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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 perspectives on religion have long positioned it as fundamentally traditional, and therefore as societies modernize destined to gradually lose importance and fade from the public domain. Instead, modernity was expected to give rise to a secular sphere, gradually taking up more space alongside religious ideas and practices. From the turn of the twentieth century onwards, this secularisation paradigm has been fundamentally challenged by the worldwide emergence of powerful political movements which identify first and foremost in terms of religious allegiance. It is also increasingly evident that such movements can very well enable and inspire economic modernization. In addition, as well as in consequence, rather than perceiving religious and secular spheres as opposites, scholars have come to argue that no secular sphere can be free from subjective assumptions of morality and truth. This paradigm shift has implications for the relationship between knowledge and belief. It also creates challenges towards the universal validity of and authority attributed to scientific knowledge, triggering what has become known as the ontological turn. Anthropology of Religion is in no way limited to the study of ‘institutionalized religion’. Rather, it involves the exploration of diverse and complex forms of world-making, of human-nonhuman relationships, and of theorizing for example illness, life and death. Subsequently it encompasses old and new animisms, new age, popular media culture, rituals of state, but also vernacular understandings of science as well as consipracy theories, to give a few examples.

Studying religion from an anthropological perspective raises fundamental questions about the cultural, moral and sensoreal 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?

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.

  • locate religious movements in their historical and political contexts.

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

  • analyse and 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 the insights gained can be applied to major societial issues.


Lectures and groups discussion are combined in weekly 3 hour sessions. Dates and room numbers can be found on the 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

Three bi-weekly assignments (each 500 words): 30%
Ethnographic interview and analysis (750 words): 10%
Final paper (2,000 words): 40%
Class preparation, including posting of discussion questions, 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.


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