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Introduction to New Religions


Admission requirements

No requirements.
A maximum of 40 students can take the course.


This course introduces students to a number of new religions and forms of alternative spirituality, and equips studetns with an analytical toolkit for the study of these phenomena. The course is divided into two parts. In the first (and largest) 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 alternative spirituality (i.e. holistic spirituality or ‘New Age’). We approach both new religions and alternative spirituality 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 (in previous years we have had symposia on contemporary paganism and on non-institutional religion).

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 know and understand the most important concepts and theories about new religions and alternative spirituality in the study of religion.

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

  • students have developed their skills of critically analysing religious claims, skills that are transferable to the study of other religious phenomena than new religions and alternative spirituality..

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



Mode of instruction

Three modes of instruction are used in combination.

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

  • Group presentations. Each presentation treats a new religion or a New Age primary source.

  • 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 × 4 = 8 hours

  • Times spent studying compulsory literature and writing take-home exam: c. 392 pages / 7 p/h = 56 hours

  • Preparation presentation = 16 hours

  • Writing end-term exam = 40 hours

Assessment method

The final mark will be determined as a weighted average of two marks:
A. Group presentation. Counts 30 . (Collective mark and individual each counts 15).
B. Take home exam with essay questions. Max 2400 words. Counts 70 %.

To pass the course students must score at least a sufficient mark (6,0) in both subtests.


The course makes use of Blackboard All communication will take place via Blackboard, additional information about the course will be available via Blackboard, and assignments must be handed in via Blackboard.

Reading list

Information about the literature for the course will be given via Blackboard in January 2015.


Via uSis, daarnaast dient de student zich ook, kort voor het begin van de colleges, in Blackboard te melden om toegang te krijgen tot de planning en aanvullende informatie.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

A la carte


The course is taught in English, but the final exam may be written in Dutch.
For additional information about course, contact Dhr. M.A. Davidsen