How do religions come into existence? How do they affect people and societies? What role does religion play in various cultures and conflicts?
Religion is an important factor in many national and international social themes. Sometimes this is obvious, especially when we read news about religious radicalization. Other times, it is much less obvious and we are not as aware of the influence religion has in social phenomena, such as in cases of sexual health or climate change. Worldwide, there are many conflicts, sensitivities and political discussions in which religion plays a role. Religious Studies is thus a very topical social degree programme.
Within the Religious Studies programme, you will examine how we live and the prominent role religion plays in people's lives. You will study people's behavior, thinking, and learning. In class, you will not debate to what extent religion is 'true', but rather, how religion affects people's lives and what people do with it.
During your studies you will deepen your knowledge of various aspects of the major religions in the world (Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Judaism). Because there are so many important factors in studying religion in relation to people and society, you will become a broadly trained social scientist.
comforting and welcoming atmosphere
I have always had a deep interest in humanities and social sciences, but coming into the last year of highschool I found myself torn between what I wanted to study in the next stage of my education. I found myself desperately trying to choose between my favourite subjects of history, art history, politics, religion, psychology, philosophy and a handful of others that would be too long to list.
finding the description for the course of religious studies in the
University of Groningen, I came to realise that the course
encompassed all of these subjects and perspectives I found myself
interested in with the common focus of an integral aspect of human
society - religion, from a non-denominational perspective.
Coming from a small town in Ireland I looked for the small, comforting and welcoming atmosphere that comes with joining a smaller faculty such as the faculty of theology and religious studies whilst still having the excitement and opportunity of living abroad in a diverse, international student city.
Throughout my first year not only have I been able to study a variety of different religions and cultures, I have learned essential analytical methods and critical thinking skills, as well as many soft skills such as academic writing and presentation skills that will aid me in future education and employment.
After completing my bachelor's, I am hoping to go into spiritual care, but should I find myself as torn as before, religious studies offers a very broad career scope for me to choose from, and the career guidance support from the faculty is sure to help.
A highly challenging topic
After my final school exams, I took a year off to travel around India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism play an important role in these countries. I am primarily interested in how religious beliefs in these countries relate to phenomena such as Hindu nationalism, development aid, the position of women, and anti-Muslim violence. That's why I decided to study Religious Studies and specialize in South Asia.
What I like about this programme are the interactive lectures in small groups: we have lots of discussions and we have to give presentations. I really enjoy the diversity and topicality of the content, too.
I think that the phenomenon of religion is an extremely challenging topic. Throughout the years I have acquired a broad knowledge of the various religions and their relation to such aspects as politics or globalization.
As a religious studies scholar, I hope to create a bridge between South Asia and the West. There is so much misunderstanding in the West around issues such as women’s rights and nationalism in these countries. This certainly has a negative effect on how India is portrayed in the media and on development policy. After my degree programme, I hope to be able to play an advisory role in these matters, for example in organizations such as Oxfam Novib, or at UN Women.’
Re-thinking how religion works
I was drawn to Groningen because of its reputation for being excellent for international students; the option to take my classes in English was also a big 'plus'. I am particularly interested in the scientific approach of studying religion, as well as studying religious practice and the significance of belief within communities; and the course here 100% meets my expectations.
The classes are incredibly interesting and the overall
environment is very friendly to international students, whilst the
professors are both knowledgeable and approachable. One of the
challenges that I have had is re-thinking how religion works; I
think I may have had previous biases in my ideas about religion and
I have tried to gain a new understanding of the subject as a whole.
My lecturers have been careful to critically present arguments from
across academia and within both Religious Studies and other subject
areas; it’s great to get a taste of various
My course is structured progressively, so everything meshes together and builds to allow a deeper understanding of the content - instead of having five overview classes at once! The professors here encourage students to develop critical thinking, they always encourage questions and they have tried to give us the tools necessary in conducting our own research, too, which is great.
Outside of studying, Groningen is a lovely city, it is small enough to feel cosy and yet has a great social life. It really epitomizes the Dutch idea of ‘Gezellig!’. I love being able to bike everywhere and Groningen is a very young and active city with a vibrant mixture of culture, shopping and nightlife.
I want students to ask critical questions
I am especially fascinated by meaning-making. What makes life meaningful for people? What is of ultimate value? And why is that? How do you look at the world, and why do I understand it differently? A meaningful life is important to many people, but what does such a life constitute? And how do we deal with setbacks in life, or major crises such as illness and death?
