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Research in Religious Studies: Methods, Contexts, and Thesis Seminar


Admission requirements:

Admission as master student in the programme Theology and Religious Studies (any specialization)


Students in the master programme ‘Theology and Religious Studies’ should develop the competence to do research in religious studies. The master thesis ought to be a piece of academic research, while the graduates of the programme should be able to continue with research in an academic context (PhD research) or in a social setting, for instance in the context of civil service, business or journalism. The course ‘Research in Religious Studies’ seeks to develop the skills to do research, from the articulation of a research question until the presentation of results to colleagues with a somewhat different specialized background. The course will also reflect upon conceptual issues in the study of religion and religions, including ‘the insider/ outsider problem’ – that is, the potential tension between a religious perspective and a scholarly one. The course will also pay attention to contemporary social contexts for religious studies. Furthermore, moral issues as they arise in the context of research – both scholarly integrity, but also issues that may arise in contract research and in work with informants – will be considered. Last but not least, the course will serve as thesis seminar, that is, as a structured process that assists the student and the specialist supervisor in the process that should result in a thesis at the end of the year, and provides an opportunity for the student to exchange experiences and present work in progress to fellow students.

This course, which makes use of various methods of instruction, continues through two semesters. In weekly class-room meetings in the first semester and biweekly ones in the second, all masterstudents in religious studies come together to reflect upon methodological and contextual issues in Religious Studies. Some junior and experienced scholars from Leiden University Insitute for Religious Studies will present their research, both their questions and answers, and the way they conduct their research. Students will present their own research, write essays, and do various practical exercises. A detailed programme and weekly readings and assignments will be made available in the Blackboard module for this course.

(Students who enter the programme in February, please contact the instructor as soon as possible for a version of the course programme adapted to your situation.)

Course objectives

  1. Students will develop the skills to articulate a research problem and formulate research questions, to find appropriate resources and study those citically, to make good arguments, and write a good report on research done. Students will develop the skill to present research questions and results to peers.
    1. Students will have knowledge about review processes in academic contexts (academic journals, grant agencies such as NWO) and about the non-academic market for such research (contract research, journalism).
    2. Students will develop the ability to reflect on moral issues that arise in the context of scholarship (academic integrity) and research (e.g. contract research, humanities and social scientific research with human subjects).
    3. Students will develop the ability to reflect upon conceptual, methodological and philosophical issues related to Religious Studies and the Humanities in general (definitions, methods, insider and outsider perspectives, neutrality, etc.).
    4. Students will be aware of the contexts in which religious studies functions, both in the academic setting (ongoing discussions on the status of the humanities, etc.) and in contemporary societies (identity politics, separation of ‘church and state’, politics post ‘9/11’).
    5. Students will work regularly on their master thesis, from the early stages of problem definition and the consideration of methods and literature, to the completion of the written thesis and an oral presentation to peers.
    6. Students will learn to serve as a group of peers and acadmic community, giving critical but supportive feedback to others, also outside one’s own specialist field.


See Time table

Mode of instruction

The course will operate as a working group, with presentations by the teacher, by participants, and by invited faculty members from religious studies, and with discussions on relevant issues. Students will be expected to prepare weekly for class discussions and presentations, and do various assignments.

Course Load

Seminars (20 × 2) 40 h
Preparations (assignments) v 100 h
Total 5 ec = 140 h

Assessment method

The final grade is the weighted average of results for the development of the thesis (10 %), the oral presentation on the thesis (20 %), minor assignments on methods and contexts in religious studies (20 %), major essay “Myself as a professional in religious studies” (40 %), and participation in class, contributions to discussions and to feedback to other students (together 10 %).


Yes, see

Reading list

Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams, The Craft of Research. Third Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. ISBN 9780226 065663 (pbk, $ 17.00)
Further literature to be announced.

Michael Stausberg, Steven Engler, eds., The Routledge Handbook of Research Methods in the Study of Religion. London: Routledge. (wait for the paperback edition that is to appear late August 2013; GBP 34.99).


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.

Contact information

It is greatly appreciated if students who plan to do the master Theology and Religious Studies and thus have to take this course introduce themselves a few weeks before the course starts by e-mail to the teacher, prof.dr. W.B. Drees, with a brief paragraph on their background (earlier studies?) and intended specialization.