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Anthropology of Religion


Admission Requirements

The following categories of students can register for this course:

  • Students enrolled for the bachelor’s programme CADS at Leiden University who have passed both the propaedeutic phase and the following courses of the second year of the CADS programme: Research Preparation, Fieldwork NL and all the Key Issue courses.

  • Students enrolled for the bachelor’s programme CADS at Leiden University who have not yet passed the all the required courses of the second year of the CADS programme (listed above), who want to follow their third year exploration course during their second year programme. These students should first see the study advisor to discuss the viability of this option and then send a 100-150 word motivation to the course lecturer at least 20 days before the closing date of course enrolment. If you are selected, the lecturer will enroll you in the course.

  • Bachelor’s students from other academic programmes from Leiden University who have passed the propaedeutic phase of their programme and who want to follow this course as a level 300 elective. Please send a 100-150 word motivation to the course lecturer at least 20 days before the closing date of course enrolment. If you are selected, the lecturer will enroll you in the course.

N.B.: Availability for this course for BA2 CADS students and students from outside Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology is limited. Selection will be based on both the motivation of the student and number of available seats.

Course Description

Dominant theories of modernity have long positioned religion as fundamentally traditional and therefore incompatible with economic development and growth. Instead, modernity was expected to give rise to a secular sphere, existing alongside religious thought but independent of it. This secularisation paradigm has been fundamentally challenged since the turn of the twentieth century, when powerful political movements emerged worldwide which identified first and foremost in terms of religious allegiance. It has also become increasingly evident that strong commitment to economic modernity does not mean that politics cannot be inspired by religious values. Moreover, influential scholars in the Anthropology of Religion fundamentally challenge the opposition between religion and secularism, arguing that a secular sphere can never be free from subjective assumptions of morality and truth. This paradigm shift has also resulted in challenging the very notion of culture itself (as distinct from nature), triggering what has become known as the ontological turn. Anthropology of Religion, as a result, allows for the exploration of a field of meaning-making and world-making that far exceeds institutionalized religion, to encompass old and new animisms, new age, popular media culture, as well rituals of state, to give a few examples.

Studying religion from an anthropological perspective raises fundamental questions about the cultural or ontological realms in which people locate themselves, and the premises which undergird these. How do such realms attain shape, and include approaches to knowledge, truth and reason? How do people belong, to what sort of environments, and what is their relationship or responsibility towards these? How are the resulting categories overlapping, layered and situational? And how does this translate into ideas, values and practices that serve to legitimize hierarchies that are central to the political and moral inequalities that define today’s world? In this course we consider phenomena as varied as political movements, healing practices, and engagement of the dead, foregrounding the experiential, the performative and the political.

Course objectives

The course equips students to:

  • acquire an understanding of key debates in the Anthropology of Religion.

  • become familiar with key concepts in the Anthropology of Religion.

  • approach religion, secularism and ontology as categories of practice.

  • locate religious movements in their historical and political contexts.

  • identify, analyse and problematize the religious or ontological dimensions of the large social issues at stake in our globalized world.

  • engage critically with primary sources – textual and audio/visual – and make connections among multiple sources.

  • gain practical experience with the application of these categories, and learn how such insights can contribute to a radical reformatting of the analytical canvas.


Lectures and groups discussion are combined in weekly 3 hour sessions. Dates can be found on our website.

Mode of Instruction

10 ECTS = 280 sbu (study hours)

  • Lectures 12 × 2 hours = 24 * 1,5 = 36 sbu

  • Group discussions 12 × 1 hour = 12 * 2 = 24 sbu

  • Ethnographic interview = 12 sbu

  • Additional literature study for final paper = 108 sbu

  • Written assignments (bi-weekly assignments, discussion questions, ethnographic interview, final paper – total 7,500 words) = 100 sbu

Assessment Method

Four bi-weekly assignments (each 500 words): 40%
Ethnographic interview and analysis (750 words): 10%
Final paper (2,500 words): 30%
Class preparation, including posting of discussion questions (each 150 words), and participation: 20%

Re-takes for assignments and final paper are possible only if final grades are below 6,0, and then only if students have submitted all the required assignments/papers in time.

Registration in My Studymap

Registration for the lectures in My Studymap is mandatory for all students. Registration closes 5 days before the start of the course. Carefully read all information about the procedures and deadlines for registering for courses and exams.

  • Exchange students: If you have officially been admitted for this course during the Admission Procedure, you will be registered for the lectures by the faculty’s Student Service Centre.

Confirming your exams

Students need not register for the examination via My Studymap, because this course does not include a single final examination.


Brightspace is the digital learning environment of Leiden University. Brightspace gives access to course announcements and electronic study material. Assignments will be submitted in Brightspace. Announcements and changes to courses are made via Brightspace. Students are advised to check Brightspace daily to remain informed about rooms, schedules, deadlines, and details of assignments. Lecturers assume that all students read information posted on Brightspace.

  • How to login

The homepage for Brightspace is: Brightspace

Please log in with your ULCN-account and personal password. On the left you will see an overview of My Courses.

Course Literature

Boddy, Janice, and Michael Lambek (eds.) 2015 A Companion to the Anthropology of Religion. Chichester: John Wiley. (Available as e-book at the Leiden University Library)

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


Dr. Erik de Maaker