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.
Become more open-minded towards different cultures
Growing up in an international environment gave me a deeper interest in different cultures and ways of living. The BA in Religious studies offers a look into, and an explanation of these different habits and cultures worldwide. The wide variety of different subjects, and the welcoming atmosphere of the faculty during the open day made me apply for the programme.
I expected to deepen my knowledge and understanding of different religions and cultures, and to become more open-minded towards different cultures by understanding them better, and this has been the case! I thought I would have more difficulties with studying in English, but the students and the teachers in the programme have been very welcoming, and as an international, I have felt very included in both the Dutch and international students. My advice to international students is to have an open mindset, to challenge yourself to learn new things, and work hard, but also join the student life and have fun next to the studies. Try out all the opportunities the university and the city has to offer!
So far, all of the courses have been very interesting, especially when the teachers themselves are enthusiastic about the subjects and bring their own experiences into the lectures. My favorite first-year course unit is the one on Judaism. In addition to interesting lectures, we toured Groningen for important locations and traveled to Amsterdam to visit Jewish synagogues and museums to learn more.
At the moment my plans for the future are quite open, there are many options for master's programmes. I do know I want to continue studying religion and culture. After graduating, I hope to work in an educational institute, or in spiritual care. I would like to work with people and have a positive impact on people’s lives.
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.
Space to discover what I like
How do students in secondary school experience the subject Religion & World-views? That is broadly the subject of my bachelor thesis that I am currently working on. I also work as a teacher of Religion & Philosophy at a secondary school in the Northern Netherlands. In order to be able to teach, I took the educational minor in my third year of study and obtained my limited second-degree qualification.
When I started my studies in Religious Studies, it was not my goal to become a teacher. What particularly appealed to me about the programme is that you receive a broad education. You learn to look at religion in various cultures and societies from different perspectives such as history, sociology, anthropology, philosophy and psychology.
There is plenty of room within the courses to work on subjects that you find interesting. I am particularly interested in the similarities between different religions and cultures, a subject that I now often incorporate into the lessons I design. These similarities can be found not only in the here and now, but also in mythology and ancient stories. Many papers I have written focus on comparative religion or comparative mythology, for example I have compared Oedipus Rex to the story of King David in the Old Testament. For the same course, a fellow student wrote about asceticism and the concept of the wilderness in contrast to cities in early Judaism. So there is a lot of room for personal interpretation. In addition, there is also room for electives or, for example, an Erasmus Exchange, in which you are well supervised by the study advisor.
In my third year, I studied in Copenhagen for a semester. The best part of this experience was the (student) life in Copenhagen. The courses I took were very interesting and instructive, but I was not only at the faculty to study. For a few hours a week I volunteered at the faculty café and on Friday evenings this café became a bar where you could buy a beer for less than a euro. The cheapest place to drink beer in Copenhagen! Life in Denmark is more expensive than in the Netherlands, but with the Erasmus grant you receive when you go on exchange, you can get by just fine.
The Religious Studies programme has given me the space to discover what I like, and that is teaching. In a few months I will have completed my bachelor's degree in Religious Studies. My plan is to first take a gap year and work as a teacher in secondary education. After that, I want to follow the educational master's degree, so that I can obtain a first-degree qualification.
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.
Working on the preventive side of radicalization
I am a policy officer for the prevention of radicalization and extremism at the Municipality of The Hague. During my internship I ended up at this department and after six months they offered me a job. I find radicalization and extremism two fascinating themes: How is it possible that someone wants to go to such extreme acts and what role does ideology play in this?
I mainly work on the preventive side of radicalization in which sociology and psychology play an important role. Combining these disciplines makes my work incredibly challenging. In addition, you work in an administrative environment that also develops your political administrative skills.
My main task is to set up projects that reduce the susceptibility to radicalization. To this end, we focus on, for example, guiding young people with their identity issues or their daytime activities, and we guide parents not to lose contact with their child. In addition, we provide information to professionals to recognize signs of radicalization in good time and we provide tools for professionals to properly discuss this theme.
During my studies in Religious Studies, I gained a lot of substantive knowledge about religions and the power that religions and worldviews can have in everyday life. But what I find most valuable is that I have learned to step outside your own frame of reference and to (want to) understand other philosophies of life. This ability and curiosity to look at themes from someone else's point of view is very important in my work and it is crucial for many current social issues. This study teaches you to adopt a certain attitude that you can use well in many fields of work.
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.