Through my research I aim to better understand meaning-making processes in order to contribute to individual and social well-being. For example, I focus on funeral and bereavement rituals and their role in coping with loss.
In the course unit Psychology and Sociology of Religion, which I teach, we focus on the religious and spiritual behavior of people. We discuss, among other things, how religiosity and spirituality relate to meaning-making and human well-being. We do this not only theoretically, but also by means of concrete examples. For example, how can religion help people to cope with cancer? How does prayer work? But also: in what ways does religion impact the social embedding of people?
Human behavior is complex, both on an individual and social level. When it comes to religion in the Netherlands, people often speak of “conservative Christians”, “fundamentalist Muslims” or “tree hugging hippies”. It's easy to assume and generalize. I want students to ask critical questions. What do we actually mean by conservative? What is the difference between Muslims and Islam? How do religious minorities relate to the majority in a society? What kind of power relations play a role there?
Climate change and hope
As an Assiociate Professor of Global Politics and Religion, I concentrate on issues related to inequality and global justice. As cliched as it sounds, I’ve always been motivated by the desire to make life better for people, to do my part to make the world a kinder, fairer, safer, more inclusive place for people who have typically been marginalized, excluded and oppressed. Politics for me is where this takes place. Politics is about power – the power to include or exclude and why; the power to acknowledge and listen or ignore and silence. Religious identity, belief, narratives and belonging have always been part of how these power relationships were enacted, but they seem to be more prominent than ever as we head into the third decade of the 21 st century.
In particular, I contribute lectures on climate refugees and on hope. Migration and displacement is a key area of my research and it is also one of the most severe challenges we as a global community currently face. We often think about climate change as a scientific, ecological, economic or political problem. But climate change is also fundamentally a moral problem, because some people and countries will be (and are already) more affected by the worst consequences of climate change than others. Climate change will exacerbate existing inequalities and injustices, as well as generate new forms of marginalization and exclusion. The course unit on Climate Change, End Times and Sustainable Futures that I teach, is a space for people to familiarise themselves with what different traditions have to say about these inequalities – between different groups of people, but also between humanity and nature.
When it comes to climate change, migration and other global justice issues, the picture can be very bleak. For this reason, I also like to conclude the course with a lecture on hope. What is hope? How do we find hope? How do we keep going and stay motivated and motivate others when it can feel like what we do makes very little difference? I hope my students develop an appreciation for the complex moral issues that climate change raises, and find space in the course to deal with and explore their own fears, anxieties and hopes about a future climate-affected world.
After graduating I was able to immediately follow an internship at a municipality. I was one of three students selected from among two hundred applicants. I was chosen among other things for my background in religious studies; my employer believed that I would bring in an interesting new perspective. The internship consisted of a two-year track during which I switched to a different municipal department every six months.
After that I worked for this municipality for another eighteen months as a policy officer for the Social Support Act and domestic violence.
I currently work as a project team member at JSO, a knowledge and expertise centre for the social domain. My job involves a variety of tasks in the social field, from developing quality measures for teenage mothers’ programmes to a stint as interim policy officer for youth affairs at a municipality. What I love about my work is that I operate at the very heart of society and I can make a real contribution.
Teaching is a meaningful way to share my knowledge about religious studies with society
After gaining both a Bachelor's and a Master's degree in Religious Studies, I wanted to put these to use in society. I decided to follow the post-Master's programme in teacher training for upper secondary education (LVHO), to become a teacher of Theology and Philosophy. I gradually came to the conclusion that, for me, teaching is a meaningful way to share my knowledge about religious studies with society.
During this Master’s programme, you become acquainted with different perspectives on the school subject of Theology/Philosophy. In the Netherlands, this subject is organized in a variety of ways, and I found it important to take something from each of the different perspectives. In addition, you also learn the social psychological approaches to teaching. What is the right approach in different situations? How can you best offer effective and meaningful teaching? I appreciated that a lot of thought went into these aspects, too.
As soon as I graduated, I started teaching at CSG Comenius secondary school in Leeuwarden, where I did my placement. I received good, practical supervision from the programme and I also learned a great amount from my placement coach at CSG Comenius. This combination ensures that, as a student, you gradually become more confident in your role as a teacher.
Finally, for my Master’s thesis I researched the ways in which the school subject of Theology/Philosophy can be implemented meaningfully in the context of innovations in education. In my opinion, this is the major strength of this degree programme: on the one hand, you are trained from a practice-oriented perspective; on the other hand, you still actively conduct academic research during your Master’s thesis.