nl en

Sociology of Religion


Admission requirements



This course gives an overview of the most important themes in the sociology of religion. It is comprised of three parts. The first part, “Sociology and Religion”, introduces sociology and sociology of religion as academic disciplines and discusses the structural relationship between religion and society/social life. Central questions in this part include: ‘What is particular about the sociological approach to religion?’ ‘How does religion and society relate to and interact with each other?’ And, ‘Is religion an individual or social phenomenon?’ The second part, “Modernisation and Religion: Secularisation or Transformation?”, substitutes the structural perspective for a more historical one. We explore the secularisation thesis, i.e. the notion that religion (necessarily) looses power, prestige, and plausibility as a result of modernisation, and evaluate alternatives to this master narrative. Drawing on historical and statistical material we assess the validity of the secularisation thesis for the Netherlands, and compare the Dutch situation with that of other Western countries (especially the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, and the United States). The third part, “Contemporary Religion: Theories and Themes”, tackles three issues of particular importance to the sociology of religion. These are (a) the sociological study of Islam, both in the West and globally; (b) the continued vitality of American Christianity, including the attempt to explain this phenomenon with rational choice theory; and © and the rise of holistic spirituality in the West.

Course objectives

After successfully completing the course, students know and understand the most important theories about religion and processes of religious change in the modern world. Concretely, this entails
(1) that students can reflect on the aims and perspective of the sociology of religion as an academic discipline and explain how the sociology of religion relates to other sub-disciplines of the study of religion;
(2) that students can explain the main points of a number of theories about religion by classic and contemporary sociologists (of religion):
(3) that students can adopt a well-argued position in the debate about religious change in the (late) modern world – defending, for instance, the secularisation thesis or the transformation thesis, and being able to explicate in detail what these processes of change entail;
(4) that students can explain how the late modern religious field is structured, i.e. where we can find religion today within and outside institutions, and which types of religiosity and religious belonging characterise late modern religion; and
(5) that students can critically test various sociological theories against empirical reality.


Time and date on which the course is offered on the website

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

Each of the three parts is rounded off with a plenary discussion. For each plenary discussion, two or three groups of students prepare two issues which are discussed in plenum.


Mon 15-17

Course Load

Total work load: 5 × 28 = 140 hours

  • Time spent attending lectures: 2 × 12 = 24 hours

  • Time spent preparing plenary sessions: 3+3+6 = 12 hours

  • Time spent studying compulsory readings: c. 434 pages / 7 p/h = 62 hours

  • Take home exam = 42 hours

Assessment method

The final mark is a weighed average of two marks:

Written take-home exam with essay questions: 80%.
Active participation in class, especially in the plenary sessions: 20%.

Students must score at least a sufficient mark (6,0) in both sub-tests to pass the course.


The course makes use of Blackboard. All communication will take place via Blackboard, additional information about the course will be available via Blackboard, and assignments must be handed in via Blackboard.

Reading list

Information about the readings will be made available via Blackboard in August.


Students are requested to register through uSis, the registration system of Leiden University for this course. General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.
Registration through uSis

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration Contractonderwijs


The course is taught in English, but the final take-home exam may be written in Dutch.
For more information about the course, contact M.A. Davidsen