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And What About Religion? Critical Terms, Theories and Methods


Admission requirements



There probably are few areas of study and research in academia that are so intriguingly elusive, yet at the same time also so deeply formative of lived human reality and quest for purpose and meaning as the tangled domain called ‘religion’. From minority world, secular perspectives—which dominate academia and frame the term to begin with—religion hides in plain sight, to the point that some will argue that it does not deserve to be studied as a discipline separate from culture, psychology, art, politics, economy etc. Yet, this perceived (lack of) importance alotted to phenomena labelled as ‘religious’ also demarcates a relevant divide with majority world and with non- and differently modern world views. Any perspective on International Studies that lacks sufficient religious literacy and appreciation for the foundational role of religion in modelling the world in the majority and, more or less hidden, in the minority populations will have to remain blindsided.

In this course we shall familiarise ourselves with critical terms of such elusive entanglements in Religious Studies that each in their own way are foundational to conceptualising International Studies research projects. Terms such as: person or self, world or cosmos, body, gender, experience, rationality, time, sex, death, belief, word, meditation, prayer, ritual, gift, sacrifice, pilgrimage, modernity, power, conflict. As much as possible, we shall approach each of these issues by means of concrete case studies, chosen from different ‘religious’ traditions, regions and time periods. While doing so, we shall also briefly ford the main theories of religion, again by concrete example. Theoretical frames and methodological aspects will be practiced, hands-on, in individual research papers, which you will progressively develop in this course, under close supervision.

This course is specially (but not exclusively) designed for those with an interest in Religious Studies topics in International Studies. Following the various research interests of students, it addresses the many faces of ‘religion’, from yoga and mindfulness to religious wars, deep ecology, conspiracy theories, reclusive asceticism, (inner) jihad, and the eternal search for meaning …

Course objectives

To be announced.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

Discussion seminar.

Assessment method


Active participation in dicussion; oral presentation; pitch + paper (5000 words +/- 10%).


Partial grade Weighing
Active participation 20%
Oral presentation 20%
Pitch + paper 60%

End Grade

To successfully complete the course, please take note of the following:

  • The end grade of the course is established by determining the weighted average of all components.


Draft and final version paper.

Retaking a passing grade

Please consult the Course and Examination Regulations 2023 – 2024.

Exam review 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

General reading suggestions useful for this class (class readings to be announced:

  • Armstrong Karen. 2001. Holy War: The Crusades and Their Impact on Today's World 2Nd Anchor books ed. New York: Anchor Books.

  • Assmann Jan. 1997. Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism. Cambridge Mass: Harvard University Press.

  • Barker Eileen and Great Britain. 1989. New Religious Movements : A Practical Introduction ed. London: H.M.S.O.

  • Bruce Steve. 1996. Religion in the Modern World: From Cathedrals to Cults. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Clarke Peter Friedhelm Hardy Leslie Houlden and Stewart Sutherland. 2011. The World's Religions (version 1st edition). 1st ed. London: Routledge.

  • Crapps Robert W. 1986. An Introduction to Psychology of Religion. Macon Ga: Mercer University Press.

  • Dowley Tim and Christopher H Partridge. 2018. Introduction to World Religions Third ed. Minneapolis MN: Fortress Press.

  • Hanegraaff Wouter J. 1996. New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

  • Hanegraaff Wouter J. 2013. Western Esotericism: A Guide for the Perplexed. London: Bloombury.

  • Harris Sam. 2004. The End of Faith: Religion Terror and Future of Reason. New York: Norton & Company.

  • Heelas Paul. 2012. Spirituality in the Modern World: Within Religious Tradition and Beyond. London: Routledge.

  • Henderson John B. 1998. The Construction of Orthodoxy and Heresy: Neo-Confucian Islamic Jewish and Early Christian Patterns. Albany N.Y: State University of New York Press.

  • Hinnells John R. 2010. The Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion. 2nd ed. London: Routledge.

  • Lopez Donald S. 2005. Critical Terms for the Study of Buddhism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • Lynch Gordon. 2007. The New Spirituality: An Introduction to Progressive Belief in the Twenty-First Century. London: I.B. Tauris.

  • Makransky John J and Roger R Jackson. 2003. Buddhist Theology: Critical Reflections by Contemporary Buddhist Scholars. London: Routledge/Curzon.

  • Malony H. Newton and Samuel Southard. 1992. Handbook of Religious Conversion. Birmingham Ala: Religious Education Press.

  • Nelson James M. 2009. Psychology Religion and Spirituality. New York NY: Springer.

  • Pals Daniel L. 2006. Eight Theories of Religion. 2nd ed. New York NY: Oxford University Press.

  • Roszak Theodore. 1995. The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition 1St California pbk. ed. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • Smith Jonathan Z. 1982. Imagining Religion: From Babylon to Jonestown. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • Stausberg Michael and Steven Engler. 2011. The Routledge Handbook of Research Methods in the Study of Religion. London: Routledge.

  • Sternhell Zeev and David Maisel. 2010. The Anti-Enlightenment Tradition. New Haven: Yale University Press.

  • Taylor Charles. 2007. A Secular Age. Cambridge Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

  • Taylor Charles. 2009. Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity. 10. ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Taylor Mark C and Donald S Lopez. 1998. Critical Terms for Religious Studies. Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press.

  • Webb James. 1971. The Flight from Reason: Volume 1 of the Age of the Irrational. London: Macdonald.

  • Webb James. 1990. The Occult Underground. LaSalle Ill: Open Court.


General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website.

Registration Exchange

For the registration of exchange students contact Humanities International Office.



This course is mandatory for those who intend to choose religious studies topics, such as in thematic seminars and for their thesis.

This course is complementary to the Thematic Seminar: Religions in the Modern World, which introduces students more systematically and comprehensively to today’s major religious traditions and movements.

At least 80% attendance is required.