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Confronting modernity


Admission requirements

Students who have successfully completed the BA course ‘Christendom: de basics’, either as part of the BA ‘Religiewetenschappen’, the Minor ‘Religion in a Changing World’ or as an elective course during their BA studies at Leiden University, are automatically admitted.
Students who have successfully completed a course on the history of Christianity at another university are admitted as well.
Other students who want to take the MA seminar ‘Confronting Modernity’ need to contact the Coordinator of Studies and the course instructor in advance to discuss if they are eligible to be admitted.


In historiography, the Renaissance and the Reformation commonly mark the transition from the Middle Ages to what is called ‘modernity’. As an era in human history and a particular state of being, modernity is characterised by several fundamental changes in the fabric of society and culture that are collectively referred to as ‘modernisation’, including a (gradual) separation of church and state, structural differentiation of life spheres, democratisation, individualisation, globalisation, industrialisation, urbanisation, nation building, and the emergence of capitalism, knowledge claims based on empirical science, technology and mass communication. In historiography, a periodisation is used in which a distinction is usually made around the year 1800 between the early modern period and the modern period proper.

In this course, we focus on the latter period, during which Christianity was spread throughout the world, the denominational landscape of Christianity was dramatically reconfigured, church attendance and membership in (Western) Europe overall declined, state institutions assumed functions previously fulfilled by churches, Christians became increasingly confronted with adherents of other religions, and science-based hermeneutics severely challenged supernatural interpretations of Biblical texts. As a result, Christianity gradually lost the influence and ubiquity that it had had in Western societies beforehand.

The relationship between the Christian religion and modernity is not, as is often assumed, simply antithetical. As we will see in this course, various strategies have been developed by Christians to cope with modernisation processes, ranging from adaptation and accommodation to outright rejection and militant opposition. What is more, in a striking paradox, Christianity has both boosted and curbed those processes.

We will discuss how the complex phenomenon of ‘modernity’ was made sense of, and dealt with, in Christianity from several perspectives: the Enlightenment, Vermittlungstheologie, ultramontanism, Christian anarchism, neo-Calvinism, modernism, Christian socialism, fundamentalism, neo-orthodoxy, liberation theology, secularism, and postmodernism. We will do so by reading texts from key figures whose names are closely associated with these perspectives. All perspectives will be not only put in the context of their own time, but also linked up with each other and with the present.

Although it has a focus on Christianity, the course also touches upon other world religions, most notably Judaism and Islam, in their relationship to Christianity.

Course objectives

After successfully completing this course, students

  • can define ‘modernity’ and ‘modernisation’;

  • have gained profound knowledge of the development of Christianity in the modern era in general, and the interaction between Christianity and modernisation processes in particular;

  • are able to identify and differentiate between the most important Christian responses given to the said development and interaction;

  • are able to contextualise and interpret the said development and interaction;

  • have developed their own ideas on the said development and interaction;

  • are able to express the said ideas in oral and written form by making use of clear theories, methods and arguments.

Career Skills Development
During the course, students will

  • further develop their skills in presenting and discussing;

  • learn to critically analyse, summarise, evaluate, and develop their own opinion of arguments put forward in historical texts;

  • further develop their ability to conduct independent research on a topic dealing with the relationship between Christianity and modernity, and to give account of their research findings in a clear-structured, substantiated paper;

  • further develop their ability to link up historical events and perspectives with the present.


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

  • The Weekly Schedule may be found on blackboard by the end of August 2018

Timetable on the website

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures by the instructor

  • Student presentations of topics related to, and elaborating upon, the assigned weekly readings (20 minutes)

  • Class discussion based on the student presentations and the questions that each student has to submit prior to each class

Course Load

  • Total course load: 10 x 1 EC (28h) = 282h

  • Attending the weekly seminars (A1): 12 x 3h = 36h

  • Drafting a paper outline (A2): 4h

  • Reading and formulating questions (B1): 12 x 7h = 84h

  • Preparing the oral presentation (B2): 18h

  • Doing research for / writing the final paper (C): 140h

Assessment method

The assessment will be based on the following 3 components:

A. Practical Exercises

  • A1: presence and class participation

  • A2: 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) leads to automatic exclusion from the grade-determining elements. It is not possible to take a resit for component A.

