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Rethinking Secularism in International Relations


Admission requirements

Admission to the Master International Relations or the Master Theology and Religious Studies. Other students who are interested in this course, please contact the co-ordinator of studies


Religion is front and centre on the contemporary international stage, manifest in diverse forms spanning from violent conflict to initiatives that address the environmental crisis. Yet the commonplace recognition of religion’s everyday presence on the international stage today is far removed from the lack of recognition indicative of the study and practice of International Relations only a couple of decades ago. How could scholars and practitioners have deemed religion so irrelevant? And, what would it mean to take religion seriously in the present international context? This course explores the ways in which secularism has shaped the study and practice of International Relations. The course begins by pursuing questions concerning the character of religion and how particular characterizations influence the determination of which international phenomena are of scholarly and practical importance. By introducing students to several approaches to understanding religion distinct from standard secular portrayals, the course brings into relief neglected international trends; religion, from the perspective of these approaches, takes unseen and even surprising forms. The course then investigates the character of and challenges facing (cosmopolitan) democracy in the late modern era; it pays particular attention to whether (cosmopolitan) democratic community should be secular, and, if so, what that might mean in practice. The latter portion of the course explores whether religious traditions—focusing on Christianity and Islam—might offer potential insights for understanding the possibilities and limits of politics at the international level; case studies related to such topics as the politics of asylum, the politics of free speech and the politics of the environment facilitate the endeavour to think about politics with and through religion rather than merely thinking about religion as an object of political study. The course concludes with an examination of one foreign policy issue to which several western democracies have recently directed their attention—the issue of international religious freedom.

Course objectives

  • Gain an understanding of key concepts and debates regarding the characterization of religion

  • Deepen grasp of how notions of the secular, secularization and secularism have filtered into the study of international politics

  • Expand awareness of the multi-faceted presence of religion on the international stage

  • Develop critical thinking skills while exploring the various contributions that religious traditions make to the understanding of international politics

  • Cultivate the ability to distil complex arguments

  • Improve writing skills through assignments

  • Improve public speaking skills through engagement with peers in class discussion


See Timetable. Timetale Religious Studies

Mode of instruction


Course Load

Total course load for this course is 10 EC (1 EC = 28 hours), which equals 280 hours, broken down by:

  • Attending and participating in seminars: 24 hours (2 hours per week x 12 weeks)

  • Studying the course literature: 120 hours (10 hours per week x 12 weeks)

  • Writing reflection paper: 20 hours

  • Preparing seminar leadership: 16 hours

  • Researching and writing research paper proposal: 20 hours

  • Researching and writing research paper: 80 hours

Assessment method

  • Participation 15%

  • Reflection paper (1500wds.) 20%

  • Seminar leadership 10%

  • Research paper proposal (750wds.) 5%

  • Final research paper (5000wds.) 50%


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


Students who have been active participants in class and submitted the final research paper on time, but scored an overall insufficient mark, are entitled to a resit. For the resit, students are given a chance to hand in a new version of the final research paper.

Exam Review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used.

Reading list

The reading list will be available on Blackboard prior to the start of the course.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.


Dr.J.H. Valk

Meetings should take place during designated office hours. However, should an alternative meeting time be required due to exceptional circumstances, please contact me by email to make arrangements.