This course is open to all students with an academic interest in the subject matter.
This course introduces students to a number of new religions and forms of alternative spirituality. It equips students with an analytical toolkit for the study of these phenomena. The course is divided into two parts. In the first (and largest) part we look at institutionalised new religions (or ‘cults’) such as Scientology, Wicca (modern Witchcraft), and the Unification Church (Moon movement). In the second part we look at alternative spirituality (or New Age), including modern belief in healing, angels, and mindfulness. We approach both new religions and alternative spirituality from two angles: From a comparative study-of-religion perspective we analyse, compare, and classify the beliefs and practices of the various new religions, enquire into how the new religions legitimise themselves, and seek to locate them within the history of religion. From a sociological perspective we look at the social profile of those who join, compare the formal institutions and charismatic leaders of new religions with the loose organisation of the new age milieu, and consider phenomena such as conversion and spiritual seeking. As part of the course we will visit a religious movement (last year that was the Scientology Church in Amsterdam) and/or organise a small symposium with guest speakers (in previous years we have had symposia on contemporary paganism and parody religions).
After successfully completing this course,
students have obtained knowledge about the ideas, practices, history, and social organisation of a number of new religions and of the New Age milieu.
students know and understand the most important concepts and theories about new religions and alternative spirituality in the study of religion.
students can independently apply those concepts and theories in the analysis of primary sources.
students have developed their skills of critically analysing religious claims, skills that are transferable to the study of other religious phenomena than new religions and alternative spirituality.
students have improved their skills at oral presentation in English.
Mode of instruction
Three modes of instruction are used in combination.
Lectures. The lectures will be used to introduce theoretical perspectives and discuss them in relation to the new religions and alternative spirituality treated in the course.
Group work. Each group makes a handout and gives a presentation on a particular new religion.
Excursion and/or symposium. Details will be provided later via Blackboard.
Total course load: 5 × 28 = 140 hours
Hours spent on attending ordinary sessions: 11 × 2 = 22 hours
Hours spent on excursion/symposium: 2 × 4 = 8 hours
Times spent studying compulsory literature: c. 392 pages / 7 p/h = 56 hours
Group work (handout and presentation) = 16 hours
Writing take-home exam = 38 hours
This course includes three test units:
Group work. In groups, students make a handout and give a presentation on one of the new religions examined in the course. The group receives one collective mark for the group work. This marks counts 30% towards the final mark of the course.
Take-home exam with essay questions; max 3000 words. The take-home exam consists of questions about the curriculum in general and a free assignment on the topic the student’s oral presentation. This mark counts 70% towards the final mark of the course.
Midterm optional. Students are given the opportunity to hand in a midterm assignment consisting of the first assignment in the end-term take-home. The midterm is graded and students receive feedback, but the grade does not count towards the final grade for the course.
The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.
Students who receive an overall insufficient grade for the course, are given a new take-home exam. The result of this take-home exam substitutes the previous marks for both the group work and the initial take-home exam.
The course makes use of Blackboard. All communication will take place via Blackboard, additional information about the course will be available via Blackboard, and assignments must be handed in via Blackboard.
Students are required to buy the following resources:
Hammer, Olav & Mikael Rothstein (eds.; 2012), The Cambridge Companion to New Religious Movements, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Course Reader (can be ordered in January 2017 from website
Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs
The course is taught in English, but the final exam may be written in Dutch.
For additional information about course, contact M. Davidsen