Religious Studies (MA)
About the Programme
Learn the newest insights from the researchers who uncover them.
The one-year master's programme in Religious Studies offers two specialisations: Religion, Culture and Society; and Christianity: the Dynamics of Diversity.
What makes Religion, Culture and Society unique is the wide scope of the programme. The generalist approach towards the study of religion focuses on skills, tools, methods and theories. Graduates are equipped with everything needed to analyse situations and tackle problems in society at large. Our staff members are specialised in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and New Religious movements; their expertise is available on site.
This specialisation consists of compulsory courses, electives or an internship or independent study, and an MA thesis based your own original research. Compulsory Courses include: Tools and Theories; Confronting Modernity; and Global Transformations.
About the Compulsory Courses
Tools and Theories familiarises you with all the latest theories and methods in the study of religion. You will also put this theoretical information into practice through case studies and hands-on analysis of historical and social-scientific data.
Confronting Modernity examines how religious authority is challenged by societal developments such as individualization and theories of evolution. In particular, a comparison is made of Jewish, Christian and Muslim modernist approaches, as well as more fundamentalist reactions towards modernity.
Global Transformations is a study of how the course of religion has changed due to increasingly expanding contacts and confrontations between the differing cultures of East and West. What form did Christianity – originating in the Middle East – take after its explosive growth under the Roman Empire? How has globalisation affected Buddhism in both Asia and Western Europe?
What makes Christianity: the Dynamics of Diversity particularly attractive is its non-confessional and comparative approach to the study of Christianity and its diverse expressions in (early) modern history and present-day society. Christianity: the Dynamics of Diversity studies secularising developments including non-religion, agnosticism, and atheism, and underlines the importance of biblical criticism in the tradition of Erasmus and Spinoza.
This specialisation consists of compulsory courses, one elective, and an MA thesis based your own original research. A one-day conference concludes the programme, during which students present their research. Compulsory Courses include: Tools and Theories; Confronting Modernity; The Holy Book: Its Changing Status in the Early Modern and Modern Era; and Global Transformations.
About the Compulsory Courses
Tools and Theories familiarizes you with all the latest theories and methods in the study of religion. You will also put this theoretical information to practice through case studies and hands-on analysis of historical and social-scientific data.
Confronting Modernity examines how religious authority is challenged by societal developments such as individualisation and theories of evolution. In particular, a comparison is made of Jewish, Christian and Muslim modernist approaches, as well as more fundamentalist reactions towards modernity.
The Holy Book: Its Changing Status in the Early Modern and Modern Era studies the fierce debates surrounding biblical criticism in the wider context of the relationship between religion and science.
Global Transformations is a study of how the course of religion has changed due to increasingly expanding contacts and confrontations between differing cultures globally. What form did Christianity – originating in the Middle East – take after its explosive growth under the Roman Empire? How has globalization affected Buddhism in both Asia and Western Europe?
Religion, Culture and Society programme structure
- compulsory courses
- electives within the programme or, with Board of Examiners consent: internship, independent study
- a thesis based on your original research work
- annual conference
Christianity: The Dynamics of Diversity programme structure
- 4 compulsory courses
- one elective course
- a thesis based on your original research work
- annual conference
- Internship options
- Peer feedback and assessment
- Essays and reports
- Oral presentations
- Final Thesis
The aim of the master's in Religious Studies is to familiarise you with:
- the most important current debates on method and theory in the academic study of religion – amongst others the literary, historical, cognitive, and social scientific approaches;
- the repercussions of the Enlightenment and modernity for the religious field, and the subsequent development of new forms of religion;
- the mutual impact of globalisation and religion, including the revision and transformation of (self-) understandings of religions and their practices, and the development of new religions due to global contacts, colonialism, and secularisation.
The acquisition of advanced academic skills in the interpretation of texts, the analysis and solution of conceptual problems, the ability to conduct scientific research and the effective communication of ideas are other key goals of the programme. Opportunities are provided for students to gain professional experience by participating in an internship at an organisation.
Our emphasis is on preparing you to make a difference in your future career, which is why relevant outside issues are constantly shaping what you are studying. External speakers from all sectors regularly give lectures on topical issues. This strong connection to important events, people, and debates happening around us is what helps our students move seamlessly from their degrees into their careers.
Content is regularly updated to reflect contemporary academic debates and the very latest insights – many from the research conducted by lecturers on the programme. The academically-rigorous design of the programme aims to develop in you essential skills in reasoning and critical thinking, as well as advanced abilities in independently conducting high-quality scientific research and developing this data into an academic dissertation.
For a detailed programme, see the Prospectus. Please note that this guide applies to the current academic year, which means that the curriculum for next year may slightly differ.
Professor of Judaism
"Many possibilities are open to our graduates, including careers in teaching – understanding religion as part of citizenship is giving our field a significant boost – consulting, HR diversity roles, and even financial and personnel management."
Religion in modernity
"Our small-scale MA in Theology and Religious Studies focuses on religion in modernity, including the way religion has been defined – important for the understanding of the West’s attitude to non-Christian religions today – the resistance and acceptance of authority, and changes and transformations due to global encounters. The programme offers a complete concept that includes tools and methods for students to apply to today’s religious phenomena."
Present-day world events
"The inclusion of present day world events in class discussions really engages students and emphasises the relevance of the programme's content. We organize meetings with alumni to help students build networks for future internships or jobs. We invite students to conferences to hear the latest ideas, and challenge them to think about what motivates people and how religion and spirituality play a role in their lives on both personal and societal levels."
Mirjam de Baar
“Time has taught us that solutions to social problems do not lie in technology, but in human potential. Technological solutions are essential, but so is the significance people attribute to this information through culture or language. Experience shows us that research within the humanities and social sciences often provides these solutions. This is why the research conducted by our humanities faculty is so highly relevant and important. I am very proud of the fact that Leiden University’s Faculty of Humanities is one of the world’s leading faculties in the field.”
Broad and relevant research:
“One of this faculty’s strengths is how incredibly broad it is. We conduct a wealth of relevant research in so many different fields and disciplines. We have egyptologists working on excavation sites in Saqqara and the Dakhla Oasis. We have linguists who are documenting, for the first time, languages that are spoken by vast numbers of people in the world today; others creating computer simulations of language acquisition by the brain. The extent and variety of the activity going on is tremendous.”
A stimulating environment
“When you join Leiden’s Faculty of Humanities you are joining a community of passionate, stimulated and ambitious students and staff from all over the world. Our academic environment is known for being conducive to interaction between individuals of all standing: at Leiden even the most junior researcher is treated as a valuable member of the community with important opinions to share. You also gain access to truly unique resources found nowhere else in the world, such as our famous collections at the University Library. Our lecturers and support staff are committed to your success, both now and in the future, and offer you the tools needed to develop into a critically-minded professional who can truly make a difference to the world.”