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Confronting modernity



  1. In the 19th and 20th centuries believers of various world religions saw themselves confronted with the question how to deal with modernity. While traditionalists preferred to distance themselves from modernity, progressives wished to adapt faith to the modern world, attempting to reconcile modern historical scholarship, Darwinian theories of evolution, and new insights from the social sciences with their religious convictions. This recasting of the religious message also included such matters as religious practices, rituals, liturgy as well as social and political convictions. Remarkably the program of adjustment to modernity was shared by representatives of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam alike. Religious liberalism or ‘modernism’ thus developed into a transnational and transreligious movement.

  2. In this MA-Seminar the modernist ideals of Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the 19th and 20th centuries will be studied from a comparative perspective. The primary focus will be on the topic of ‘authority’. The modern era appears to manifest a process of fragmentation of authority, due to ongoing democratization and laicization. We shall deal with various aspects of this central theme, including the authority of canonical texts and institutional hierarchies respectively. It wil lead us to explore the notion of individual autonomy in relation to modernization processes.

  3. The comparative analysis of these issues will help us to identify both the similarities and the differences in the coping with modernity by members of three major world religions. In a broader sense it will shed new light on transnational religious history.

Course objectives

The MA-seminar will confront students with basic topics concerning the relationship between religion and modernity. They will analyse the theoretical and historical complexities surrounding the notion of ‘modernity’. They will study the material from a comparative perspective urging them to rethink traditional views on similarities and dissimilarities between major world religions.



Mode of instruction

  • A weekly seminar during which students are required to give a presentation.

  • For each meeting students need to prepare questions for class discussion on the basis of the weekly reading assignments.

Course Load

Total course load: 140 hours

  • Hours spent on attending the weekly seminar: 2 hours per week x 13 weeks: 36 hours.

  • Time for studying compulsory literature / reading assignments: 36 hours

  • Time to prepare the oral presentation: 30 hours

  • Time to write the final essay (elaboration of oral presentation): 38 hours

Assessment method

Level of questions for class discussion 20%
Presentation 30 %
Final Essay 50 %

To complete the final mark, pleae take notice of the following:
The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average. In order to pass the student must receive a grade of 6 or more for each part of the assessment.


BB will be used for notifications, weekly schedule, reading assignments, uploading assignments.

Reading list

Chapters from*: – R. Scott Appleby, “Church and Age Unite!”. The Modernist Impulse in American Catholicism (Notre Dame-London: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992 ISBN 0-268-00782-9) – Arnold Eisen, Rethinking Modern Judaism. Ritual, Commandment, Community (U. Chicago Press 1998) – Robert W. Hefner, “Multiple modernities: Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism in a globalizing age”, Annual Review of Anthropology 27 (1998), 83–104. – Staf Hellemans, “How Modern are Religions in Modernity?”, in J. Frishman et al., eds., Religious Identity and the Role of Historical Foundation. The Foundational Character of Authoritative Sources in the History of Christianity and Judaism (Leiden etc.: Brill, 2004), 76-94 – David A. Hollinger, After Cloven Tongues of Fire: Protestant Liberalism in Modern American History, 2013 – William R. Hutchison, The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism (Durham-London: Duke University Press 1992 (pb)) – Darrell Jodock (ed.), Catholicism Contending with Modernity. Roman Catholic Modernism and Anti-Modernism in Historical Context (Cambridge: C.U.P., 2000 (repr. 2011)) – Charles Kurzman, Liberal Islam: A Source-Book (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998) – Charles Kurzman, Modernist Islam, 1840-1940: A Source-Book (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002 – Muhammad Khalid Masud, “Islamic Modernism”, in Islam and Modernity: Key Issues and Debates, edited by Muhammad Khalid Masud and Martin van Bruinessen, 237–260. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009. – Jack Wertheimer (ed.), The Uses of Tradition. Jewish Continuity in the Modern Era (Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Harvard U. Press 1992) – Björn Wittrock, “Modernity: one, none, or many? European origins and modernity as a global condition”, Daedalus 129 no.1 (Winter 2000), 31–60.

*For the weekly reading assignments, see the Weekly Schedule (on Blackboard).


Via uSis
In addition to the registration in uSis, students are also expected to self-enroll in Blackboard a few weeks before the course starts.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs Registration Studeren à la carte Registration Contractonderwijs

Remarks This Seminar will only be given if there will be a minimum of 10 students to attend the course.