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Confronting modernity


Admission requirements

Students should preferably have knowledge on a BA level of at least one of the three religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) under discussion in this course.


  1. From 1800 onward believers have been confronted with the question “how to deal with modernity”. While traditionalists prefer to distance themselves from modernity, progressives wish to adapt their faith to the modern world. Adaptation involves harmonizing results of modern science and culture with one’s religious convictions. This recasting of the religious message includes adapting to modern scientific theories, including Darwinism and the modern-historical approach to sacred documents, but also reinterpreting and/or reforming religious practices, rituals, liturgy as well as social and political convictions. These accomodationist believers are stamped with various labels such as ‘liberals’, ‘modernists’, ‘reformists’ and ‘progressives’.
  2. Religious modernism is a transnational and transreligious phenomenon, thus the project of “adaptating to modernity” is one shared by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. In this MA-Seminar the focus will be on the modernist ideals of these three world religions in comparative perspective.
  3. The overall theme of the MA-seminar will revolve around the fundamental concept of authority. The focus will be on two specific topics within this concept: a. scientific theories a.o. Darwinism; b. religious practices and rituals.
  4. The comparative analysis in this MA seminar, which will be central to the class discussions, will help identify the similarities and differences in strategies involved in coping with modernity. For their papers and presentations the students may focus on changes within one of the three world religions dealt with in the seminar by selecting one specific topic (for example, the reactions to Darwinism or higher critisim in either the Jewish, Christian, or Muslim world).
  5. In a broader sense the MA-seminar will shed new light on transnational religious history.

Course objectives

The MA-seminar will confront students with basic topics concerning the relationship between religion and modernity. They will analyse the theoretical and historical complexities surrounding the notion of ‘modernity’. They will study the material from a comparative perspective with the aim of rethinking traditional views on similarities and dissimilarities between major world religions.
Career Skills Development
Critical analysis and evaluation of academic articles and the presuppositions of their authors
Professional presentations including use of powerpoint, developing communication skills to present complicated concepts relating to modernity and modernism
Developing a research question and hypothesis relating to a topic on religion, modernism and the place of religion in modern society


  • The MA seminar will be given in Semester 1, weekly

  • The Weekly Schedule may be found on blackboard by the end of August 2017.

Timetable on the website

Mode of instruction

  • Presentations by lecturers

  • Presentations of topics related to and elaborating upon the assigned weekly reading by students (20 minutes)

  • Class discussion: questions for class discussion based on each of the readings to be submitted by students weekly to the lecturers and presenters.

Course Load

Total course load: 10 EC = 280 hours

  • Hours spent on attending the weekly seminar: 3 hours per week x 13 weeks: 39 hours.

  • Time for reading assignments: ca. 6 hours per week x 13 weeks: 81 hours

  • Time to prepare the oral presentation: 40 hours

  • Time to write the end term paper: 120 hours

Please note that the lecturers as well as two students who are invited to take on this particular task beforehand will judge the presentations in class on both form and content.

Assessment method

The assessment will be based on the following 3 components:
A. Practical exercises
Practical exercise 1: presence and class participation
Practical exercise 2: presentation
Practical exercise 3: outline of paper

Practical exercises are evaluated as either satisfactory or unsatisfactory and do not form part of the weighted average for the final grade. However, failure to receive a satisfactory for the exercise(s) will mean automatic exclusion from the grade-determining elements.
N.B. For these exercises no resits are possible.

B. Questions to be submitted relating to the required reading 30%
Deadlines for submitting assignments, including the weekly assignments, need to be strictly kept. If not, this will affect the grade.

C. Final paper 70%
The endtermpaper needs to be the result of independent work. The topic of the paper needs to be chosen in close consultation with the supervisors.

Students will receive feedback on their oral presentations and paper outlines in class and by appointment. Instructors are also available by appointment for additional consultation on choice of paper topics.

Please note the following:
Class attendance is compulsory. Students who are absent more than twice, or attend classes only partially will automatically fail this MA-seminar. The validity of any absence related excuses – to be sent in writing to the three instructors - will be assessed by the instructors.
The final mark for the MA-Seminar is established by the weighted average of the grades for the questions and final paper.
In order to pass, the grades received for the questions and final paper must be a minimum of a 5,0 for each component and no less than a 6,0 for the average.
If the endterm paper is insufficient, students are allowed to submit one revised version of their paper within 2 weeks after having received their grades.


Blackboard will be used for notifications, weekly schedule, reading assignments, uploading assignments.

Reading list

This is a selection. An extensive list will be put on blackboard.

  • Geoffrey Cantor and Marc Swetlitz, eds., Jewish Tradition and the Challenge of Darwinism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006)

  • Lara Deeb, An Enchanted Modern: Gender and Public Piety in Shiʽi Lebanon (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), Introduction, pp. 3–41.

  • Arnold Eisen, Rethinking Modern Judaism. Ritual, Commandment, Community (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998)

  • M. Elshakry, Reading Darwin in Arabic, 1860–1950 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), Introduction, pp. 1–24; Chapter 4, Theologies of Nature, pp. 131–160 [available online]

  • John L. Esposito, Islam: The Straight Path (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998, 3rd ed.), “Modern Islamic Movements”, pp. 125–157.

  • Judith Frishman, “True Mosaic Religion. Samuel Hirsch, Samuel Holdheim and the Reform of Judaism”, in J. Frishman, W. Otten and G. Rouwhorst, eds., Religious Identity and the Problem of Historical Foundation (Jewish and Christian Perspectives Series 8, Leiden: Brill, 2004), 195–222; Reprinted in Ch. Wiese, ed., Redefining Judaism in an Age of Emancipation. Comparative Perspectives on Samuel Holdheim (1806–1860) (Studies in European Judaism 13, Leiden: Brill, 2007), 278–305.

  • Charles Kurzman, Liberal Islam: A Source-Book (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998)

  • Charles Kurzman, Modernist Islam, 1840–1940: A Source-Book (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002)

  • Mariano Artigas et al., eds., Negotiating Darwin. The Vatican Confronts Evolution 1877–1902 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006) 

  • Jacob Neusner, ed., Religious Foundations of Western Civilization; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2006)

  • Ronald L. Numbers and John Stenhouse, eds., Disseminating Darwinism. The Role of Place, Race, Religion and Gender (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999/2001)

  • Ernestine van der Wall, The Enemy Within. Religion, Science, and Modernism (Uhlenbeck Lecture 25 Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIAS), Wassenaar, 2007)

  • Jack Wertheimer, ed., The Uses of Tradition. Jewish Continuity in the Modern Era (Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Harvard University Press, 1992)
    For the weekly reading assignments, see the Weekly Schedule (on Blackboard).


Students are required to register through uSis

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration Contractonderwijs


Mevr Prof. dr. J. Frishman


This Seminar will only be given if there will be a minimum of 10 students to attend the course.