B. Assignments Based on the Weekly Reading Material (30%)

  • B1: questions

  • B2: oral presentation
    Each week, each student has to formulate questions related to the required reading. These questions have to be put on Blackboard at least 24h in advance of each class. In addition, once during the course, each student needs to give a presentation based on the required reading for one of the classes.

C. Final Paper (70%)
The final paper needs to be the result of independent work. The topic of the paper needs to be chosen in consultation with the instructor.

Please note the following:

  • Class attendance is compulsory. Students who cannot attend a class need to inform the instructor of their absence in advance. Students who are absent more than twice will be excluded from the course.

  • The final mark is established by the weighted average of the grades for components B and C.

  • In order to pass this course, the grades received for components B and C must be a minimum of a 5,5 for each component and no less than a 6,0 for the average.

  • If component B is graded with a 5,4 or lower and consequently responsible for an average final grade of a 5,9 or lower, a student has to make an extra assignment within two weeks after having received the grade.

  • If component C is graded with a 5,4 or lower and consequently responsible for an average final grade of a 5,9 or lower, a student is allowed to revise the final paper within two weeks after having received the grade.

  • Deadlines for submitting assignments need to be strictly kept. If not, this will affect the grade.

  • Feedback on paper outlines and oral presentations will be given in class and by e-mail. Feedback on the final papers will be given by e-mail.


Blackboard will be used for notifications, communication regarding the weekly reading schedule, discussion, instruction on assignments, and the submission of components A2, B1 and C.

Reading list

All reading material listed below will be made available on a shelf in the course reserve section of the University Library and/or by means of Blackboard.

Capita selecta of the following publications are used as ‘handbook’ during the course:

  • S.J. Brown & T. Tackett (eds.), The Cambridge History of Christianity VII: Enlightenment, Awakening and Revolution 1660-1815 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

  • S. Gilley & B. Stanley (eds.), The Cambridge History of Christianity VIII: World Christianities c. 1815 – c. 1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

  • H. McLeod (ed.), The Cambridge History of Christianity IX: World Christianities c. 1914 – c. 2000 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

In addition, capita selecta of the following publications are read based on a weekly schedule, which will be put on Blackboard a couple of weeks before the start of the course:

  • G.E. Lessing, Nathan the Wise, G.A. Kohut (ed.), P. Maxwell (transl.) (New York: Bloch, [1779] 1917).

  • F. Schleiermacher, On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers, R. Crouter (ed.) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, [1799] 1996).

  • Quanta Cura (1864), Rerum Novarum (1891), Quadragesimo Anno (1931).

  • F. Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, C. Garnett (transl.) (New York: Heinemann, [1879-1880] 1951).

  • A. Kuyper, Calvinism: Six Stone-Lectures (Amsterdam / Pretoria: Hövecker & Wormser, [1899]).

  • A. Kuyper, On Islam, J.J. Ballor & M. Flikkema (eds.) (Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2017).

  • A. Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of Its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede, F.C. Burkitt (ed.), W. Montgomery (transl.) (London: Black, [1906] 1926).

  • W. Rauschenbusch, Christianizing the Social Order (New York: MacMillan, 1915).

  • J.G. Machen, Selected Shorter Writings, D.G. Hart (ed.) (Philipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2004).

  • H. Cox, The Secular City: Secularization and Urbanization in Theological Perspective (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1968).

  • H. Küng, Christianity: Essence, History, and Future (New York: Continuum, 1996).


Students are required to register through uSis

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

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[Dhr T.E.M. Krijger


Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).