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Elective: The Future of Religion in the West


Admission requirements

This course is only available for students in the BA International Studies (from any area specialisation).

The number of participants is limited to 25.


This course has an ambitious aim: to predict the future of religion.

For a long time, sociologists and historians proclaimed the imminent death of God. Scientific rationalism and economic prosperity were weakening religion in the West, it was argued, and it was merely a question of time before the modernisation process would also take its toll on religion in the rest of the world. In today’s postcolonial discourse, it has become fashionable to argue the exact opposite: that religion is alive and kicking, even in the West. In this course, we examine the empirical evidence and confront it with cutting-edge social theory to figure out what is actually going on.

The course consists of two parts. In the first part, we discuss a number of core readings. We start by analysing empirical trends of religious change in the West, including the decline of institutional religion in Western Europe, the religious revival in post-Communist Eastern Europe, and differences in religiosity between Europe and the United States. We also critically evaluate those social theories that have aimed to explain and predict religious change in the West, in particular the secularisation paradigm (predicting decline), the rational choice paradigm (predicting revival), and the subjectivisation paradigm (predicting transformation). For each of these paradigms, that have all been developed in the West, we ask ourselves to what extent they can help make sense of religious transformations globally. We also explore new theoretical developments that address religious change from a global perspective.

The second part of the course focuses on conducting actual research on a self-chosen topic within the framework of the course. For example, students can draw on theory from the course and self-collected empirical material to chart how religion is changing in the region they specialise in. Students present on their research progress and report their findings in a paper. Students receive feedback from each other on a draft version of their paper.

Course objectives

The elective courses for International Studies are designed to teach students how to deal with state-of-the-art literature and research questions. They are chosen to enhance the students’ learning experience by building on the interdisciplinary perspectives they have developed so far, and to introduce them to the art of academic research. They are characterised by an international or comparative approach.

Academic skills that are trained include:

Oral presentation skills:

  1. to explain clear and substantiated research results;
  2. to provide an answer to questions concerning (a subject) in the field covered by the course
    a. in the form of a clear and well-structured oral presentation;
    b. in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria;
    c. using up-to-date presentation techniques;
    d. aimed at a specific audience;
  3. to actively participate in a discussion following the presentation.

Collaboration skills:

  1. to be socio-communicative in collaborative situations;
  2. to provide and receive constructive criticism, and incorporate justified criticism by revising one’s own position;
  3. adhere to agreed schedules and priorities.

Basic research skills, including heuristic skills:

  1. to collect and select academic literature using traditional and digital methods and techniques;
  2. to analyze and assess this literature with regard to quality and reliability;
  3. to formulate on this basis a sound research question;
  4. to design under supervision a research plan of limited scope, and implement it using the methods and techniques that are appropriate within the discipline involved;
  5. to formulate a substantiated conclusion.

Written presentation skills:

  1. to explain clear and substantiated research results;
  2. to provide an answer to questions concerning (a subject) in the field covered by the course
    a. in the form of a clear and well-structured oral presentation;
    b. in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria;
    c. using relevant illustration or multimedia techniques;
    d. aimed at a specific audience.


The timetable is available on the BA International Studies website.

Mode of instruction

Seminars are held every week, with the exception of the midterm exam week. This course includes supervised research.

Course Load

Total course load for this course is 10 EC (1 EC = 28 hours), this equals 280 hours, broken down by:

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

  • Time for studying the compulsory literature and completing weekly assignments (8 hours per week): 96

  • Preparation for presentations: 16 hours

  • Writing the final research essay (including reading / research): 134 hours

Assessment method

Assessment & Weighing

Partial grade Weighing
Weekly assignments (including research presentation and peer-feedback) and participation in class 30%
Final research essay (5,000 words) 70%

End grade

To successfully complete the course, please take note that the end grade of the course is established by determining the weighted average.


Students who have been active participants in class and submitted the final paper on time, but scored an overall insufficient mark, are entitled to a resit. For the resit, students are given a chance to hand in a new version of the final paper.
In case of resubmission of the final essay (insufficient grade only) the final grade for the essay will be lowered as a consequence of the longer process of completion. The deadline for resubmission is 10 working days after receiving the grade for the final essay.

Retaking a passing grade

Please consult the Course and Examination Regulations 2017 – 2018.

Exam review

How and when an exam review takes place will be determined by the examiner. This review will be within 30 days after official publication of exam results.


Blackboard will be used for tutorial groups. Students are requested to enroll on Blackboard for this course, but only after correct enrolment in uSis.

Reading list

  • A reading list will be made available on Blackboard in January 2018. We will mostly read articles that can be accessed via the University Library.

  • Students are required to obtain a copy of Booth, Wayne C., Gregory C. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams, Joseph Bizup, and William T. Fitzgerald, The Craft of Research, 4th edition, 2016. (The third edition of the book can also be used).


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis can be found here.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Léon van Gulik

When contacting the lecturer, please include your full name, student number and tutorial group number.


The deadline for submission of the final essay is 15 June 2018.