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The Cult of Sincerity. Religious Dilemmas in the Modern Era


Description 1. How to remain a sincere believer when one’s religious convictions are profoundly changed by being confronted with various manifestations of a rapidly modernizing society? More particularly, does one need to be frank about the change of one’s beliefs? Manifestly such questions cause great dilemmas, if not serious conflicts of conscience, particularly for those believers who abandon the traditionalist faith of their childhood and convert to a more liberal form of faith. Should one publicly avow one’s fresh, progressive convictions – or rather keep these to oneself, in order, for example, not to hurt one’s family and friends, or endanger one’s ecclesiastical or academic career? Is faith a private matter? Or do intellectual honesty and moral earnestness require that one should come out of the closet as a liberal believer? In short, should one tell the truth? 2. It is at this point that the notion of sincerity comes into play, turning out to be a fundamental issue in the argumentation concerning the private and public sphere, especially where changes of faith are concerned. 3. Whereas up till now the issue of sincerity has not been studied very intensively, and, if studied at all, then chiefly from a literary point of view, it seldom has been the particular object of religious studies. In this seminar we will make a start with exploring the notion of sincerity and its close relations to concepts as loyalty and truth in a more systematic fashion. 4. Our focus will be on the period between 1880 and 1914 (the ‘fin de siècle’). Fiction, as a highly significant representation of the dilemmas over ‘sincerity and faith’, will take a prominent place among the texts to be studied, including novels by the French Nobel Prize laureate Roger Martin du Gard, the British best-seller novelist Mrs. Humprey Ward/Mary Ward, the popular Duch author and journalist Anna de Savornin Lohman, the Italian politician and novelist Antonio Fogazzaro, and ex-priests such as Gerald O’Donovan (Ireland) and William L. Sullivan (USA). 5. Likewise we shall study the autobiographies and other documents of scholars – theologians, historians, sociologists – who, due to their change of faith, wrestled with dilemmas concerning candour and honesty (for example, Alfred Loisy and Albert Houtin).

Course objectives In a broad context the MA-seminar will confront students with basic topics concerning the relationship between religion and modernity. In particular they will become acquainted with believers’ mentalities, analyzing such major concepts as sincerity, loyalty, candour and their counterparts. They will work with an interdisciplinary approach in which religious studies and cultural history play a major role.

Timetable Timetable

Mode of instruction • A weekly seminar during which students are required to give presentations. The topics for these presentations will be selected from a list of items provided by the instructor. • Next to giving a presentation students will be invited to act as ‘peer reviewer’ of the presentation of a fellow student at least once during the course, critically assessing such items as the structure and lucidity of the presentation, the use of primary and secondary sources, the use of quotations and illustrations etcetera. This requires from the presenter to send the (draft of) his or her presentation to the reviewer at least 4 workings days before class. • Class discussion on the basis of the weekly reading assignments. • Nb See also below under ‘Remarks’.

Course Load Total course load: 140 hours

  • Hours spent on attending the weekly seminar: 2 hours per week x 13 weeks: 36 hours.

  • Time for studying reading assignments: 36 hours

  • Time to prepare the oral presentation: 30 hours

  • Time to prepare the review of the presentation of a fellow student: 4 hours

  • Time to write the final essay (elaboration of oral presentation): 34 hours

  • NB see also below under ‘Remarks’ about the public symposium on the topic of the seminar.

Assessment method

  • Participation in class discussion on the basis of the reading assignments 10%

  • Short presentation as peer reviewer 10%

  • Presentation 40 %

  • Final Essay 40 %

To complete the final mark, please take notice of the following:
The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average. In order to pass the student must receive a grade of 6 or more for each part of the assessment.


BB will be used for notifications, weekly schedule, reading assignments, uploading assignments.

Reading list

To be put on BB before the course starts.


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

Remarks The MA Seminar will conclude with a public symposium (in English and Dutch) on the topic of sincerity. Students are expected to give an abridged version of their presentation at this meeting. They are also invited to join in the organizing of this symposium.