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OnderwijsOpleidingenMaster en PhD opleidingenTheologie & ReligiewetenschappenReligion and Cultural Heritage
Header image Religion and Cultural Heritage

Religion and Cultural Heritage

Our MA track Religion and Cultural Heritage directly benefits from cutting-edge research carried out mainly within the Department of Christianity and the History of Ideas, and is thus an excellent example of research-based education.

The course units are taught by internationally recognized historians, philosophers and political scientists from all over the world who all specialize in the role of religion in culture. They will provide you with cutting-edge insights into religion and heritage which are directly inspired by their own research.

  • Dr Dennis Vanden Auweele (Belgium): Assistant Professor of Philosophy of Religion. He specializes in continental postmodern philosophy of religion. Existential themes including pessimism, evil, suicide and mercy are at the heart of his research.
  • Dr Mathilde van Dijk (Netherlands): Assistant Professor of History of Christianity and Gender Studies. She focuses on Late Medieval religious culture, mysticism, gender studies, and the representation of the Middle Ages in popular culture (e.g. in film).
  • Dr Andrew Irving (New Zealand): Assistant Professor of Religion and Heritage, with a specialization in material culture of Christianity. He specializes in material culture and archaeological approaches to the study of early and medieval Christianities, with a particular focus of liturgy, manuscripts, and the history of the book.
  • Dr Christoph Jedan (Germany): Professor of Philosophy of Religion and Ethics. Central terms in his research are good citizenship, religion and emotion, history of death, dying and bereavement, and 'levenskunst' (Art of Living).
  • Dr Stefania Travagnin (Italy): Assistant Professor of Religion in Asia. She is an expert on Buddhism and religion and society in modern China, and has a special interest in religion and the media in China (online Buddhist rituals; Buddhist films and documentaries).
  • Prof Todd Weir (USA): Professor in Christianity and Modern Culture. He is a cultural and intellectual historian of modern Germany and of the transnational history of religion and secularism.
  • Dr Erin Wilson (Australia): Associate Professor of Religion and Politics. Her research is at the interface where religious studies, international relations and philosophy meet, and she aims to develop a new theoretical framework for the role of religion in issues in national and international politics.

Research Institutes

Much of the research by the teaching staff connects with the activities of the Research Centres in our Faculty:

These centres regularly invite speakers and organise events on the role of religion in contemporary societies, where MA students, PhD students and staff engage in lively discussions.

  • Testimonial van Professor Todd Weir

    Religion lies at the core of every intangible and living culture

    Across the globe, the public role of history is expanding. New museums and historical sites are opening, historical tourism is growing, and educational and cultural institutions are increasing their engagement with the past. This requires a new class of heritage experts, who are self-reflective and can contribute to economic and cultural policy formation and to regional planning.

    This master’s degree provides students with the theoretical and practical education necessary to take an active role in this exciting sector.

    Together with Mathilde van Dijk and Andrew Irving, I teach Religious Heritage at Groningen. Our combined expertise allows us to place Christian heritage in a broad context that includes other religious traditions and even secularism. Through lectures, seminar and field trips, we examine sites, buildings, traditions, rituals, texts and other locations where the past is maintained in the present.

    My own research focuses on the configuration of religion in politics and culture. I have written extensively on the interactions of Christianity, Judaism and secularism and their impact on modern intellectual and cultural history, particularly in Germany. I’m currently working on the history of modern worldviews, and planning a future book on the journey of “Weltanschauung/worldview” from 1790 to the present that will take the reader from Germany to the US, Netherlands, UK and the Soviet Union. It will examine Weltanschauung as one of the chief terms through which moderns have experienced and conceived of systems of thought and belief.

    The study of cultural heritage in a faculty of theological and religious studies makes Groningen’s master’s degree unique. Theoretically and practically, however, our innovative approach stands squarely within international trends. First, it helps meet the call issued by organizations such as the Unesco for the preservation not just of the physical sites, but also of the “intangible” heritage of world cultures. Religion lies at the core of every intangible and living culture.

    Second, the theory of heritage has developed in dialogue with religious studies. Heritage is not just about preserving the past, but giving people places and paths to experience loss. Sites of memory play sacral roles for states, communities and individuals. The study of religion helps us ask important questions of heritage practice: Are heritage sites maintaining religious traditions or repackaging them for touristic consumption? Should they serve as a locations of religious-secular dialogue in a post-secular world?

    – Professor Todd Weir
  • Testimonial van Assistant professor Andrew Irving

    Studying material religious cultures helps us to think outside the box about the nature of lived religious belief itself

    According to current estimates, over 300 million tourists visit religious sites every year. The vast cultural, political, religious, economic, and environmental impact of these visits - whatever their motivations may be - is attracting the attention of governmental bodies on all levels, of private foundations and museums , and of industry specialists in tourism and infrastructure.

