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Introduction to New Religions


Admission requirements

No requirements.


In this course students become acquainted with the latest research on new religions and new religiosity. The course is divided into two parts. In the first part we look at institutionalised new religions (or ‘cults’) such as Scientology, the Raëlian movement, and Wicca (modern Witchcraft); in the second part we look at non-institutionalised forms of new religiosity (i.e. holistic spirituality or ‘new age’). We approach both new religions and new religiosity from two angles. From a comparative study-of-religion perspective we analyse, compare, and classify the beliefs and practices of the new religions, ask such questions as how the new religions legitimise themselves, and seek to locate the new religions within the history of religion. From a sociological perspective we look at the social profile of those who join, compare the formal institutions and charismatic leaders of new religions with the loose organisation of the new age milieu, and consider phenomena such as conversion and spiritual seeking. As part of the course we will visit a religious movement (last year that was the Scientology Church in Amsterdam) and/or organise a small symposium with guest speakers (the last two years we have had symposia on contemporary paganism).

Course objectives

After successfully completing this course,

  • students have obtained knowledge about the ideas, practices, history, and social organisation of a number of new religions and of the new age milieu.

  • students have developed their skills at critical analysis of religious claims.

  • students know and understand the most important concepts and theories about new religions and new religiosity in the study of religion.

  • students can independently apply those concepts and theories in the analysis of primary sources.

  • students have improved their skills at oral presentation in English.


Roosters Instituut voor Godsdienstwetenschappen

Mode of instruction

Three modes of instruction are used in combination.

  • Group presentations. Each presentation treats a new religion or a current within new age.

  • Lectures. The lectures will be used to introduce theoretical perspectives and discuss them in relation to the new religions treated in the course.

  • Excursion and/or symposium. Details will be provided later via Blackboard.

Course Load

Total course load: 5 × 28 = 140 uur

  • Hours spent on attending ordinary sessions: 10 × 2 = 20 hours

  • Hours spent on excursion/symposium: 2 × 5 = 10 hours

  • Times spent studying compulsory literature and writing take-home exam: c. 360 pages / 4 p/h = 90 hours

  • Preparation presentation = 24 hours

Assessment method

The final mark will be determined as a weighted average of three marks:
A. Group presentation. Counts 30 %.
B. Take home exam with essay questions. Max 2400 words. Counts 60 %.
C. Active participation and contribution to class discussions. Counts 10 %.


Yes, see Blackboard.

Reading list

Students are required to buy Hammer, Olav & Mikael Rothstein (eds.), 2012, The Cambridge Companion to New Religious Movements, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Master copies of supplementary literature (approx. 10 articles) will be made available. More information about the supplementary literature and where to find it will be given via Blackboard in January 2014.


Via uSis and in blackboard

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Drs. M. Davidsen.