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Comparative Religion: Themes and Topics in the Study of Religion


Admission requirements

BA-courses in the study of religion / Comparative Religion


The construction of religious “traditions”

The way we picture the world of the religions is not a neutral system of classification, but a theological/cultural inheritance. It is common to think in terms of “traditions” (a limited number only) and “types” of religion (geographical, such as African religions; or historical, such as “Religions of Antiquity” and “New Religious Movements”). This system has deservedly come under attack in the past twenty years, but no real alternative has ever been suggested. This means, for example, that it continues to inform not only the teaching about religions in primary and secondary education, but also the treatment of religion in courts of law and much academic writing. In this seminar, we will try to figure out the genesis and history of the notion of “religious traditions” and think of new ways of getting a grip on religious diversity worldwide (both between and within religious communities). A particular focus of the seminar is the construction of “Hinduism” as a “world religion”.

Course objectives

The main objective of the course is to heighten awareness of the fact that it is not just “religion” that is not a natural kind, but that the same is true of “the religions”. Students will learn how the cultural and religious history of the West continues to inform much scholarship on religion in the world, and what kind of alternatives may be imagined.


Thursday 09.00-11.00 hr; Vrieshof 4-007. Timetable

Mode of instruction

Seminar with readings, discussion and presentations.

Assessment method

Presentation – final paper.


Blackboard will be used as an archive and a means of communication.

Reading list

Reading assignments will depend on the fields students are pursuing. At the very least, we shall use:

  • J.Z. Smith, Relating Religion. Essays in the Study of Religion, Chicago 2004

  • B.K. Pennington, Was Hinduism Invented? Britons, Indians, and the Colonial Construction of Religion, Oxford 2005


Via uSis.
Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

Prof. dr. A.F. de Jong