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Anthropology of Religion


Admission requirements

A very limited number of places are available for this course so only the following categories of students may register:

  • Students enrolled for the Bachelor’s programme “CA-DS” at Leiden University who have passed the Propedeuse. Only ONE third year's course at level 300 is obligatory according to your programme.

  • Students enrolled for the Minor CA-OS who have not followed another CA-OS course on level 300.
    If due to too many applications there must be selection of participants, students who have already followed other "exploration"-courses on level 300 will not be considered.
    The following two categories will be registered by our administration after the admission procedure:

  • Exchange and Study Abroad students who have been admitted to this course,

  • Pre-Master’s students who have completed the admission procedure for the Master’s CA-DS and have been formally admitted to this course as part of the Pre-Master’s programme.

Please see the Usis-registration procedure below.


Developmental models have long assumed that economic growth would result in the privatization and eventual decline of religion. In short, religion and modernity have been considered incompatible. The resulting secularisation paradigm was fundamentally challenged at the end of the twentieth century, when worldwide political movements emerged identifying themselves first and foremost in religious terms. In the US, in many ways the proverbial heartland of ‘late’ modernity, religious movements continue to inspire politics and the same is true for many other political arenas worldwide. The renewed inspiration that religions provide in times of globalisation has also posed new challenges to the presumed disparity between religion and secularism. Rather than perceiving religion and secularism as constituting distinct realms, both appear embedded in broader discourses on (for instance) knowledge, claim-making and difference. Consequently, social scientists increasingly consider from an academic perspective that ‘religion’ cannot fruitfully be set apart as a category. Rather, it should be studied in relation to social and political phenomena as varied as political movements, healing practices, and eschatological knowledge.

This course approaches ‘religion’ as a social phenomenon, that is, as a category acknowledged and referred to in the social contexts studied by anthropologists and sociologists. Approaching religion across various levels of scale allows for differentiation between people practising religions, and groups or organisations who claim religious authority over others. A critical understanding of religion, in its experiential, performative and political dimensions is an important requirement for anthropologists and sociologists engaged in either academic or policy-related research, or a combination of the two.

Course objectives

The course is intended to allow students to:

  • learn how to analyse religious movements in their historical and political contexts.

  • acquire an understanding of key debates in the anthropology of religion.

  • become familiar with key terms in the anthropology of religion.

  • learn to engage critically with primary sources – textual and audio/visual – and make connections among multiple sources

  • identify, analyse and problematize the religious dimensions of social matters in the contemporary world.

Time table

Dates and room numbers can be found on our website, under "3e jaar, Semester 2, Hoorcolleges".

Mode of instruction

10 ECTS = 280 sbu (study hours)

  • Lectures 12 × 2 hours: 36 sbu

  • Group discussions 12 × 1 hours: 24 sbu

  • Study of literature 660 pp: 110 sbu

  • 5 bi-weekly assignments: 30 sbu

  • Final paper on topic of student’s choice (3.500 words): 80 sbu

Assesment method

Five bi-weekly assignments: (60%)
One final paper: (40%)
Class participation: (rounding off)

Re-takes for assignments/ papers are possible only if final grades are below 6, and then only if students have actively participated in the course and submitted all the required assignments/ papers.


The blackboard module will be active.
All participants must register for this course on Blackboard.

Reading list

  • A Companion to the Anthropology of Religion, Edited by Janice Boddy and Michael Lambek, Chichester: John Wiley (2015) (paperback edition), ISBN10:1119124999 & ISBN13:9781119124993. The book is available at or at Students may use the kindle or e-book editions.

  • Readings that are electronically available for download through the Leiden University Library webportal.


  • Registration in Usis is obligatory for the lectures (H) for all participants. Please consult the course registration website for information on registration periods and further instructions.

  • Registration for examination is NOT necessary because this course has no final examination.
    NB: Exchange students: those who have been officially admitted to this course during the Admission Procedure, will be registered in usis by the faculty-administration.

  • Registration on Blackboard is obligatory for all participants.

  • Exchange students: If you had officially been admitted for this course during the Admission Procedure, you will be registered for the lectures by our Student administration service.


Dr. Erik de Maaker