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Religious Syncretism and the Study of Southeast Asian Cultures (ResMA)


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Asian Studies (research) or another relevant Research MA. Students from other programmes are kindly referred to the course description of the regular MA course (10 EC) or the regular MA course (5 EC).
Some knowledge on Asian cultures and religions is preferable.


At least since the Age of Discovery, religion has been regarded as the main entry point to understanding Asia’s cultures. Religion is commonly considered a determining factor of a worldview. Therefore, knowing its religion(s) facilitates making sense of a culture. This approach, however, comes with its own set of theoretical problems. A case in point is the discovery and study of syncretic religions. Religious syncretism, in its strictest definition, implies the combination of beliefs that contradict or exclude each other. However, do such descriptions make sense?

This course focuses on two such syncretic religions in Southeast Asia: Javanese Islam, and to a lesser extent, Burmese Buddhism. By means of a theoretical analysis and historical overview the idea of syncretic religions will be problematized on a fundamental level. In the process we will question the universality of religion, and implicitly our understanding of Asian cultures. Issues this course will address include: To what extent are descriptions of Southeast Asian culture expressions of Orientalism? To what extent does post-colonialism rectify colonial misrepresentations? Do we have alternative ways of making sense of the phenomena under scrutiny?

Course objectives

Course objectives include:

  • developing interdisciplinary insight into the study of Asian cultures by combining research from religious studies, history, anthropology, and philosophy of science.

  • developing a critical understanding of the role of religion, and the universality of religion in the description and understanding of Asian cultures.

  • assessing the explanatory force of theories relevant to the subject matter.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

The deadline(s) in MyTimetable is/are set for administrative purposes only. The actual date(s) will be communicated by the lecturer(s) in Brightspace.

Mode of instruction


Attendance is mandatory. Students need to have attended at least 8 out of the 12 seminars.

Assessment method

Students should familiarize themselves with the notion of academic integrity and the ways in which this plays out in their own work. A good place to start is this page. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. Students may not substantially reuse texts they have previously submitted in this or other courses. Minor overlap with previous work is allowed as long as it is duly noted in citation.

Students must submit their assignment(s) to Brightspace through Turnitin, so they can be checked for plagiarism. Submission via email is not accepted.

ChatGPT: What is possible and what is allowed? Dos and Don'ts.

Assessment and weighing

Partial Assessment Weighing
Reading assignments 30%
Final essay of 5,000 words 70%

Reading assignments
There are six reading assignments. These assignments deal with the literature for the lectures. They will be graded. Students need to pass at least four of the six reading assignments in order to be allowed to hand in the final essay.

Final essay
One final essay of 5,000 words. The essay needs to contain an overview and discussion of historical and contemporary descriptions and explanations of a religion of choice in an Asian country of choice. Additionally, the essay analyzes the theoretical viability of these descriptions and explanations. The suitability of the topic should be discussed with the course instructor.

Outline of the final essay.
Students can submit an outline of their final essay prior to finalizing it. Students will receive feedback on this outline. The outline is not a graded assignment. Students who do not hand in an outline on time, will not receive feedback on their work in progress on the final essay prior to it being handed in. There is no possibility to hand in an outline for the resit of the final essay.

To be entitled to hand in the final paper, students must have:

  • been present a sufficient number of times,

  • handed in the reading assignments on time,

  • passed a sufficient number of reading assignments.

In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher and a passing mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher for the final paper.

The course is an integrated whole. All assessment parts must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.The final mark for this course is formed by the weighted average.


There is only a resit for the final essay. The resit is possible only for students who have passed a sufficient number of reading assignments. Students who failed to pass a sufficient number of reading assignments, and therefore were not allowed to hand in their final essay, will get the opportunity to re-submit their failed reading assignment(s). If they pass this/these, they will get one opportunity to write the final essay (this is counted as the re-sit).

There is no possibility to hand in an outline of the resit final essay.

Inspection and feedback

Feedback will be supplied primarily through Brightspace. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the assessment results, a review will be organized.

Reading list

This course uses journal articles, book chapters, and primary source material. A list of materials will be made available on Brightspace prior to the start of the course.

For the Research MA students additional reading will be determined by the convener at a later stage taking into account the students’ fields of interest. Extra sessions will be organized to discuss this extra literature.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.