nl en

New Religions


Admission requirements

This course is open to all students with an academic interest in the subject matter.


This course introduces students to a number of new religions and forms of alternative spirituality. It equips students with an analytical toolkit for the study of these phenomena. The course is divided into two parts. In the first (and largest) part we look at institutionalised new religions (or ‘cults’) such as Scientology, Wicca (modern Witchcraft), and the Unification Church (Moon movement). In the second part we look at alternative spirituality (or New Age), including modern belief in healing, angels, and mindfulness. The new religions and alternative spiritualities in the course are approached from two perspectives: From a comparative study-of-religion perspective we analyse, compare, and classify the beliefs and practices of the various new religions and alternative spiritualities, enquire into how the movements legitimise themselves, and seek to locate them within the history of religion. From a sociological perspective we look at the social profile of those who join, compare the formal institutions and charismatic leaders of new religions with the loose organisation of the new age milieu, and consider phenomena such as conversion and spiritual seeking. The course includes an excursion to a religious group (earlier years we have visited the Scientology Church in Amsterdam) and a symposium with guest speakers speakers (in previous years we have had symposia on contemporary paganism and parody religions).

Course objectives

Knowledge, insight, and content-bound skills
After successfully completing this course,

  • students have obtained knowledge about the ideas, practices, history, and social organisation of a number of new religions and of alternative spirituality;

  • students know and understand the most important concepts and theories about new religions and alternative spirituality in the study of religion;

  • students can independently apply those concepts and theories in the analysis of primary sources from new religions and alternative spirituality; and

  • students have developed their skills of critically analysing religious claims.

Transferable skills
After successfully completing this course,

  • students have learned to carry out a small-scale research project on a set topic under supervision;

  • students have developed their skills of handling controversial material, including the skill to analyse controversial topics and reporting on them in a nuanced and critical way, the skill to identify biases in both insider and outsider representations of controversial issues, and the skill to question and rectify personal biases;

  • students have developed their skills in structural comparison, including the ability to identify similarities and differences on a structural rather than a superficial level within a set of relatively simple cases;

  • students have learned how to structure the argumentation in a short, academic paper and how to correctly reference sources and set up a proper bibliography;

  • students have improved their skills at co-operating with students from different backgrounds than their own, in terms of university education, religion, and/or nationality; and

  • students have improved their skills at oral or written presentation in English.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

This course includes two constituent exams:
Group work. In groups, students make a handout or give a presentation on one of the new religions or alternative spiritualities examined in the course. Each group receives one collective mark for the group work. This marks counts 20 % towards the final mark of the course.
Take-home exam. Max 1800 words. The assignment in the take-home exam is designed to cover the entire curriculum. This mark counts 80 % towards the final mark of the course.

Please take note of the following: The final mark is determined as the weighted average of the group work (20 %) and the take-home exam (80 %). To pass the course, students must obtain at least a sufficient mark (5.5) as the weighted average of these two marks.

Students who receive an overall insufficient grade for the course are given a new take-home exam (max 3000 words; consisting of two assignments). The mark for this take-home exam substitutes the previous marks for both the group work and the initial take-home exam, i.e. it determines the course mark for 100 %.

Exam review
Students receive oral and written feedback on their group work, and written feedback on the final take-home exam. In addition, students are invited to make an appointment to discuss the feedback on the take-home exam and their mark for the course.

Reading list


  • Olav Hammer & Mikael Rothstein (eds.; 2012), The Cambridge Companion to New Religious Movements, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Buy or download and print individual chapters from the University Library).


  • New Religions 2023, buy via and pick up at Copy & Print Shop, Lipsius.

Journal articles

  • Journal articles to be downloaded from Leiden University Library (LUB).


Students are required to register through MyStudyMap is mandatory.

Registration Studeren à la carte

Registration Studeren à la carte

Registration Contractonderwijs

Registration Contractonderwijs


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Vrieshof


The course is taught in English, but the final exam may be written in Dutch.