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Comparative Religion


Admission requirements

  • For Students of the BA Religiewetenschappen: successful completion of at least 45 EC from the first year of the bachelor's programme in Religiewetenschappen, including Inleiding Religiewetenschappen. If you do not meet this requirement but would still like to take the course, please mail the Coordinator of Studies indicating the reasons for your interest.

  • Students of the minor Religion in a changing world are obliged to follow the course Religion in the World parallel to this course.

  • This course is open to students with an academic interest in the subject matter, who succesfully completed Inleiding Religiewetenschappen or equivalent. Please contact the Coordinator of Studies


Comparative religion has often been used as synonymous with the academic study of religion, even though most scholars in that field do not actively ‘compare’ religious traditions, but restrict their attention to a particular religion, in a particular place and a particular period. At the same time, scholars are well aware of two facts: first, that comparing is a basic human cognitive strategy; it is, in fact, our chief way of learning. And second, that comparing is difficult, dangerous, and controversial, because there is no overarching theory, there is no consensus on method, and there is a clearly traceable, unavoidable, impact of power relations on each step in the whole process of comparison. This course focuses explicitly on the role of ‘comparison’ in the study of religion and on current insights regarding the limitations and possibilities of the ‘comparative approach’ in the study of religion. It begins with a theoretically-informed pre-history of inter-religious comparison through its emergence as a modern academic discipline. After the midterm, we will consider some more recent methodological challenges before taking up a series of case studies in exemplifying different comparative modes and categories.

Course objectives

Students will learn about current debates on comparison in the study of religion. They will learn to reflect critically on scholarly work on this particular subject, especially on the difference between contextualized and de-contextualized approaches, different attitudes to description and interpretation vs. representation and explanation. They will understand the explicit and implicit workings of comparison and will be able to apply these insights to specific case-studies. They will, finally, be able to think and write about the role of theory in the study of religion.

Transferable skills

After successfully completing this course:

  • Students will have participated in a common effort to think through radically distinct contemporary theoretical perspectives on religion and culture and to report on those in a nuanced way;

  • Students will have advanced experience in negotiating cultural and religious difference and have built up experience in writing about these fields in an academic way.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

Mid-term Exam: 50%
Mandatory Reading responses: pass/fail (practical excercise)
Edited volume exercise: 10%
Final paper: 40%


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


Students who have participated in all elements of the course, but scored an insufficient mark overall are entitled to a resit of the 50% Midterm.

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.

Reading list

Required readings will be posted on Brightspace.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Vrieshof


Academic Integrity
Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).

Students with disabilities
The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accommodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.