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Religion and Trade in the Construction of Empire, 1415-1776


Admission requirements

Students should have successfully completed both second-year seminars, one of which is part of the same specialisation as the present third-year seminar.


Free agency faced empire by defying states and states’ institutions worldwide. However, free agency defined the actions of single individuals often organized into networks of trade, knowledge and information, wherein cultural self-consciousness was paramount. Religion was one of the strongest marks of cultural identity, alongside with language and traditions that often determined the successes and failures of free agency. Since most free agents circulated across colonial and imperial spaces, religious (mis)conceptions of ‘the other’ were paramount to determine business partners, marriage suitors and general social and economic relationships between different ethnic and religious groups.
This course will start by questioning the validity of the concept of trading, religious and knowledge diasporas by suggesting that the efficiency of Early Modern free agency relied on the cross-cultural ability of men and women to move beyond the borders imposed by central states, religious laws and personal/religious pre-concepts. By developing mechanisms of institutional trust (through contracts, use of international law and court litigations) or personal certainty (through the practice of religious tolerance and toleration), Early Modern businessmen worldwide were able to defend their economic interests, substantiate economic growth and support the construction of formal and informal empires. From Western Europe to China, from the Americas into Africa, free agency was paramount for the survival of many and the accumulation of wealth by few. Printed and original primary souces will be used alongside material sources (objects), depending on the language skills of the participants and their individual interests.
This course is part of a trilogy of courses (The Genesis of Informal Empires and Religion and Trade in the Construction of Empire and A Tale of Cross-Culturalism) dedicated to the study of the underestimated role of free entrepreneurship and agency in Early Modern economies and societies.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

    1. divise and conduct research of limited scope, including:
      a. identifying relevant literature and select and order them according to a defined principle;
      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.
    1. write a problem solving essay and give an oral presentation after the format defined in the 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.
    1. reflect on the primary sources on which the literature is based.
    1. select and use primary sources for their own research.
    1. analyse sources, place and interpret them in a historical context.
    1. participate in class discussions.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

    1. The student has knowledge of a specialisation, more specifically of
    • in the specialisation Economic History the worldwide interaction of trading networks in the early modern period, the nineteenth century industrialisation of the Netherlands in a worldwide perspective, and the political economy of a globalising economy in the twentieth century;
    • in the specialisation Social History the explanation(s) of differences between groups from a comparative perspective (local, regional or international; of class, gender, ethnicity and religion) and the role of individuals, groups, companies and (international) organisations (including churches) in processes of inclusion and inclusion from ca. 1500 until the present day;
    1. Knowledge and insight in the main concepts, the research methods and techniques of the specialisation, more specifically of
    • in the specialisation Economic History the use of economic concepts in history writing and insight in the interaction between policy and economy; the use of both qualitative and quantitative sources;
    • in the specialisation Social History the application of concepts from the social sciences and the acquisition of insight in the interaction in social processes ased on research in both qualitative and quantitative sources.
  • Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific seminar*

    1. Define religion in Early Modern terms as a marker of cultural identity (using interdisciplinary literature);
    1. Map out the relationship between religion and trade and the importance of this relationship for the social and economic relations between formal an informal empires;
    1. Define, measure and characterize the role of religion in the formation of networks of free agents (family vs cross-culturalism);
    1. Define spaces of encounter between empires that were simultaneously spaces of encounters between religions and between free agents;
    1. Lay-out the theoretical blueprint to move the discussion about diasporas and empire building towards cross-culturalism and global empire building.


See Rooster Geschiedenis (in Dutch)

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total study load: 10 EC x 28 hrs = 280 hours

  • 13 sessions (2 hours weekly): 26 hours

  • Compulsory Literature: 54 hours

  • Specific Literature: 50 hours

  • Essay Literature: 100 hours

  • Preparation, organization and writting essay: 30 hours

  • Oral presentation: 10 hours

  • Feedback session: 10 hours

Assessment method


  • Written paper (ca. 7200 words, based on problem-oriented research using primary sources, including footnotes and bibliography)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-5, 7-13

  • Oral presentation
    Measured learning objectives: 2-5, 9-13

  • Participation/feedback session
    Measured learning objectives: 2d-e, 6

Written paper: 65%
Oral presentation: 15%
Participation/feedback session: 20%

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.

The deadlines for assignments will be announced at the start of the course.

Students have the chance to revise papers that have been marked insufficient (marks below 6) within two weeks after tutors’ feedback, at a date to be discussed between student and tutors.



Reading list

Francesca Trivellato, Leor Halevi and Catia Antunes (eds.), Religion and Trade in World History, 1000-1900, New York: Oxford University Press, 2014
Timothy G Fehler, Greta Grace Kroeker, Charles H. Parker and Jonathan Ray (eds.), Religious Diaspora in Early Modern Europe. Strategies of Exile, London: Pickering & Chatto, 2014

Specific readings for individual sessions will be provided on week 1 of the course during the ‘Introduction’


Via uSis

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Edgar Pereira, MA
Huizinga Building, 009b
Elisabeth Heijmans, MA
Huizinga Building, 009b


The compulsory readings are to be completed before session 2 of the course.