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Philosophy of Religion: Religion and the Natural Sciences


Admission requirements:

Some knowledge of philosophy and of the study of religions, as acquired in a bachelor programme religious studies, is assumed.


There are many discussions on ‘religion and science’. Those on evolution and Intelligent Design are antagonistic. Others draw on science to support religious convictions or practices (e.g. neuroscience and Buddhist meditation). The introductory text will introduce students to such debates. In the remainder of the course we will study various particular issues as they have arisen in regard to various world religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam as well as Christianity) and other views (e.g. ‘religious naturalism’) and to various scientific disciplines and their applications, from theoretical areas such as cosmology to ethics and technological optimism, e.g. in transhumanism. The class will work mostly with original journal articles from Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science and other publications.

We will consider the issues ‘from an outsiders perspective’, focussing on interests and contexts, and on the multiple understandings of religion involved. But we will also consider the positions themselves, and related key philosophical issues regarding the scope of scientific understanding, the nature of values, and the quest for meaning in the context of science and the scientific understanding of reality. Central to these reflections is the understanding of religion and of knowledge.

Course objectives

Students will acquire knowledge of major issues in contemporary debates on ‘religion and science’, and be able to discern and analyze underlying assumptions about the nature of religion and the nature of science.
Students will be able to review critically relevant literature, in writing and orally.
Students will be able to write an original essay analyzing a particular topic in the philosophy of religion and the religion-science field, drawing on articles from relevant academic journals and books.


See time table

Mode of instruction

The seminar will meet once a week during the semester. Students will read articles or chapters in advance of each session, sometimes guided by specific questions or minor assignments. Students will report on literature, write brief reviews, lead class discussion, and write an essay on the relevance of the issues discussed for their area of specialization.

Course Load

Seminars (13 x) = 26 h
Reading & minor assignments (11 x) = 54 h
Concluding essay 60 h
Total 5 ec = 140 h

Assessment method

Various minor assignments such as presentations, reviews and class discussions (40 %)
Research essay (60 %)


Yes, Blackboard will be used

Reading list

Willem B. Drees, Religion and Science in Context: A Guide to the Debates (London: Routledge, 2010; paperback; isbn 9780415556170).
Additional articles from journals to be announced via the blackboard site.


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.

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

Contact information

Prof.dr. W.B. Drees


Students within the track ‘Religion, Culture and Society’ who consider to specialize in philosophy of religion are requested to contact Prof.dr. W.B. Drees before the beginning of the semester to discuss interests, competences, and plans. It is also greatly appreciated when other students who intend to take this course, introduce themselves by e-mail to the instructor, prof.dr. W.B. Drees.

This course will be taught in English except when all participants have a solid knowledge of Dutch. Papers will have to be written in English. If there are five participating masterstudents or less, the course might be replaced by supervised reading and less meetings.