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Modern Heretics: Religious liberals, conservatives and modernity


Admission requirements

General knowledge of the history of Christianity, via courses like ‘Geschiedenis van het christendom’, ‘Christendom: Middeleeuwen en Reformatie’ or ‘Modern Christendom I’. Students from outside Leiden are advised to contact Prof.dr. E.G.E. van der Wall in order to see whether they meet the requirements via other trajectories.


This course focuses on modernization, culture, and science in relation to religion. The aim of the course is to provide the student with an understanding of how modernization, especially in its intellectual manifestations, affect religious attitudes and mentalities. Modern Christianity in Europe and North America seems to be characterised, particularly in theological and ecclesiastical contexts, by a profound division between liberal and conservative believers. The fierce debates between religious liberals and conservatives (in Protestant, Anglican, and Roman Catholic circles) appear to confirm the emergence of a new rift in the nineteenth century which supersedes interdenominational rivalries. Repression of religious liberalism, resulting in heresy trials and excommunications as well as intensified censorship, shows that the liberal response to ‘modernity’ could be considered by traditionalists as a severe threat to religion. Although the binary model (liberals/conservatives) has a certain validity, believers’ responses to modern culture and society show a remarkable variety. Students will get to know the various viewpoints (Protestant, Anglican, Roman Catholic) through close reading of primary sources. Students will explore a particular case study which they will present in the seminar; the presentation will be the basis of an essay on this case study.

Course objectives

  • students shall be familiar with the main themes of religious liberalism, conservatism and modernity – students shall be able to analyse relevant religious and social phenomena in relation to concepts of liberal religion, traditionalism and processes of modernization – students shall be able to grasp and specify various theories concerning major concepts – students shall be able to critically analyse and evaluate primary sources and put these in wider contexts (historical, theological, ecclesiastical, cultural, social, political).


See Timetable.

Mode of instruction

The course is based on a combination of lectures, close reading of foundational texts, class room discussion (seminar style) and individual studies.

Assessment method

Assessment will be based on:

  • participation in class, including weekly readings and assignments (25 %) – a short lecture on a case study (25 %) – an essay that explores the case study (50 %)



Reading list

See Blackboard (about two weeks before the start of the semester)


uSis and blackboard

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

Prof.dr. E.G.E. van der Wall


The language of instruction is English (unless all participants are Dutch); Dutch students may write their papers in Dutch.

The class may be part of the ‘Keuzepakket’ Geschiedenis van het christendom / History of Christianity (15-30 EC). A selection can be made from the following classes:

  • Geschiedenis van het christendom: algemene inleiding (najaar) – Modern christendom I (najaar) – Modern christendom II (voorjaar) – Rituelen en symbolen van het christendom (voorjaar) – Werkcollege Wereldchristendom / Seminar Global Christianity (voorjaar) – Werkcollege Moderne ketters: religieus liberalisme, conservatisme en
    moderniteit / Seminar Modern heretics: religious liberals, conservatives and modernity – Christendom: Middeleeuwen en Reformatie – Werkgezelschap: Kerkhistorisch Gezelschap S.S.S. (8 bijeenkomsten per jaar)