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Alternative Spiritualities


Admission requirements

Students who have completed either Introduction to New Religions or Inleiding Godsdienstwetenschap are automatically admitted to the course.
Exchange students who have followed a course on Comparative Religion or Sociology of Religion can be admitted on that basis, but should contact one of the teachers.
All other students should contact one of the teachers and will be offered some additional literature to study as a requirement for taking the course.


In this course we look at the field of new religiosity which is variably referred to as ‘new age’, ‘spiritualities of life, ‘sub-institutional religion’, and ‘alternative spirituality’. This field is organized loosely around esoteric bookshops (there is one in Leiden), journals, mind-body-spirit fairs, course circuits, and alternative therapeutic clinics rather than fixed in formal organizations. Practices include various healing techniques (such as reiki), body practices (such as yoga), divination (e.g., Tarot, clairvoyance), channeling and shamanism (i.e. two ways of contacting the spirit world), and much more. In the course we explore the world of alternative spiritualties and ask questions such as these: (1) what is alternative spiritualities, what makes them ‘alternative’, and is it helpful to use the term spirituality to distinguish them from more formally organized religions? (2) how can the enormous growth in alternative spiritualities since the 1960s be explained – is it perhaps a consequence of a general process of individualization? (3) Why are ¾ of those active (both practitioners and participants) women? (4) Which beliefs and practices are found in the alternative spiritual field and how do religionists seek to justify and legitimize their claims? (5) What is the history and constitution of alternative spirituality in the Netherlands?

Course objectives

After successfully completing this course the student has:

  • Acquired a broad factual and theoretical knowledge of contemporary, alternative spiritualities.

  • Acquired a deep knowledge about a particular aspect of the field (the theme of presentation and paper).

  • Improved his/her skills at oral presentation and discussion (in English).

  • Improved his/her skills at information search, formulation of research questions, and reflection on the research process, as preparation for writing the BA thesis.



Mode of instruction


Course Load

Total course load: 5 × 28 = 140 hours

  • Hours spent attending sessions:12 × 2 = 24 hours

  • Hours spent studying compulsory literature and literature end term paper: c. 432 pages / 4 p/h = 108 hours

  • Preparation of presentation = 8 hours

Assessment method

The final mark will be determined as a weighted average of three marks:
A. Individual presentation. Counts 30 %.
B. Active participation and contribution to class discussions. Counts 10 %.
C. Paper. Max 3000 words. Counts 60 %.


Yes, Blackboard

Reading list

No study book will be used for the course. Master copies of articles and book chapters for the course will be made available. More information about the readings follows on Blackboard in August.

Students are advised to buy Sarah Pike’s New Age and Neopagan Religions in America, 2004, New York: Columbia University Press. We will read some chapters from this book, and it furthermore provides useful historical background information and a timeline.


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 via: Aanmelden à la carte via:

Registration Contractonderwijs via:


The course is taught in English.