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Thematic Seminar: Religions in the Modern World


Admission requirements

This course is only available for students in the BA International Studies programme.
The number of participants is limited to 25.


Religion is everywhere and the academic study of religion has never been more relevant than it is today. Religious traditions and practices are ubiquitous across the globe and reach deeply into all facets of human culture and society. This course will introduce students to today’s major religious traditions and movements and how they encounter modernity and the transnational forces that continue to shape and transform the twenty-first century. In each case, the regional origins of religions will be highlighted, while also paying close attention to how religions have migrated and globalized over the centuries. Students will be given a chance to explore this local-regional-global perspective in-depth within their final research essays.

Beyond being introduced to the histories and modern practices of well-known traditions such as Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, students will also acquire a basic knowledge of lesser-known traditions such as Paganism, New Age, Chinese Religions, and Indigenous African Religions. Within the course readings, students will read primary texts from each tradition and engage in academic articles related to prominent issues in the study of religion, including issues of violence, gender, sexuality, secularization, and politics. Many issues related to religion spill into the public domain and students will be given a chance to test their rhetorical skills by writing and presenting public policy briefs on contentious contemporary topics. Outside of the classroom, students will also have opportunities to visit local religious sites and reflect on these encounters using field reports. By the end of the course, students will have a broad knowledge of what religion is, how it is being practiced in the modern world, and how to analyze and understand it as a cultural and social phenomenon.

Additionally, the students will work through:

  • W.C. Booth, G.G. Colomb, J.W. Williams, The Craft of Research, third edition, Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Course objectives

The Thematic Seminars 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 multidisciplinary 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 and 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:

  • in the form of a clear and well-structured oral presentation;

  • in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria;

  • using up-to-date presentation techniques;

  • using relevant illustration or multimedia techniques;

  • 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. To 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.


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 includes supervised research.

Course Load

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

  • Attending seminars (2 hours per week x 12): 24 hours

  • Reading assigned texts (c. 500 pages at 7 pages/hour): 72 hours

  • Independently visiting religious sites and writing field reports: 30 hours

  • Public policy proposal and oral presentation: 30 hours

  • Researching and writing final research essay: 124 hours

Assessment method

Assessment and Weighing

Partial grade Weighing
Religious Sites Field Reports 30%
Public Policy Proposal and Oral presentation 20%
Final Research Essay (5,000 words) 50%

End Grade

To successfully complete the course, please take note that the End Grade of the course is established by determining the weighted average of all assessment components.


Students who have been active participants in class and submitted the Final Essay 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 Essay.
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 2018 – 2019.

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 the seminars. Students are requested to enroll on Blackboard, but only after correct enrolment in uSis.

Reading list

No single textbook will be used for the course. Primary texts and academic articles will be made available to students via Blackboard or the university library.

Students are encouraged to work through the following text to assist with writing their final papers:

  • W.C. Booth, G.G. Colomb, J.W. Williams, The Craft of Research, third edition, Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2008.


  • Enrolment through uSis for Thematic Seminars is mandatory.

  • The Thematic Seminars make use of a waiting list for the enrolment in uSis. If you are on the waiting list for a Thematic Seminar, this does not guarantee you a spot in this Seminar.

  • Enrolment in only one Seminar is allowed. Students are more than welcome to remain on one or more waiting lists, as well as an actual enrolment.

  • If a Thematic Seminar and its corresponding waiting list is no longer available for enrolment in uSis, this means it is full. Do not try to obtain a spot through other means.

  • If you are unsure of your enrolment status for a Thematic Seminar, please contact the BAIS Administration Department.

  • General information about uSis is available here.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. C.L. Williams

When contacting your lecturer, please include your full name, student number, and course title.


The deadline for submission of the Final Essay is Friday 7 June 2019.