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Master
Spirituality and Religion (Theology and Religious Studies)
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Study programme

The Master’s programme includes a set of core courses (18 ECTS) and a number of elective courses. The core courses and the selected elective courses lead to a specific, coherent area of specialisation. The programme offers three areas of specialisation: 1) Spirituality and Esotericism in Western Culture; 2) Religion and Spirituality in Contemporary Societies; and 3) Spirituality and Religion in Islam.

Programme structure

The Master's programme in Spirituality and religion comprises 60 ECTS credits:

  • 18 credits for the core courses.
  • 24 credits for the electives within an area of specialisation.
  • 18 credits for the Master’s thesis.
  • Core courses

    All students take the following three core courses during their first semester:

    • Spirituality and religion: basic concepts (6 ECTS)
      This course provides an introduction to the most important concepts, debates, methods, and theories in the academic study of religion, and devotes particular attention to the relationship between religion and spirituality. Chief focuses are the relevant terminologies in this field of study, scholarly discussions about “Western” perspectives on religion/spirituality, the relation between institutional and doctrinal forms of "religion" and more individual and praxis-oriented types of “spirituality”, the importance in this context of apologetics and polemics, and how to combine interdisciplinary approaches with methodologies specific to (intellectual) history, the social sciences, and the study of literature, the arts, and popular culture. 
    • Introduction to Western esotericism and spirituality (6 ECTS)
      This course offers a solid basis for understanding "Western esotericism" as an academic field of study. It begins by focusing on the main theoretical debates that exist in this field as well as their methodological implications. It then introduces students to the essentials of an "empirical-historical" approach to the study of Western esotericism, and its relation to other methodological approaches. Finally, it focuses on "spirituality" as a specific domain in the study of religion and on its relation to Western esotericism.
    • Spirituality and religion: lived practices (6 ECTS)
      This course tackles the subject of spirituality and religion in its multiform complexity and focuses on understanding the social dimensions of religion and spirituality through developing concrete links between scholarly literature and the direct, hands-on study of existing religious phenomena. Students are encouraged to critically assess key scholarly debates, select appropriate methods to fit their research questions, and learn through practice the application of relevant qualitative methods.
  • Areas of specialisation

    Apart from the core courses, you select a number of electives based on the following areas of specialisation:

    Spirituality and Esotericism in Western Culture
    In the elective courses for this area of specialisation, you will receive a comprehensive historical overview from Antiquity, through the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period, up until the present day. You will learn about the most important currents, movements and authors in the history of Western esotericism, from neo-Platonism and Hermetism to contemporary Paganism, Occulture, and the New Age; from ancient Gnostic sects to modern Theosophy and contemporary initiatory groups; from Plotinus to Rudolf Steiner and Aleister Crowley. This area of specialisation is based on the unique expertise in the field of Western esotericism of the Centre for the History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents (HHP), the world-leading institute in the field.

    You will follow courses offered by the HHP Centre.  You will also have access to extraordinary resources such as the collections of the University Library (eg, the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana and the state-owned part of the Ritman collection), the Embassy of the Free Mind (formerly known as Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, or Ritman Library), and the library of the Theosophical Society in the Netherlands.

    Religion and Spirituality in Contemporary Societies
    In this area of specialisation, you will focus on the role of religion and spirituality in our rapidly evolving societies. We pay particular attention to religious practices and experiences (“Lived Religion”) and to the interactions between the religious and the secular through the lens of spirituality. How do religious people construct and experience religion and which actions result from it? How do they organise themselves and how do they become public? How do they operate in secular societies?

    This specialisation focuses not only on spirituality in the Abrahamic religions, but also on Eastern religions in the West, religions of immigrants, new religions and aspects of non-religion.

    Religion and Spirituality in Islam
    In this specialisation you will investigate the historical and contemporary forms of interplay between religion and spirituality in Islam. A major focus of this specialisation lies on the transformations Islam has gone through in the modern and contemporary globalised world, with significant attention being given to spiritual movements and groups that have been part of the complex phenomena of Sufism and Islamic mysticism. Attention is also devoted to gender and legal aspects of Islam from an anthropological perspective and to the development of contemporary forms of lived religion in urban contexts where Islam is a majority religion.

  • Electives

    Besides the core courses, students generally only take courses from within their area of specialisation. In consultation with the tutor, students may petition the Board of Examiners to include other electives within their programme.

  • Internship

    Students can opt to include an internship (6 ECTS) within their area of specialisation. In the past, our students have done internships at various research and cultural institutions and media outlets within the city and beyond, such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Dutch embassies abroad (Cairo, Rabat, Teheran, Beirut), the Ministry of Domestic Affairs, the Amsterdam municipality (policy advice bureaus), the Meertens Institute, the Embassy of the Free Mind, Meldpunt Discriminatie, Bureau Common Ground, Labyrinth Onderzoek & Advies, and the newspaper Trouw.

  • Thesis

    The Master’s thesis is an important part of the programme and it enables you to write an original work of research under the supervision of one of the staff members. The subject of the thesis must be mutually agreed upon by the student and the thesis supervisor.

Detailed course information

For detailed course information, please see:

Credit transfer

Students who show exceptional promise during a regular or professional programme are encouraged to continue their studies in the two-year Research Master's programme Religious Studies. Once students are admitted to the research programme, they can transfer credits earned during their previous course of study towards their Research Master's degree. The Examinations Board determines which courses qualify for transfer.