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Religion and the Enlightenment


Admission requirements

BSA norm and a pass for both first year Themacolleges


This course explores both the religious and intellectual developments of the ‘long’ eighteenth century against the backdrop of a globalising world.

The so-called ‘Age of Enlightenment’ is generally described as a turning point in Western history, driven by ideals of individual freedom, scientific and social progress, and is widely regarded as the origin of modern society. In recent years, scholars have increasingly challenged the coherence of this grand narrative by highlighting strong national differences, as well as many contextual variants. A plurality of Enlightenments has now been identified ranging, for example, from radical, moderate, medical or racist to religious, Catholic, Jewish and even mystical.

Yet at the same time, the ‘long’ eighteenth century saw the emergence of new religious movements, denominations and societies challenging the values and ideals of their time.
Many of these groups (Pietists, Quakers, Baptists, Moravians, Methodists…) sent missionaries across the globe and competed against one another to convert natives. They stood in many ways at the forefront of globalisation and offered a new, Christian worldview. The religious landscape of the eighteenth century thus proved more diverse than ever, scarred by episodes of violence, persecution and exile, making religious pluralism and cohabitation one of the most debated topics of the Enlightenment.

This course will explore some of the new ideas and religious beliefs debated in the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ through a number of case studies and overviews of the period. We will discuss the latest scholarship on the Enlightenment in relation to religious beliefs, freedom and tolerance. More generally, we consider how religious diversity in Western Europe and missionary activities across the globe changed the European worldview and laid the foundation for multi-confessional societies.

The course will be conducted in English. Students will familarise themselves with some key eighteenth-century sources dealing with religion, race and the global world. They will conduct research on a project of their own choice, which they will present in class in preparation for their final paper. A list of suggested topics will be included in the syllabus, but students are of course welcome to explore other ones in prior agreement with their instructor.

The course is connected to the Kerncollege ‘Global Connections’ insofar as it focusses on those aspects of the Enlightenment dealing with religion, missionary activities to the Amercicas, Africa and Asia, and the changing worldviews resulting from them.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

  • 1) carry out a common assignment

  • 2) devise and conduct research of limited scope, including
    a. searching, selecting and ordering relevant literature:
    b. organising and using relatively large amounts of information:
    c. an analysis of a scholarly debate:
    d. placing the research within the context of a scholarly debate.

  • 3) reflect on the primary sources on which the scholarly literature is based;

  • 4) write a problem solving essay and give an oral presentation after the format defined in the first year Themacolleges, including
    a. using a realistic schedule of work;
    b. formulating a research question and subquestions;
    c. formulating a well-argued conclusion;
    d. giving and receiving feedback;
    e. responding to instructions of the lecturer.

  • 5) participate in discussions during class.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialization

  • 6) The student has knowledge of a specialisation, more specifically:

  • in the specialisation General History : the place of European history from 1500 in a worldwide perspective; with a focus on the development and role of political institutions;

  • 7) Knowledge and insight in the main concepts, the research methods and techniques of the specialisation, more specifically of in the specialisation General History: the study of primary sources and the context specificity of nationally defined histories.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific seminar

  • 8) In-depth knowledge of the religious and intellectual developments in the ‘long’ eighteenth century.

  • 9) Engaging with the latest historiographical debates about the period.

  • 10) Approaching religion and the Enlightenment outside and beyond national ‘grand narratives’.

  • 11) Study of primary sources dealing with religion and the Enlightenment in a global context.

  • 12) Discovering relevant ditigal tools.

  • 13) Improve spoken and written English.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (attendance required)

This means that students have to attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, he is required to notify the teacher beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the teacher will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, he will be excluded from the seminar.

Assessment method


  • Written paper (5000-6000 words, based on historiography, excluding title page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)
    measured learning objectieves: 2-4, 8-13

  • Lierature review + synopsis for written paper
    measured learning objectieves: 2-4; 8-13

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectieves: 3-4, 10-11, 13

  • Peer review (of presentations and synopses)
    measured learning objectieves: 1-5; 8-11, 13

  • Participation
    measured learning objectieves: 5, 9-10, 13


  • Written paper: 60%

  • Literature review + synopsis for written paper: 15%

  • Oral presentation: 15%

  • Participation (oral and peer review): 10%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficient.


Written papers should be handed in within the given deadline, as published in the corresponding Blackboard course.


The written paper can be revised, when marked insufficient. Revision should be carried out within the given deadline, as published in the corresponding Blackboard course.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organised.

Reading list

  • Owen, John M., en Owen, J. Judd, Religion, the enlightenment, and the new global order (New York: Columbia University Press 2010). Avaliable through the university catalogue.

  • Domínguez, Juan Pablo (ed.), ‘Religious toleration in the Age of Enlightenment’ (special issue), History of European Ideas: 43 (2017), 273–388. Available through the university catalogue.

  • A suggested bibliography will be provided in the syllabus.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Lionel Laborie


All other information.