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Elective: Science and Religion: the West and the Rest?


Admission requirements

This course is only available for students in the BA International Studies who have successfully completed the second year elective course.

The number of participants is limited to 25.


During the 16th-17th the so-called ‘Scientific Revolution’ took place – the revolutionary change in worldview that laid the foundation for modern science and the making of the global knowledge society. The turn from a geo-centric to a heliocentric worldview; the invention of new instruments such as the telescope and microscope are key-words here, as are factors such as the invention of the printing press and the emergence of long-distance trade. The ‘Scientific Revolution’ is a euro-centric concept, and since the introduction of this concept, scholars have been discussing the question why this ‘revolution’ did place in early modern Europe, and not in, say, ancient China (think of the invention of the water clock and compass) or in the 13th Arab world (think of the highly advanced stage of mathematics and optic). The current debate points at cultural factors, most notably the role of religion in society.
It is not the intention of the course to solve the question ‘Why the West and why not the Rest’? Instead, we will explore the current debates on this theme, thereby becoming aware of the conceptual problems and pitfalls of this theme. The main objective of the course is to demonstrate that ‘science’ and ‘religion’ are fluid concepts, very much dependent of historical and cultural factors. Students will learn to reflect upon issues like these, and to study and critically evaluate the –quite often finalistic if not triumophalistic – accounts on the Rise of Modern Science. The will also become aware of the often apologetic agenda behind these accounts. Besides this conceptual framework, we will take a closer look at the circulation of knowledge (or lack thereof…) between different cultures in the past. On the basis of secondary literature, students will present case-studies on, f.e., the influence of Islamic science the West; exchanges of astronomical knowledge in 17th century China; or the influence of cultural taboos on human dissections or crafting images. The third objective of this course is to make Leiden students aware of the rich tradition and material culture of their university. Therefore, the course will also include some excursions to historical sites of knowledge, such as the Hortus Botanicus (including the Von Siebold memorial garden).

Course objectives

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:
1. to be socio-communicative in collaborative situations;
2. to provide and receive constructive criticism, and incorporate justified criticism by revising one’s own position;
3. adhere to agreed schedules and priorities.

Basic research skills, including heuristic skills:
1. to collect and select academic literature using traditional and digital methods and techniques;
2. to analyze and assess this literature with regard to quality and reliability;
3. to formulate on this basis a sound research question;
4. 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;
5. to formulate a substantiated conclusion.

Written 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 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, with – supervised by the instructor – student presentations and discussion on literature studied; – supervised research and writing.

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: ca 600 pages at 7 pages/hour = 85 hours

  • Completion of short assignments and preparing peer feedback: 35 hours

  • Researching and writing final paper: 120 hours

  • Other components: excursions Hortus Botanicus; Museum Boerhaave; Teylers Museum + assignments 16 hours

Assessment method

Assessment and weighing

The final marl will be determined as a weighted average of two marks:
1. On the basis of a presentation in class; a report on one of the excursions; and active participation to class discussions and peer feedback: 30%
2. Final paper (between 4500 and 5500 words, excluding notes and bibliography: 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.


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 will be used. For tutorial groups: please enroll in blackboard after your enrolment in uSis
Students are requested to register on Blackboard for this course.
h3. Reading list
The following textbooks are required:

  • T. Huff, Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution: A Global Perspective (Cambridge 2011; later editions in paperback)

  • H.F. Cohen, The Rise of Modern Science Explained. A Comparative History (paperback Cambridge 2015)

  • Moreover, students are expected (have) to work(ed) their way through W.C. Booth e.a., The Craft of Research (third edition, Chicago 2008).


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

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Prof.dr. E. Jorink


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