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The Courage To Be Modern: Religious Liberalisms 1850-1950


Admission requirements

Students should possess a basic knowledge of the history of Christianity and have a working knowledge of English and German. A working knowledge of French is also welcomed.


Will Christianity survive in a modern world? How to achieve this survival? This was – and still is – a burning issue in Western Christendom since the Enlightenment. Between 1850 and 1950 the rapidly growing divide between traditional belief and modern ways of thought led all sorts of Christians to rethink the ‘fundamentals’ of their faith.

The basic issue concernecd the question whether Christianity should adapt to modern culture. How should one cope with the results of modern history, of psychology and sociology, archeology and Darwinism? Would adaptation to modern science mean the end of religion? These questions led to a serious battle, both in Europe and North America, between religious liberals (or modernists as they were commonly called) and conservative believers.Their fight also centered on the fundamental issue of intellectual and academic freedom.

On the basis of close reading of academic treatises, articles in periodicals, autobiographies and biographies students will investigate such major topics as the authority and infallibility of the Bible, the development of dogma, the ‘essence’ or ‘fundamentals’ of faith, the role of the early Church, legendary elements in the lives of saints, the role of the laity, and the general notion of ‘sacredness’.
These topics can be studied in a comparative perspective, for example, by comparing Roman Catholic and Protestant religious liberalisms, by looking into the impact of the battle on individual Catholic and Protestant liberals, or by focusing on the globalization of religious liberalism, including Jewish and Islamic liberalism.

Course objectives

The MA-seminar will confront students with basic topics concerning the relationship between science and religion in a formative period of Western religious history. They will study the material from the theoretical pespective of the ‘warfare thesis’ and be urged to reformulate this thesis.


Time Table Religious Studies

We will meet once a week over spring term in 2011. A schedule of classes & readings will be distributed before the course starts

Mode of instruction

Our discussions will focus on the weekly reading assignments. For each meeting students will need to have read 1. the week’s ‘core readings’ and
2. a selection from the list of ‘recommended general readings’.

Seminar overview & assignments (5 ec)*

  • weekly meetings 12 × 2 = 24 hrs

  • weekly reading assignments 12 × 3 = 36 hrs

  • preparation & presentation paper 40 hrs

  • Ecclesiastical History Society S.S.S 40 hrs

  • ————————

  • 140 hrs = 5 ec

(*)Nb plus extra paper of 5 ec to be extended to 10 ec

Assessment method

Students will be assessed on the basis of 1. their general contribution to the weekly meetings;
2. their presentation of their paper;
3. their contribution to the meetings of the Ecclesiastical History Society S.S.S.

Reading list

A selection*:

  • Altermatt, Urs, Katholizismus und Moderne. Zur Sozial- und Mentalitätsgeschichte der Schweizer Katholiken im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, Zürich 1989

  • Appleby, R. Scott, ‘Church and Age Unite!’. The Modernist Impulse in American Catholicism, Notre Dame 1992

  • Arnold, Claus, Kleine Geschichte des Modernismus, Freiburg i/Br 2007

  • Colin, Pierre, L’audace et le soupçon. La crise du modernisme dans le catholicisme français 1893-1914, Paris 1997

  • Dorrien, Gary, The Making of American Liberal Theology: Idealism, Realism, & Modernity 1900 -1950, Louisville-London 2003

  • Hutchison, William R., The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism, 1976 (Durham-London 1992)

  • Jodock, Darrell (ed.), Catholicism Contending with Modernity. Roman Catholic Modernism and Anti-Modernism in Historical Context, Cambridge 2000

  • Pijper, F., Het modernisme en andere stroomingen in de katholieke kerk, Amsterdam 1921

  • Trippen, Norbert, Theologie und Lehramt im Konflikt. Die kirchlichen Maßnahmen gegen den Modernismus im Jahre 1907 und ihre Auswirkungen in Deutschland, Freiburg im Breisgau 1977

  • Valk, J.P. de, ‘Caught between Modernism, Pillarization, and Nationalism: Dutch Liberals and Religion in the Nineteenth Centiry’, in: Simon Groenveld & Michael Wintle (eds.), Under the Sign of Liberalism. Varieties of Liberalism in Past and Present (Britain and the Netherlands XII), Zutphen 1994, 102-115

  • Wall, Ernestine G.E. van der, ‘Protestants en rooms-katholiek modernisme: een tragische geschiedenis. Aanzetten tot comparatief onderzoek’, in: Tom Mikkers en Ineke Smit (red.), Tussen Augustinus en atheïsme. Kerkhistorische Studiën 2006, Leiden 2006, 63-88

  • Weiß, Otto, Der Modernismus in Deutschland. Ein Beitrag zur Theologiegeschichte, Regensburg 1995

(*)An extensive list with titles will be distributed before the course starts.


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

Please register before 15 January 2011.
Please contact prof. dr. E.G.E. van der Wall before signing up for this course.

Contact information

Prof dr E.G.E. van der Wall


The course will be given only if a minimum of 4 regular students will sign up for the course. Otherwise special arrangements will be made with students.