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Heresy, Apotasy and Loyal Belief


Admission requirements

This course is open for all BA students, but has a maximum capacity of 20 students.


What does it mean to be labeled a ‘heretic’ or ‘apostate’? What are the consequences of this labeling? And who can claim to have the right to call fellow believers ‘heretics’ or ‘apostates’? In today’s world these questions are still vibrant. To be called a ‘heretic’ or ‘apostate’ can have far-reaching consequences, in social, political, and religious ways, leading to processes of exclusion and ostracism. This in itself is not a novel phenomenon. Often the notions of heresy and apostasy have served a clear function within religious organizations, involving power struggles between the dominant religious majority and (a variety of) religious minorities. Remarkably, those who are labeled heretics often consider themselves to be loyal believers, propagating the ‘true’ version of their religion.

This BA-seminar aims at bringing home to the students the fact that what is deemed heresy and apostasy by some will be hailed as loyal belief by others. The course will focus on how these concepts functioned in early modern and modern times. Luther became a Protestant hero and a Roman Catholic arch-heretic at the same time, depending on to what authority he was perceived to have been loyal. In turn, Michael Servet was burned on the stake, being condemned for heresy by both Protestants and Catholics; Unitarians, however, will hold a diverging opinion.
Similar issues can be raised in connection to the 19th and 20th centuries when those Protestants and Catholic believers who wish to reform faith and church in accordance with modernity are being labeled ‘heretics’ or ‘apostates’ by their antagonists, occasioning a string of so-called ‘heresy trials’ in western Christianity. The ‘heresy’ often includes issues about Darwinism, Biblical criticism, archeological findings in the Middle East etcetera.
The fierce conflicts in the modern era revolving around the concept of heresy and apostasy confronted people with profound questions about loyal belief, toleration, and religious pluralism. Such conflicts once again manifest the ongoing struggle for religious and institutional dominance as they are with us in the 21st century.

Course objectives

Starting from present day debates this seminar will first of all provide students with a close analysis of the notions of heresy, apostasy and loyalty as formulated as well as perceived in the early modern and modern era. This is fairly innovative as these concepts are rather understudied especially where the modern era is concerned. During the course students will get acquainted with the complexity of the major concepts. Its goal is to explore their diverging functions in a variety of geographical and historical contexts. Students will study these notions from a comparative perspective, both temporally and internationally.


Timetable Religiewetenschappen

Mode of instruction

Seminar. 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

  • attending lectures and seminars: 2 hours per week x 13 weeks = 26 hours

  • studying the compulsory literature: 2 hours per week x 13 weeks = 26 hours

  • preparing the oral presentation and elaborate it for the endterm paper (including reading/research): 88 hours

Assessment method

  • Before being admitted to the assessment tests, students will have to do a practical exercise (e.g. an oral presentation) graded with satisfactory or unsatisfactory. Only students who have made a satisfactory presentation will be admitted to the assessment tests. However, practical exercises do not count to the final grade.

  • Weekly assignments (20%)

  • Endterm paper (4,000 words) (excluding tables and bibliography) (80%)

To complete the final mark, please note that the final mark for the course is established by 1. determination of the weighted average combined with 2) the requirement that the endterm paper always be sufficient.
If the endterm paper were to be unsatisfactory, students will be given one opportunity to rewrite their paper to be submitted within two weeks.

All deadlines need to be strictly kept.


Yes – for disseminating information about the course, the weekly schedule, the reading assignments .
Students are requested to register on Blackboard for this course.

Reading list

Please note that an extensive list of literature will be available on Blackboard as of 1 January 2016.

Compulsory literature:

  • G.R. Evans, A Brief History of Heresy, Oxford 2003

Additionally, the students will work through W.C. Booth, G.G. Colomb, J.W. Williams, The Craft of Research, third edition, Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2008; also available online: “”

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration Contractonderwijs


Dr. J.W. Buisman
Prof.dr. E.G.E. van der Wall


This course will only be given if a minimum of 10 students will attend.