Universiteit Leiden

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Markus Davidsen

Assistant Professor

Dr. M.A. Davidsen
+31 71 527 2582

Markus Davidsen is a University Lecturer at the Leiden University Centre for the Study of Religion.

More information about Markus Davidsen

CV and full list of publications

Fields of interest

My research interests include new religions and alternative spirituality, sociology of religion, semiotic and cognitive approaches to religion, and method in the study of religion. In my current project I employ online ethnographic methods to study ‘fiction-based religions’, especially religions based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s literary mythology or on George Lucas’  Star Wars films. The theoretical issues central to this project are textual persuasion, religious blending, and processes of rationalisation and legitimisation; I draw on comparative religion, narratology, and cognitive semiotics to address these issues.


I am willing to supervise BA, MA and PhD theses in the following empirical fields: new religions and alternative spirituality, contemporary religion, religious education. Furthermore, I am willing to supervise any project on religion (regardless of empirical focus) that makes extensive use of cognitive, semiotic, and/or narratological theory.


  • PhD (cum laude) in the Study of Religion, Leiden University (2014). Dissertation title: “  The Spiritual Tolkien Milieu: A Study of Fiction-based Religion”. A limited number of printed copies of the dissertation are available for sale: 15€ for LU students, 30€ for others.
  • MA in the Study of Religion, Aarhus University, Denmark (2008).
  • Erasmus exchange student, Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg (2007).
  • BA, in the Study of Religion with a Minor in Cognitive Psychology and Neuropsychology, Aarhus University, Denmark (2005).


  • University Lecturer (universitair docent), Sociology of Religion, Leiden University (since 2015).
  • Teaching Associate (docent), Sociology of Religion and New Religions, Leiden University (since 2011-2015).
  • PhD candidate, Aarhus University and Leiden University (2009-2012).
  • Instructor, Aarhus University (2004-2007). [History of Religion (2004), Introduction to the Study of Religion (2005-2006), Philosophy of Science (2005), Religion and Modern Media (2007)].

Teaching activities

I teach various courses in sociology of religion, new religions/alternative spirituality, and theory in study of religion:  I currently teach the following courses:

  • Tools and Theories in the Study of Religion: Historical, Cognitive and Social-Scientific Approaches (MA)
  • Religiewetenschappelijke vakdidactiek (MA)
  • Religie, levensbeschouwing en burgerschapsvorming in het onderwijs (BA/MA)
  • New Religions (BA)
  • Sociology of Religion (BA)
  • Fiction, Parody and Play in New Religions (BA)

Key publications

  • Davidsen, Markus Altena (2020), “Theo van Baaren’s Systematic Science of Religion Revisited: The Current Crisis in Dutch Study of Religion and a Way Out”, NTT Journal for Theology and the Study of Religion 74(3), 213–241. Target article in theme issue ‘Religious Studies in the Netherlands: Debating the Field’s Future”.

  • Davidsen, Markus Altena (ed.; 2018). Narrative and Belief: The Religious Affordance of Supernatural Fiction, London: Routledge. ISBN: 978-1-138-55966-0.

Research articles

  • 2020. “Studying Religions as Narrative Cultures: Angel Experience Narratives in the Netherlands and Some Ideas for a Narrative Research Programme for the Study of Religion”, in Dirk Johannsen, Anja Kirsch, and Jens Kreinath (eds.), Narrative Cultures and the Aesthetics of Religion: Storytelling—Imagination—Reception, in the series Supplements to Method & Theory in the Study of Religion, Leiden: Brill, 91–122. (With Bastiaan van Rijn).

  • 2017. “The Jedi Community: History and Folklore of a Fiction-based Religion”, New Directions in Folklore 15(1/2), 7-49.

  • 2017. “The Elven Path and the Silver Ship of the Valar: Two Spiritual Groups Based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s Legendarium”, including two appendices, “Tië eldaliéva”, by Rev. Michaele Alyras de Cygne and Calantirniel, and “Ilsaluntë Valion”, by Gwineth, in Carole M. Cusack & Pavol Kosnáč (eds.), Fiction, Invention and Hyper-reality: From Popular Culture to Religion, Abingdon & New York: Routledge, 15-39.

  • 2016. “From Star Wars to Jediism: The Emergence of Fiction-based Religion”, in Ernst van den Hemel & Asja Szafraniec (eds.), Words: Religious Language Matters, New York: Fordham University Press, 376-389.571-575.

  • 2016. “The Religious Affordance of Fiction: A Semiotic Approach”, Religion 46(4), 521-549.

  • 2015. “In de Ban van Tolkien: Geloof en Geloven in Tolkien-spiritualiteit”, Religie & Samenleving 10(3), 213-234.

  • 2013. “Fiction-based Religion: Conceptualising a New Category against History-based Religion and Fandom”,  Culture and Religion: An Interdisciplinary Journal 14(4), 378-395.

  • 2012. “Future Directions in the Sociology of Non-institutional Religion”,  Implicit Religion 15(4), 553-570.

  • 2012. “What is Wrong with Pagan Studies?”,  Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 24(2), 183-199.

  • 2012. “The Spiritual Milieu Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Literary Mythology”. In A. Possamai (ed.),  Handbook of Hyper-real Religions. Leiden: Brill. 185-204.

Grants and awards

  • Gerardus van der Leeuw PhD Dissertation Award, dissertation award of the Dutch Association for the Study of Religion, awarded biennially for the best doctoral dissertation in the Study of Religion defended at a Dutch university (EUR 650), 2016.
  • Danish Research Council for Independent Research (Humanities), 3-year international PhD scholarship (EUR 184,485), 2009-2012.
  • Arenberg-Coimbra Group Prize for Erasmus Students (EUR 5,000) , 2009.

Administration and service to the profession

2019- . Voorzitter Projectteam Basiscurriculum, Expertisecentrum Levensbeschouwing en Religie in het Voortgezet Onderwijs; 2018-2019 Lid kernteam

2012-2017. General secretary, Dutch Association for the Study of Religion (NGG), 2009-2012; PhD representative on the board.

Assistant Professor

  • Faculty of Humanities
  • Leiden Institute for Area Studies
  • LUCSoR

Work address

Matthias de Vrieshof
Matthias de Vrieshof 1
2311 BZ Leiden
Room number 0.04b


No relevant ancillary activities

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