to actually use these tools to analyse concrete empirical material. In this way, we constantly evaluate the usefulness of our tools and reflect on the research problems that each of them can help us solve.
In two ‘Tools assignments’ students work out research designs that involve using tools from the course to analyse primary material in order to solve research problems in the study of religion. During the last part of the course, students carry out the research sketched in one of the tools assignments and report their findings in a final paper.

Course objectives

Knowledge, insight, and content-bound skills
After successfully completing this course,

  • students have become familiar with the most important current debates on method and theory in the academic study of religion;

  • students know how to apply a set of up-to-date analytical tools in the study of religious texts, religious beliefs, religious traditions, and religious fields; and

  • students can independently apply these analytical tools to the study of new primary material (contemporary or historical) in the context of independent research projects.

Transferable skills
After successfully completing this course,

  • students have refined their research skills, including their skills at formulating an independent research problem with only minimal supervision, and at operationalising abstract theory into analytical methods that can be used to analyse concrete empirical material;

  • students have refined their cooperation skills, including their skills at giving and receiving good quality peer feedback;

  • students have refined their skills at writing well-argued, academic papers; and

  • students have refined their skills at oral discussion in English.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

Attendance and participation are mandatory. Absence is possible only in exceptional circumstances at the discretion of the instructor and only with prior notice. If more than three classes are missed – regardless of the circumstances – the course cannot be completed.

Assessment method

The course includes six constituent exams:
1. Weekly assignments (students are required to hand in at least 4 of the 6 weekly assignments). The weekly assignments are graded passed/failed.
2. Written and oral peer feedback on draft versions on the two Tools Assignments and the Paper. The peer feedback is graded passed/failed.
3. Oral contributions in class. This constituent exam is graded.
4. Tools Assignment A. Research design assignment. This constituent exam is graded.
5. Tools Assignment B. Research design assignment. This constituent exam is graded.
6. Final paper. This constituent exam is graded.

To be entitled to hand in the final paper, students must:
1. have been present and active in class, have handed in the weekly assignments on time, and have provided peer feedback on draft versions of tools assignments and paper,
2. have handed in both tools assignments on time, and
3. have handed in a draft version of the final paper on time.

Please take note of the following: The final mark is determined as the weighed average of the contribution in class (15 %), the tools assignments (each 15 %), and the final paper (55 %). To pass the course, students must obtain at least a sufficient mark (5.5) as the weighed average of the four marks AND pass the weekly assignments and the peer feedback assignments AND receive a sufficient mark (6.0) on the final paper. If the weighed average is higher than 5.5, but the paper scores 5.0 or lower, the final mark for the course will be a 5.0.

Students who score an insufficient mark for one of the Tools assignments, may retake the assignment by submitting a new version. The new version should be resubmitted before the deadline for the paper draft. Likewise, students who score an insufficient mark on the final paper, may submit a new version of the paper. The constituent exams weekly assignments, peer feedback assignments, and oral contribution in class cannot be retaken.
Exam review
Students receive individual, written feedback from the course instructor on the two tools assignments and the paper. In addition, students are invited to make an appointment to discuss the feedback on the final paper and their mark for the course.

Reading list

We will primarily read research articles that are accessible online via the university library. Students are responsible for downloading, printing, and reading these article before class. We will also read a number of book chapters and articles from journals that are not available online from the UB. Where copyright rules allow, this material will be made available via Brightspace.


This has to be filled out by the key-user of the department.
Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Vrieshof