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Tools and Theories in the Study of Religion: Historical, Cognitive, and Social-Scientific Approaches


Admission requirements

Tools and Theories is a mandatory course in the MA programme Theology and Religious Studies.
The course is open to MA students from other programmes who have a good BA-level knowledge of the study of religion (for example, students who have followed the minor programme Religion in a Changing World).
Students who are interested in following the course, but have little prior knowledge of the study of religion should contact the instructor. In some cases students can be admitted upon working through extra readings over the summer.


Tools and Theories provides students with a toolkit of method and theory in the study of religion that they can use in their MA theses. The course differs from normal theory courses in two ways. First, the emphasis lies not on the theories themselves, but on their merits in solving research problems. Second, students are given the freedom within the course to work in-depth with the application of a particular (type of) theory which is relevant for their own MA thesis.
The course falls into two parts. In the first part of the course, we read and discuss a number of ‘best practice’ studies in which theory has been fruitfully used to analyse concrete data and solve research problems. We discuss the application of historiographic, social-scientific, and cognitive theories in the study of religious texts, religious individuals, religious fields, and religious traditions. In the second part of the course, students write a review essay of a book of their own choice and evaluate the book’s use of theory. Small written assignments are used throughout the course to train students in reflecting on how the theories and methods discussed can be used to solve concrete research problems.

Course objectives

Concretely, Tools and Theories aims:
1. to familiarise students with the most important current debates on method and theory in the academic study of religion;
2. to provide students with theoretical models and analytical tools that they can use in their MA theses; and
3. to train students in applying theory to concrete research problems, and to evaluate other people’s application of theory to concrete research problems.

On a more general level, the course aims:
4. to synthesise students’ empirical and theoretical knowledge from the BA-programme; and
5. to equip students with the knowledge and research competences necessary for entrance into a PhD programme in the study of religion.



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

10 ects x 28 h/ects = 280 hours
Time spent on regular meetings: 38 hours
Time spent on shared reading assignments and preparation for class discussions: c. 546 pages / 7 p/h = 78 hours
Time spent writing the four small ‘tools’-assignments: 32 hours
Time spent on small tasks, including preparing presentation of chosen book and preparing giving feedback on other students’ drafts = 15 hours
Time spent attending conference = 12 hours
Time spent studying chosen book: c. 245 pages / 7 p/h = 35 hours
Time spent writing review article: 50 hours
Time spent attending final mini-conference and preparing own oral presentation = 20 hours

Assessment method

To be entitled to participate in the exam, students must:
1. have been present and active in class,
2. successfully completed the practical assignment ‘Tools-assignment’ (four short essays throughout the course), and
3. have handed in a draft version of their paper on the draft version deadline.

The final mark will be a weighted average of two marks:
1. Oral contributions in class and at the concluding mini-conference = 30%
2. Final paper = 70%

To pass the course, students must obtain at least a sufficient mark (6,0) on the course overall and on the final paper.

Re-exam. For the re-exam, students are given a chance to hand in a new version of the paper. Students who do the re-exam and scored an insufficient on oral contributions can retake this part of the exam with a substitute written assignment.


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

The readings for the course consist of a collection of research articles and book chapters. A detailed reading list will be made available on Blackboard in August. Students will be required to download electronic articles themselves via the university library. A binder with master copies of book chapters wil be made available.


Registration for courses and exams

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration Contractonderwijs