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New Religions


Admission requirements

This course is open to all students with an academic interest in the subject matter.


This course introduces students to a number of new religions and forms of alternative spirituality. It equips students with an analytical toolkit for the study of these phenomena. The course is divided into two parts. In the first (and largest) part we look at institutionalised new religions (or ‘cults’) such as Scientology, Wicca (modern Witchcraft), and the Unification Church (Moon movement). In the second part we look at alternative spirituality (or New Age), including modern belief in healing, angels, and mindfulness. We approach both new religions and alternative spirituality from two angles: From a comparative study-of-religion perspective we analyse, compare, and classify the beliefs and practices of the various new religions, enquire into how the new religions legitimise themselves, and seek to locate them within the history of religion. From a sociological perspective we look at the social profile of those who join, compare the formal institutions and charismatic leaders of new religions with the loose organisation of the new age milieu, and consider phenomena such as conversion and spiritual seeking. As part of the course we will visit a religious movement (last year that was the Scientology Church in Amsterdam) and/or organise a small symposium with guest speakers (in previous years we have had symposia on contemporary paganism and parody religions).

Course objectives

Knowledge, insight, and content-bound skills

After successfully completing this course,

  • students have obtained knowledge about the ideas, practices, history, and social organisation of a number of new religions and of the New Age milieu;

  • students know and understand the most important concepts and theories about new religions and alternative spirituality in the study of religion;

  • students can independently apply those concepts and theories in the analysis of primary sources from new religions; and

  • students have developed their skills of critically analyzing religious claims.

Transferable skills

After successfully completing this course,

  • students have learned to carry out a small-scale research project on a set topic under supervision;

  • students have developed their skills of handling controversial material, including the skill to analyse controversial topics and reporting on them in a nuanced and critical way, the skill to identify biases in both insider and outsider representations of controversial issues, and the skill to question and rectify personal biases;

  • students have developed their skills in structural comparison, including the ability to identify similarities and differences on a structural rather than a superficial level within a set of relatively simple cases;

  • students have learned how to structure the argumentation in a short, academic paper and how to correctly reference sources and set up a proper bibliography;

  • students have improved their skills at co-operating with students from different backgrounds than their own, in terms of university education, religion, and/or nationality; and

  • students have improved their skills at oral or written presentation in English.


Timetable Religiewetenschapen
Timetable Minor Religion in a changing world

Mode of instruction

Three modes of instruction are used in combination.

  • Lectures. The lectures will be used to introduce theoretical perspectives and discuss them in relation to the new religions and alternative spiritualities treated in the course.

  • Group work. Each group makes a handout or gives a presentation on a particular new religion.

  • Excursion and/or symposium. Details will be provided later via Blackboard.

Course Load

Total course load: 5 × 28 = 140 hours

  • Hours spent on attending ordinary sessions: 11 × 2 = 22 hours

  • Hours spent on excursion/symposium: 2 × 4 = 8 hours

  • Times spent studying compulsory literature: c. 392 pages / 7 p/h = 56 hours

  • Group work (handout or presentation) = 16 hours

  • Writing take-home exam = 38 hours

Assessment method

This course includes three test units:

  • Group work. In groups, students make a handout or give a presentation on one of the new religions examined in the course. Each group receives one collective mark for the group work. This marks counts 30 % towards the final mark of the course.

  • Take-home exam with essay questions. Max 3000 words. The take-home exam consists of two assignment about the curriculum in general. This mark counts 70 % towards the final mark of the course.

  • Midterm optional. Students are given the opportunity to hand in a midterm assignment consisting of the first assignment in the end-term take-home. The midterm is graded and students receive feedback, but the grade does not count towards the final grade for the course.


Please take note of the following: The final mark is determined as the weighed average of the group work (30 %) and the take-home exam (70 %). To pass the course, students must obtain at least a sufficient mark (6,0) as the weighed average of these two marks.


Students who receive an overall insufficient grade for the course are given a new take-home exam (max 3600 words; consisting of three assignments). The mark for this take-home exam substitutes the previous marks for both the group work and the initial take-home exam, i.e. it determines the course mark for 100 %.

Exam review

Students receive oral and written feedback on their group work, and written feedback on the midterm and final take-home exam. In addition, students are invited to make an appointment to discuss the feedback on the take-home exam and their mark for the course.


The course makes use of Blackboard. All communication will take place via Blackboard, additional information about the course will be available via Blackboard, and assignments must be handed in via Blackboard

Reading list

Students are required to buy the following resources:

  • Hammer, Olav & Mikael Rothstein (eds.; 2012), The Cambridge Companion to New Religious Movements, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Course Reader (can be ordered in January 2019 from


Students are required to register through uSis

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration Contractonderwijs


The course is taught in English, but the final exam may be written in Dutch.


Dr M.A. Davidsen