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Tools and Theories in the Study of Religion: Historical, Cognitive, and Social-Scientific Approaches


Admission requirements

Tools and Theories is a mandatory course in the MA programme Theology and Religious Studies.

The course is also open to MA students from other programmes who have a good BA level knowledge of the study of religion (for example, students who have followed the minor programme Religion in a Changing World).

The course also usually attracts a few PhD students from across the humanities.

Students who are interested in following the course, but have little prior knowledge of the study of religion, should contact the instructor. In some cases students can be admitted upon working through extra readings over the summer.


Tools and Theories is about transforming theory into concrete analytical tools that can help us study stuff and solve research problems. Concretely, students are introduced to a range of tools for analysing religious narratives and discourses, religious thinking and belief, as well as religious traditions and fields.These tools are drawn from a wide range of humanistic and social-scientific disciplines, including literary studies, cognitive science, sociology, and history. We discuss the theoretical foundation of the analytical tools we work with and, more importantly, we practice how to actually use these tools to analyze concrete empirical material. In this way, we constantly evaluate the usefulness of our tools and reflect on the research problems that each of them can help us solve.

In two ‘Tools assignments’ students work out research designs that involve using tools from the course to analyse primary material in order to solve research problems in the study of religion. During the last part of the course, students carry out the research sketched in one of the tools assignments and rapport their findings in a final paper.

Course objectives

Knowledge, insight, and content-bound skills

After successfully completing this course,

  • students have become familiar with the most important current debates on method and theory in the academic study of religion;

  • students know how to apply a set of up-to-date analytical tools in the study of religious texts, religious beliefs, religious traditions, and religious fields; and

  • students can independently apply these analytical tools to the study of new primary material (contemporary or historical) in the context of independent research projects.

Transferable skills

After successfully completing this course,

  • students have refined their research skills, including their skills at formulating an independent research problem with only minimal supervision, and at operationalising abstract theory in the form of analytical methods that can be used to analyse concrete empirical material;

  • students have refined their cooperation skills, including their skills at giving and receiving good quality peer feedback;

  • students have refined their skills at writing well-argued, academic papers; and

  • students have refined their skills at oral discussion in English.



Mode of instruction

Seminar. Attendance and participation are mandatory. Classes may be missed no more than twice and only in exceptional circumstances (at the discretion of the conveners and only with prior notice). Absence without notification can result in a lower grade or exclusion from the final exam and a failing grade for the course.

Course Load

10 ects x 28 h/ects = 280 hours

  • Time spent on attending regular meetings: 39 hours

  • Time spent on mandatory readings: c. 490 pages / 7 p/h = 70 hours

  • Time spent on weekly writing assignments: 26 hours

  • Time spent on writing two tools assignments: 30 hours

  • Time spent on preparing progress pitch: 8 hours

  • Time spent on preparing feedback on other students’ drafts: 16 hours

  • Time spent attending conference: 16 hours

  • Time spent writing final paper: 75 hours

Assessment method

To be entitled to hand in the final paper, students must:
1. have been present and active in class and have handed in the weekly writing assignments on time,
2. have handed in the Tools assignments on time, and
3. have handed in a draft version of the final paper on time.

The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighed average of three marks:
1. Contribution in class (oral contributions in class; weekly writing assignments; peer feedback) = 30 %
2. Tools assignments = 20 % (each 10 %)
3. Final paper = 50 %

Please take note of the following: The final mark is determined as the weighed average of the contribution in class (30 %), the tools assignments (each 10 %), and the final paper (50 %). To pass the course, students must obtain at least a sufficient mark (6,0) as the weighed average of the three marks AND receive a sufficient mark (6,0) on the final paper. If the weighed average is higher than 6,0, but the paper scores 5,0 or lower, the final mark for the course will be a 5,0.

Students who score an insufficient mark for one of the Tools assignments, may retake the assignment by submitting a new version. Likewise, students who score an insufficient mark on the final paper, may submit a new version of the paper. Students who score an overall insufficient mark for the course and an insufficient mark for their contribution in class may retake the ‘contribution in class’ part of the exam with a substitute written assignment.

Exam review
Students receive individual, written feedback from the course instructor on each of the three sub-tests. In addition, students are invited to make an appointment to discuss the feedback on the final paper and class contribution and their mark for the course.



Reading list

We will primarily read research articles that are accessible online via the university library. Students are responsible for downloading, printing, and reading these article before class. We will also read a number of book chapters and articles from journals that are not available online from the UB. Where copyright rules allow, this material will be made available via BlackBoard.


Students are required to register through uSis

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration Contractonderwijs


Dhr Dr. M.A. Davidsen


The course is taught in English.

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).