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East-West Encounters: Religious Exchanges and Transformations


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA-programme; for students from other MA-programmes: advanced knowledge of the academic study of religion and of at least one historically traceable religious tradition


Religion, literature, language, and place

The concept of ‘religion’ in European thought developed as a result of the European colonial expansion. This expansion, especially in Asia, made Europeans aware of the existence of a whole range of different religious systems that could no longer be squeezed into the traditional Christian theological division of the religions of the world into four categories: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and ‘paganism’ (or ‘idolatry’). Systematic overviews of the religions of the world – and of the concept of ‘religion’ through them – began to negotiate and then largely abandon the latter category. The result was a new system (of “world religions”), that is as problematic as the system it intended to replace, but that remains largely in place today, especially in discussions on the subject of ‘religious freedom’. Widespread criticism of that paradigm in academic writing has so far failed to make much of an impact outside the academy. This course will confront the difficulties inherent in the system by focusing on three subjects: literature (the Sacred Books of the East phenomenon), language (the vernaculars vs. liturgical languages), and place (debates on the ‘ethnic’ characteristics of Islam, and the creation of “Hinduism”).

Course objectives

  • Insight in the historical and cultural development of the notion of ‘religion’, and of attempts to reclaim that notion as a proper instrument for historical and contemporary research in religion

  • Insight in the variety of religious interactions, and the results that may derive from them

  • Insight in the role of (academic, geographical, historical, and religious) power imbalances in academic writing on religion

  • Insight in the relation between ‘reality’ and ‘representation’

  • A critical attitude to the study of religion in general, and the study of individual religions in particular

  • The ability to reflect critically on the current state of the academic study of religion, and to formulate in writing new approaches to age-old questions


Timetable Theology and Religious Studies

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

Lectures: 2 hours a week x 13 weeks: 26 hours
Preparation: 4 hours a week x 12 weeks: 48 hours
Preparation + presentation: 30 hours
Weekly essays x 10: 50 hours
Mid-term paper: 40 hours
Reading + final paper: 86 hours

Assessment method

  • Active participation in class

  • Presentation

  • Weekly essays

  • Mid-term paper

  • Final paper

Resit is not possible for classroom participation and presentation; resit for the other parts of the course is identical to the first possibility


Blackboard will be used as a repository of information on the course, materials from the teaching sesssion, discussion forum, medium of communication between participants and for the sending in of written work through Turnitin.

Reading list



Registration for courses and exams:
uSis registration

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

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A.F. de Jong


This course locates itself on the intersection between theory in the study of religion and dedicated work on a spefici (set of) religious tradition(s). This gives students the opportunity to work on the particular field (or religious tradition) they have chosen for their MA-programme, while asking of all of them to show awareness of current scholarly debates on more general issues in the study of religion.