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Rethinking Secularism in International Relations


Admission requirements

Admission to the Master International Relations. Other students who are interested in this course, please contact the co-ordinator of studies


This course explores the ways in which secularism has coloured the study of international politics. Central to the course are questions concerning the character of religion and how particular characterizations influence the determination of which international phenomena are of scholarly and practical import, the character of and challenges facing (cosmopolitan) democracy in the late-modern era, whether democratic political community should be secular and if so what that might mean in practice, as well as questions concerning the resources that religious traditions might provide towards strengthening the conceptualization and functioning of democratic political community. The course begins by introducing students to several approaches to understanding religion. It then examines neglected international trends which some of these approaches bring into relief. Next it analyzes competing conceptions of (cosmopolitan) democracy, with particular attention to the purported relationship between democracy and secularism. The latter half of the course explores, by way of four case studies, whether religious traditions—focusing on Christianity and Islam—might offer potential insights regarding the purpose of democratic political community. The course concludes with a reflection on one foreign policy issue to which several western democracies have recently directed their attention—the issue of international religious freedom.

Course objectives


Valuable and successful seminars hinge on high levels of participation. So as to maximize the learning experience for all involved, students are expected to prepare thoroughly for each seminar by both reading and reflecting on the assigned material in advance. Students are also expected to contribute regularly to seminar discussion by raising relevant comments and questions in conjunction with and in response to their peers, and this in a manner that builds a constructive and respectful learning environment.

Reflection paper

The purpose of the reflection paper (1500wds.) is to undertake an in-depth engagement with the required readings for the week. This can be done by focusing on a compelling question/issue that arises from across the readings or from one reading in particular. Incorporation of additional material is not expected, although it is permissible so long as it does not detract from a detailed examination of the readings at hand. In the first class, and in conjunction with the instructor, students will choose the weeks’ readings with respect to which they will write a reflection paper. Proper essay formatting and citation style is expected (see note regarding research essay).

Seminar leadership

In order to frame seminar discussion such that it is closely connected with assigned readings as well as relevant to students’ interests and concerns, students will take turns introducing the readings for the week based upon the content of their reflection paper. Students should speak for approximately 5-10 minutes and be prepared to facilitate the ensuing discussion.

Research essay proposal

Students must submit a research essay proposal (500wds.) for review according to the following criteria:

  1. Clarity and feasibility of research question
  2. Demonstration of pertinence of research question
  3. Indication of and feasibility of research method
  4. Identification of preliminary bibliography
  5. Use of appropriate paragraph structure, grammar, punctuation, citation etc.
  • The research essay proposal is due in class Wednesday, October 11, 2017.

Research essay

Students are free to write their research essay (5000wds.) on a topic of their choice so long as the topic fits within the parameters of the course. Essay formatting and citation style should consistently follow one of two methods: Chicago Style (either note and bibliography system or author-date system) or Harvard Style. As with all assignments, the word count is inclusive of footnotes but exclusive of bibliography.

  • The research essay is due Monday, December 18, 2017 by noon.



Mode of instruction


Course Load

To be announced

Assessment method

  • Participation 15%

  • Reflection paper in response to readings for one week (1500wds.) 20%

  • Seminar leadership based on reflection paper 10%

  • Research essay proposal (500wds.) 5%

  • Research essay (5000wds.) 50%


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


The resit is only available to students whose mark of the final examined element is insufficient.

Exam Review

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 organized.


Blackboard will be used.

Reading list

While most readings are available in the short-loan section of the library or online, the following text should be purchased as it contains several readings for the course:

  • Calhoun, Craig, Mark Juergensmeyer, and Jonathan VanAntwerpen, eds. Rethinking Secularism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.


Dr.J.H. Valk

Time: Wednesdays 11:00-13:00
Office location: TBC

Meetings should take place during designated office hours. However, should an alternative meeting time be required due to exceptional circumstances, please contact me by email to make arrangements.