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Comparative Religion


Admission requirements

Introduction to Religious Studies or equivalent.


Comparative religion has often been used as synonymous with the academic study of religion, even though most scholars in that field do not actively ‘compare’ religious traditions, but restrict their attention to a particular religion, in a particular place and a particular period. This course focuses on ‘comparison’ in the study of religion and on current insights in the limitations and possibilities of the ‘comparative approach’ in the study of religion. It does so by discussing two very different approaches to comparison: the highly contextual juxtaposition of evidence for a single religion in two different geographical and cultural settings (Clifford Geertz), and a decontextualized, theory-driven, approach to a crucial religious phenomenon: trance and spirit possession (Ioan Lewis).

Course objectives

Students will learn about current debates on comparison in the study of religion. They will learn to reflect critically on scholarly work on this particular subject, especially on the difference between contextualized and de-contextualized approaches, different attitudes to description and interpretation vs. representation and explanation. They will understand the explicit and implicit workings of comparison and will be able to apply these insights to specific case-studies.


Timetable Religiewetenschappen
“Timetable Minor Religion in a changing world”:

Mode of instruction


Course Load

  • Amounf of lectures: 2 hours per week x 13 weeks = 26 hours

  • Preparation for lectures: 2 hours per week x 12 weeks = 24 hours

  • Five essays in first half: 5 × 5 hours = 25 hours

  • Reading + Final essay for second half: 65 hours

Assessment method

  • First half: 3 essay questions + summary of literature, one midterm paper summing up the earlier ones (50 %)

  • Second half: final paper on the theory of spirit possession with reference to a particular case study (50 %)

  • Resit will consist of the same parts as the first opportunity.

Reading list

First half: Clifford Geertz

  • C. Geertz, Islam Observed. Religious Development in Morocco and Indonesia, Chicago/London 1971 (repr.; students need to have this book)

  • R. Segal, ‘In defense of the Comparative Method’, Numen 48 (2001), 339-373

  • J.S. Jensen, ‘Why Magic? It’s just Comparison’, Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 16 (2004), 45-60

  • D.M. Freidenreich, ‘Comparisons Compared: A Methodological Survey of Comparisons of Religion From “A Magic Dwells” to A Magic Still Dwells’, Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 16 (2004), 80-101

Second half: Spirit Possession

  • I.M. Lewis, Ecstatic Religion. A study of Shamanism and Spirit Possession (London, 20033; students need to have this book)

  • J. Boddy, ‘Spirit Possession Revisited: Beyond Instrumentality’, Annual Review of Anthropology 23 (1994), 407-434

  • J. McIntosh, ‘Reluctant Muslims: Embodied Hegemony and Moral Resistance in a Giriama Spirit Possession Complex’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute N.S. 10 (2004), 91-112

  • D.N. Gellner, ‘Priests, Healers, Mediums, and Witches: The Context of Possession in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal’, Man N.S. 29 (1994), 27-48

  • A. Ong, ‘The Production of Possession: Spirits and the Multinational Corporation in Malaysia’, American Ethnologist 15 (1988), 28-42


Blackboard is used as a repository of practical information and of content for the teaching, as well as for the handing in of written work through Turnitin. It may also be used as a medium of communication

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration Contractonderwijs


Prof.dr. A.F. de Jong