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Confronting modernity



  1. From 1800 onward believers see themselves confronted with the question “how to deal with modernity”. While traditionalists prefer to distance themselves from modernity, progressives wish to adapt their faith to the modern world. Adaptation involves especially harmonizing results of modern science and culture with one’s religious convictions. This recasting of the religious message includes adjusting to Darwinism and the modern-historical approach of sacred documents, but also adapting religious practices, rituals, liturgy as well as social and political convictions. These accomodationist believers go under such labels as ‘liberals’, ‘modernists’, ‘reformists’ and ‘progressives’.
    1. Religious modernism is a transnational and transreligious movement. Thus the project “adaptation to modernity” is shared by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. In this MA-Seminar the focus will be on the modernist ideals of these three world religions which will be emphatically studied from a comparative perspective.
    2. The overall theme of the MA-seminar will be revolving around the fundamental concept of authority. This concept will be approached by focusing on 2 particular topics: a. Darwinism; b. religious practices and rituals.
    3. This MA-seminar offers students the opportunity to specialize in one religion. Students are invited to select one specific topic related to one of the three world religions dealt with in the seminar (for example, the reactions to Darwinism either in the Jewish, or the Christian, or the Muslim world). The comparative analysis which will be central to the class discussions will be helpful to identify both the similarities and the differences in the coping with modernity.
    4. In a broader sense the MA-seminar will shed new light on transnational religious history.

Course objectives

The MA-seminar will confront students with basic topics concerning the relationship between religion and modernity. They will analyse the theoretical and historical complexities surrounding the notion of ‘modernity’. They will study the material from a comparative perspective urging them to rethink traditional views on similarities and dissimilarities between major world religions.


  • The MA seminar will be given in Semester 1, weekly on Thursdays, 1-3 pm

  • The Weekly Schedule will be put on blackboard by 15 August 2015.

Timetable on the website

Mode of instruction

  • Presentations by lecturers

  • Presentations of assigned weekly reading by students (20 minutes)

  • Class discussion: questions for class discussion based on each of the readings to be submitted by students weekly to the lecturers and presenters.

Attendance and participation are mandatory. Classes may be missed no more than twice and only in exceptional circumstances (at the discretion of the conveners and only with prior notice). Absence without notification can result in a lower grade or exclusion from the final exam and a failing grade for the course.

Course Load

Total course load: 10 EC = 280 hours

  • Hours spent on attending the weekly seminar: 2 hours per week x 13 weeks: 26 hours.

  • Time for reading assignments: 5 hours per week x 13 weeks: 65 hours

  • Time to prepare the oral presentation: 59 hours

  • Time to write the end term paper: 130 hours

Please note that the presentations will be judged in class on both form and content by the lecturers as well as two students who are invited for this particular task beforehand.

Assessment method

  • Practical exercise 1: presence and class participation

  • Practical exercise 2: presentation

  • Questions to be submitted relating to the required reading 30%

  • Final paper 70%

practical exercises are evaluated as either satisfactory or unsatisfactory and do not count toward the final grade. However failure to receive a satisfactory grade for the exercise will means automatic exclusion from the grade determining elements.

Please note the following

  • The final mark MA-Seminar is established by 1) the determination of the weighted average combined with 2) the requirement that the grades are a minimum of a 5,0 for each component and no less than a 6,0 for the average.

  • Deadlines for submitting assignments, including the weekly assignments, need to be strictly kept. If not, this will affect the grade.

  • If the endterm paper will be insufficient, students are allowed to submit one revised version of their paper within 2 weeks.

  • The endtermpaper needs to be the result of independent work. The topic of the paper needs to be determined in close consultation with the supervisors.

Please note that attendance is compulsory. If students will be absent more than twice, or will attend classes only partially, they will fail this MA-seminar. The validity of any excuses, which need to be sent in writing to the three instructors, will be assessed by the instructors.


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

Reading list

This is a selection. An extensive list will be put on blackboard.

  • Geoffrey Cantor and Marc Swetlitz, eds., Jewish Tradition and the Challenge of Darwinism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006)

  • Arnold Eisen, Rethinking Modern Judaism. Ritual, Commandment, Community (U. Chicago Press 1998)

  • M. Elshakry, Reading Darwin in Arabic, 1860-1950 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), Introduction, pp 1-24; ch 4. Theologies of Nature, pp. 131-160 [available online]

  • Judith Frishman, “True Mosaic Religion. Samuel Hirsch, Samuel Holdheim and the Reform of Judaism”, in J. Frishman, W. Otten and G. Rouwhorst (eds.), Religious Identity and the Problem of Historical Foundation (Jewish and Christian Perspectives Series 8, Leiden: Brill, 2004) 195-222; Reprinted in Ch. Wiese, (ed.), Redefining Judaism in an Age of Emancipation. Comparative Perspectives on Samuel Holdheim (1806-1860) (Studies in European Judaism 13, Leiden: Brill, 2007) 278-305.

  • Charles Kurzman, Liberal Islam: A Source-Book (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998)

  • Charles Kurzman, Modernist Islam, 1840-1940: A Source-Book (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002

  • Mariano Artigas et al., eds., Negotiating Darwin. The Vatican Confronts Evolution 1877-1902 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006)

  • Jacob Neusner, ed., Religious Foundations of Western Civilization; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Nashville, TN; Abingdon Press, 2006)

  • Ronald L. Numbers and John Stenhouse (eds.), Disseminating Darwinism . The Role of Place, Race, Religion and Gender (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999 / 2001)

  • Ernestine van der Wall, The Enemy Within. Religion, Science, and Modernism (Uhlenbeck Lecture 25 Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIAS) (Wassenaar 2007)

  • Jack Wertheimer (ed.), The Uses of Tradition. Jewish Continuity in the Modern Era (Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Harvard U. Press 1992)
    For the weekly reading assignments, see the Weekly Schedule (on Blackboard).



Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration Contractonderwijs




This Seminar will only be given if there will be a minimum of 10 students to attend the course.