Universiteit Leiden

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Religious Studies (MA)

About the Programme

Learn the newest insights from the researchers who uncover them.

This programme consists of compulsory courses, electives in a specialised pathway, a Thesis Seminar and Job Market Orientation course, and an MA thesis based on your own original research. There is also the possibility of taking an internship or conducting fieldwork in place of one of the elective courses.

Programme structure

Semester 1 Tools and Theories in the Study of Religion: Historical, Cognitive, and Social-Scientific Approaches (10 EC) Religion on the Move: From Local Origins to Global Networks (10 EC)


Elective (10 EC) 

Choose a Specialised Path

Semester 2


Elective (10 EC) 

Continue a Specialised Path


Internship/ Fieldwork (10 EC)

Thesis Seminar and Job Market Orientation (5 EC)


(15 EC)

About the Compulsory Courses

In this course, students are introduced to a range of contemporary tools for analysing religious narratives and discourses, religious thinking and belief, as well as religious traditions, identities, and fields. These tools are drawn from a wide range of humanistic and social-scientific disciplines, including literary studies, cognitive science, sociology, and history. The theoretical foundations of the analytical tools are discussed and students practice how to use these tools to analyse concrete empirical material.

This course is a study of how religions move globally in the modern era. With the use of ethnographic cases and quantitative studies, it will emerge that the processes of globalisation and modernisation have not only contributed to the movement and expansion of religions, but that religions have been crucial in constructing and confronting these processes. We will consider the success and/or failure of religions in relation to how they move and adapt in the modern world, and how this relation corresponds to the iterative process of moving between local origins and global networks. In this context we will examine the various ways in which religions have adapted when up-rooted and re-rooted in new contexts. The course has a global scope, and has recently included case studies on Pentecostalism, the Bahá’í Faith, Manichaeism, and Evangelicalism, but it also looks at the religious superdiversity that characterises contemporary Dutch society, especially in the Randstad.

The module Thesis Seminar supports the thesis writing process. It consists of five sessions in which we discuss how to formulate a good research question, how to manage the work process, and how to structure the argument of the thesis. The module also includes an advanced library workshop.

The module Job Market Orientation offers students an overview of the job and career prospects of religious studies alumni and stimulates students to reflect on their own skills and ambitions. It consists of four class sessions and three job market workshops organised by the students. In addition, over the course of the academic year, students are required to attend at least one academic or professional workshop or study day and report on it to the rest of the class.

Specialised Pathways

In addition to the compulsory courses, students are able to choose a specialised pathway. These pathways include:

This pathway emphasizes religion in historical context, from the ancient world to the present, and with special attention to the development of religion across time. Examples of electives in this pathway include:

  • Monotheism and Empire
  • ‘Everyone will fear you’: Powerful Objects in Ancient Religions
  • Modern Muslim Qur'an Interpretation
  • From Inkwell to Internet: Text and Transmission in the Muslim World
  • Psychology, Ethics, and Education from Antiquity to the Present
  • Culture and Society in the Medieval Muslim World
  • History of Migration and Diversity
  • Lactantius, De mortibus persecutorum and the Enemies of Christianity

This pathway emphasizes religion in relation to politics, law, political-legal systems, and international relations. Examples of electives in this pathway include:

  • Religion, Law, and Society: The Case of Sharia in the West
  • Rethinking Secularism in International Relations
  • Political History of the Middle East in the Twentieth Century
  • Diplomacy: History, Theory and Practice
  • Modern United States Foreign Policy
  • BRIC: Emerging Powers and Changing Global Relations
  • Internationalism, Empire and the Cold War: 20th Century International Relations
  • Contemporary Indian Politics

This pathway emphasizes religion in an area studies perspective, with special attention to the movement of ideas and peoples across places, spaces, and contexts. Examples of electives in this pathway include:

  • Sacred Journeys: Pilgrimage and Holy Places
  • Material Culture, Memory and Commemoration Along the Silk Roads in Central Asia
  • Connecting Dreams: Europe in Africa, Africa in Europe
  • Religious Themes in Asian Art
  • Anthropology of Muslim Societies
  • Creativity and Culture in Contemporary China
  • Confucianism, Idealism and Power in East Asia’s Past and Present
  • Economic Development and Social Change in Southeast Asia

Fieldwork and Internships

In place of one pathway elective, students can also choose to receive credit for a fieldwork project or take an internship. In additional to the standard internships offered by the Faculty of Humanities, the programme is also in the process of developing tailor-made internships with some museums, international organisations, national political and educational organisations, NGO’s, and research institutions here in The Netherlands.

Programme structure

  • compulsory courses
  • electives within the programme or, with Board of Examiners consent: internship, independent study
  • thesis seminar and job market orientation
  • a thesis based on your original research work
  • annual conference
  • Lectures
  • Seminars
  • Tutorials
  • Self-study
  • Internship options
  • Papers
  • 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.

Latest research

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.

Detailed programme

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.

Judith Frishman

Professor of Judaism

Judith Frishman

"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 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."

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