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Elective: The Future of Religion in the West


Admission requirements

This course is only available for students in the BA International Studies who have succesfully completed the second year elective course.
The number of participants is limited to 25.


This course has an ambitious aim: to predict the future of religion. For a long time, scholars in the West where foreseeing a downfall of religion in the modern world, but has this really come to pass? If not, then what future is in store for religion in the West? And, what do we even mean by ‘The West’ in today’s global world?
The course consists of two parts. In the first part, we will discuss a number of core readings together. We will analyse empirical trends of religious change in the West, such as the decline of institutional religion in Western Europe, the post-Communist religious revival in Eastern Europe and the differences in religiosity between Europe and the United States. By studying these core readings, we will also critically evaluate the social theories that have aimed to explain and predict religious change in the West. In particular this concerns the secularisation paradigm (which predicts religious decline), the rational choice paradigm (which predicts religious revival), and the subjectivisation paradigm (which predicts religious transformation). With each of these paradigms showing strong regional roots, we will conclude this first section by exploring new theoretical developments that address the issue from a more global perspective instead.
In the second part of the course, the focus is on conducting actual research within the framework of the course. Students will propose their own research project on a self-chosen topic, write the associated literature review, present on their research progress and finally write a paper bringing these elements together. Along the way, there will be ample room for reflection on the work process, and students will receive feedback from each other on a draft version of their paper through peer-review.

Course objectives

After having followed the course, the student is able to:

  • Identify and characterize contemporary empirical trends of religious change in the West, such as individualisation, de-institutionalisation and globalisation;

  • Make a comparison between different regions within the Western world with regards to these empirical trends and the paradigms related to them, for example, between Europe and the US, or between Western Europe and Eastern Europe;

  • Make predictions about likely future developments within the religious domain for a specific case or set of cases;

  • Evaluate how major social theories, such as secularisation theory or globalisation theory, can be made us of in research, both their own and that of others;

  • Demonstrate the required academic skills for conducting (individual) research, such as formulating a research question, developing and presenting a research plan, writing a literature review, and formulating a substantiated conclusion.
    This course engages students with the scholarly debates concerning the development of new policies in Latin America, other forms of cooperation, and proactive actions and more independent positioning in relation to the United States and the European Union. The course also processes of regional integration in a historical context. Furthermore, students will learn about how Latin American foreign policy is shaped and see how various countries have different opportunities and aims.
    The elective courses for International Studies are designed to teach students how to deal with state-of-the-art literature and research questions. They are chosen to enhance the students’ learning experience by building on the interdisciplinary perspectives they have developed so far, and to introduce them to the art of academic research. They are characterised by an international or comparative approach.
    Academic skills that are trained include:
    Oral presentation skills:

    1. to explain clear and substantiated research results;
    2. to provide an answer to questions concerning (a subject) in the field covered by the course
      a. in the form of a clear and well-structured oral presentation;
      b. in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria;
      c. using up-to-date presentation techniques;
      d. aimed at a specific audience;
    3. to actively participate in a discussion following the presentation.
      Collaboration skills:
    4. to be socio-communicative in collaborative situations;
    5. to provide and receive constructive criticism, and incorporate justified criticism by revising one’s own position;
    6. adhere to agreed schedules and priorities.
      Basic research skills, including heuristic skills:
    7. to collect and select academic literature using traditional and digital methods and techniques;
    8. to analyze and assess this literature with regard to quality and reliability;
    9. to formulate on this basis a sound research question;
    10. to design under supervision a research plan of limited scope, and implement it using the methods and techniques that are appropriate within the discipline involved;
    11. to formulate a substantiated conclusion.
      Written presentation skills:
    12. to explain clear and substantiated research results;
    13. to provide an answer to questions concerning (a subject) in the field covered by the course
      a. in the form of a clear and well-structured written presentation;
      b. in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria;
      c. using relevant illustration or multimedia techniques;
      d. aimed at a specific audience.


The timetable is available on the BA International Studies website

Mode of instruction

Seminar and supervised research.

Course Load

Total course load for the course: 10 EC x 28 hours= 280 hours, broken down by:

  • Hours spent on attending lectures and seminars: 24 hours

  • Time for studying the compulsory literature: (532 pages): 76 hours

  • Completion of short assignments: 40 hours

  • Finding/reading additional literature for the individual paper (280 pages): 40hours

  • Preparing peer feedback: 20 hours

  • Writing individual paper: 80 hours

Assessment method

The mark for this course is a weighted average of two marks:
Weekly assignments and participation in class discussions: 30%.
Written end-term paper (btw. 4000 and 6000 words): 70%.

To complete the final mark, please take notice of the following: the final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.

To pass the course, the weighted average has to be 5.5 at least.


Resit: Students who have participated actively in class and submitted a paper on time, but scored an overall insufficient mark, are entitled to a resit. For the resit, students are given a chance to hand in a new version of the end-term paper, the assessment of which will count as the final grade.

In case of resubmission of the final essay (insufficient grade only) the final grade for the essay will be lowered as a consequence of the longer process of completion. The deadline for resubmission is 10 days after receiving the grade for the final essay.


Blackboard is used for all communication. Information about the course will be made available here, students hand in their weekly assignments and final paper via Blackbaord.
Students are requested to register on Blackboard for this course.

Reading list

More information about the readings will be made available on Blackboard in August 2015.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Dr. W.R. Arfman


The deadline for submission of the final essay is 9 June 2017.