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Anthropology of Religion


Please note: this course description is not fully up-to-date for the academic year 2019-2020. A new version with marginal changes will be presented on this page shortly.

Admission requirements

There is a very limited number of available places for this course so only the following categories of students can register for this course:

  • Students enrolled for the Bachelor programme “CA-DS” at Leiden University who have passed the Propedeuse. Only ONE third year's course on level 300 is obligatory according to your programme.

  • Students enrolled for the Minor CA-OS who have not followed another CA-OS course on level 300.
    If due to too many applicationsa selection of participants needs to be made, students who have already followed other "verdiepings"-courses on level 300 will be de-registered.

The following two categories will be registered by our administration after explicit admission procedure:

  • Exchange and Study Abroad students who have been admitted to this course,

  • Pre-master students who have completed their admission procedure for the master CA-DS and have been formally admitted to this course as part of the pre-master programme.

Please see the Usis-registration procedure below.


Developmental models have long assumed that economic growth would result in the privatization and eventual decline of religion. In short, religion and modernity have long been considered incompatible. This secularisation paradigm has been fundamentally challenged at the end of the twentieth century, when worldwide political movements emerged that identify first and foremost in religious terms. In the US (in many ways the proverbial heartland of ‘late’ modernity), religious movements continue to inspire politics, and the same holds true for many other political arenas worldwide. The renewed inspiration that religions provide in times of globalisation has also posed new challenges to the presumed disparity between religion and secularism. Rather than perceiving religion and secularism as constituting distinct realms, both appear embedded in broader discourses on (for instance) knowledge, claim making and difference. Consequently, social scientists increasingly consider ‘religion’ a category that can—from an academic perspective—not be fruitfully ‘set apart’. Rather, it should be studied in relation to social and political phenomena as varied as political movements, healing practices, and eschatological knowledge.
This course approaches ‘religion’ as a social phenomenon, that is, a category that is acknowledged and referred to in the social contexts anthropologists and sociologists study. Approaching religion across various levels of scale allows for differentiation between people practicing religion, and groups or organisations who claim religious authority over others. A critical understanding of religion, in its experiential, performative and political dimensions, is an important requirement for anthropologists and sociologists who are engaging in either academic or policy related research, or a combination of the two.

Course objectives

The course aims for students to:

  • To learn how to analyze religious movements in their historical and political contexts.

  • Acquire an understanding of key debates in the anthropology of religion.

  • To become familiar with key terms in the anthropology of religion.

  • Acquire the ability to critically engage with primary sources – textual and audio/visual – and make connections between multiple sources

  • Identify, analyse and problematize the religious dimensions of social issues in the contemporary world.

Time table

Dates and room numbers can be found on our website, under "3e jaar, Semester 2, Hoorcolleges".

Mode of instruction

10 ECTS = 280 sbu (study hours)

  • Lectures 12 × 2 hours: 36 sbu

  • Group discussions 12 × 1 hours: 24 sbu

  • Study of literature 660 pp: 110 sbu

  • 5 bi-weekly assignments: 30 sbu

  • Final paper on topic of student’s choice (3.500 words): 80 sbu

Assesment method

Five bi-weekly assignments (60%)
One final paper (40%)
Class participation (rounding off)

Re-take for assignments/ papers is only possible if the final grade is below 6, if the student has actively participated in the course and submitted all of the preceding assignments/ papers.


The blackboard module will be active.
All participants must register for this course on Blackboard.

Reading list

  • A Companion to the Anthropology of Religion, Edited by Janice Boddy and Michael Lambek, Chichester: John Wiley (2015) (paperback edition), ISBN10:1119124999 & ISBN13:9781119124993. The book is available at or at It is also allowed to use the kindle or ebook editions.

  • Readings that are electronically available for download through the Leiden University Library webportal.


  • Registration in Usis is obligatory for the lectures (H) for all participants. Please consult the course registration website for information on registration periods and further instructions.

  • Registration for the exam is NOT necessary because this course does not have one final (classical) exam.

  • Registration on Blackboard is obligatory for all participants.

  • Exchange students: If you had officially been admitted for this course during the Admission Procedure, you will be registered for the lectures by our Student administration service.


Dr. Erik de Maaker