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Nature and Nature’s God: Christian Religion and Natural Phenomena 1500-1830


Admission requirements

Students should possess a basic knowledge of the history of Christianity and have a working knowledge of English and German. A working knowledge of French is also welcomed.


This seminar considers the significance of developments in science and technology for religion, particularly for the view of God. How is our perception of nature and of nature’s God changed by scientific discoveries and technological inventions?
In early modern Europe the prevailing view of God was basically inspired by that of a Renaissance prince, punishing his subjects’ disobedience severely. Consequently, natural disasters were simply considered chastisements. The mechanisation of the world picture during the seventeenth century, however, proved to be the start of an important change. Using Newtonian physics and claiming a nearly infinite comprehensibility of nature and its laws, enlightened intellectuals put God at a distance. Rational religion could do without fear and ‘superstition.’ Nature seemed to be a place of harmony and divine benevolence. Increasing human control of natural phenomena, facilitated by such technological inventions as Benjamin Franklin’s lightning-rod, made man more self-confident.
The Enlightenment sense of cosmic harmony was hampered by some instability, however. For instance, the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 gave a new urgency to the problem of theodicy. In addition to causing religious problems, devastating natural phenomena roused new esthetical sensations, thus creating the new category of the sublime and preparing the way for Romanticism.
In this course we will focus on the evolution of science, technology, and the perception of God and of nature during more than three centuries, studying a wealth of secondary literature. This course may shed more light on the relationship of science and religion and on subtle secularisation trends in the early modern period.

Course objectives

The MA-seminar will confront students with basic topics concerning the relationship between science and religion in a formative period of Western religious history. They will study the evolution of pre-modern and modern views of God and nature from the comparative perspective, both temporally and internationally. Furthermore, they will review current theories of secularization.


See Time table

Mode of instruction

The seminar will meet once a week during the semester.
For each class students are required to read the literature and to summarize the main topics of each chapter; the summary is to be presented in class.
Furthermore, for each class they are asked to formulate 2 or 3 questions related to the material. They will present these questions during class discussion.
In the concluding essay (4000 words) students are expected to write an assessment, book review style, putting the material in a comparative perspective.

Course Load

Literature reading for classes 14 × 2 h. = 28 h (= 1 EC)
Writing concluding paper = 112 h. (= 4 EC)

Assessment method

Reading assignments, presentations and class discussions (40%)
Essay (60 %).


Yes, Balckboard is used for making announcements, for enrolling students and for the submission of papers via safe assign

Reading list

− Peter Coates, Nature: Western Attitudes since Ancient Times, Berkeley and Los Angeles 1998
− D.G. Charlton, New Images of the Natural in France. A Study in European Cultural History 1750-1800, Cambridge 1984
− other reading material will be distributed during class


Via uSis
In addition to the registration in uSis, students are also expected to self-enroll in blackboard a few weeks before the course starts.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration Contractonderwijs


Please contact Dr. J.W. Buisman before signing up for this course (

The course will be given only if a minimum of 4 regular students will sign up for it. Otherwise special arrangements will be made with students (supervised readings – less meetings).

As there is a limited availability of relevant literature in Leiden University Library, student are requested to make use of other Dutch University Libraries as well.