nl en

Self-secularization or the adaptability of Christianity


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.


Between 1850 and 1950 the rapidly growing divide between traditional belief and modern ways of thought led Christians to rethink the ‘fundamentals’ of their faith. The basic issue concerns the question whether Christianity should adapt to modern culture and, more specifically, to modern science and scholarship. How should one cope with the results of modern history, psychology and sociology, archeology and Darwinism? Was adaptation of the Christian faith to modern science needed in order to safeguard its survival in the future? Religious liberals and modernists showed an openness to modern culture which led to processes of enlightenment from within.This mode of self-secularization was to become central to the serious battle between religious liberals and conservatives, both in Europe and North America.
In this course the topic will be studied from a comparative perspective. The focus will be on Protestant and Roman Catholic liberalisms and modernisms in the United States between roughly 1870 and 1930. On the basis of close reading of classic studies of American Protestant and Catholic liberal religion questions concerning the affinities and dissimilarities between the various denominational currents will be studied. Specific themes such as the right of individual judgement in religious affairs, the attitude towards other religions and missionary efforts, the notion of evolution in biology and history, and the relationship biblical exegesis-dogmatics will be analysed.

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 comparative perspective urging them to rethink traditional views on interdenominational rivalries. Furthermore, they will review current theories of secularization.


See Time table

Mode of instruction

The seminar will meet once a week during the semester.
For each class students are required to read the literature and to summarize the main topics of each chapter; the summary is to be presented in class.
Furthermore, for each class they are asked to formulate 2 or 3 questions related to the material. They will present these questions during class discussion.

In the Concluding essay (1500/2000 words) students are expected to write an assessment, book review style, of the works by Hutchinson and Appleby (see below), putting the material in a comparative perspective. The comparison should include (1) the way the authors deal with their material; (2) the features of ‘the modernist impulse’ in American Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.

Assessment method

Reading assignments, presentations and class discussions (50%)
Essay (50 %).



Reading list

  • William R. Hutchison, The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism, Durham-London: Duke University Press 1992 (paperback) – 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

  • other reading material will be distributed during class


Via uSis
In addition to the registration in uSis, students are also expected to self-enroll in blackboard. Please register before 15 January 2012.

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

Contact information

Please contact prof.dr. E.G.E. van der Wall before signing up for this course (


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 (supervised readings – less meetings).