    At the same time, pressures on religious, governmental, and private organizations concerning changing religious and cultural identities, and relating to the long-term sustainability of religious heritage management have leant urgency to the question: How do we engage, preserve and communicate the remains of our religious past? 

    For these reasons, it is critical that graduates in religious studies and theology be equipped to facilitate and contribute informed voices to public debate about the future of religious heritage. It is also vital for the academic research and faith communities to learn about the ways in which “lay” and “non-expert” participants actively re-appropriate religious spaces, objects, and practices formerly perhaps too narrowly defined as the domain of adherents to religious beliefs on the one hand and trained experts on the other.

    Groningen’s MA in Religion and Cultural Heritage is unique in preparing you for this crucial bridge role. You will bring rigorous and critical training in theology and religion to the table in public and private discourse about religious heritage. At the same time you will learn to contribute to the academic study of religious history and to faith communities by communicating and analyzing the interests, questions and challenges that arise from the broader public’s engagement with its own and other peoples’ religious heritage.

    I teach courses that engage with material aspects of religion: visual arts, liturgical rites, books, music, and objects, material culture, architecture and archaeology. The courses will provide you with training and hands-on experience of observing, describing, comparing, and analyzing religious objects, spaces, and practices from the past, and in thinking about and questioning what is at stake in their preservation, use, and adaptation in the present. Studying material religious cultures helps us to think outside the box about the nature of lived religious belief itself.

    My research centers on the intersection between book history and the history of Christian worship. In Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, books comprise perhaps the largest group of religious artefacts that survive. I study the design and production of liturgical manuscripts, and, in particular, the material evidence for their intended and actual use. In this way, we can examine a religious book as if it were an archaeological site. By identifying and peeling back layers of evidence of repeated use and adaptation of single book objects sometimes over centuries, we can learn to re-consider what a religious book is for, how it works, and what it might tell us about the communities and individuals that made and used it. It is this careful and patient approach to sustained engagement with all material aspects of religion that I aim to bring to the classroom, fieldwork, and student-lead research.

    – Assistant professor Andrew Irving
  • Testimonial van Fardo Eringa

    Close encounters with the lasting influence of religion

    I followed the Master's track in Religion and the Public Domain, but the course units on religious heritage from this track have now been included in the track in Religion and Cultural Heritage. The thing I liked most about the course units was how the present and the past are linked together. They focus in a very concrete way on the position of religion in Western Europe.

    You go on a lot of field trips and encounter the lasting influence of religion and the position that it takes in our society from up close, for example by studying the roots of the Devotio Moderna in Deventer or by singing the St Matthew Passion together and thus feeling its impact.

    I wrote my Master’s thesis on the phenomenon of ‘Michaeling’: fans following in Michael Jackson’s footsteps through a pilgrimage that brings them closer in spirit to their idol. I studied whether this was a new religious phenomenon, and concluded that the answer to this question is yes. ‘Michaeling’ is a typical example of the various forms that religion can take in our modern, post-secular society. And there is no doubt that this is a genuine pilgrimage, a spiritual experience of the kind that we associate primarily with the Middle Ages. For my research, I studied the experiences of eleven pilgrims and the Michael Jackson shrine in Germany.

    According to his fans, Michael Jackson’s core message was to ‘Heal the World’ through love. Some fans feel that Michael Jackson can be seen as a new Messiah, sent by God to show people what is really important, namely love. Michael Jackson is placed by his fans within a very broad spiritual context. The followers I spoke to call themselves spiritual, but they are reluctant to commit to a specific religion. What is remarkable is that most of these fans express very Christian ideas. For his followers, Michael Jackson acts as a kind of mediator, clarifying their prior religious allegiance. It is as if Michael Jackson helps them to transition from theory to religious practice. They integrate Michael Jackson into their belief system, where he comes to play a key role as a spiritual guide, offering his fans concrete guidelines for distinguishing between good and evil and giving shape to their lives. His followers believe that Michael Jackson was severely persecuted and that he suffered tremendously as a result. However, this did not stop him from fighting for his ideals and for his fans, which makes him a true martyr in their eyes.

    After I graduated, I went straight to work for the University of Groningen Humanities Support Desk, where I help organize educational projects for secondary schools. One of the projects I am working on is De Kerk: maak er wat van!, which we set up together with the Stichting Oude Groninger Kerken [Historical Groningen Churches Foundation] and which focuses on redesignation of church buildings that are no longer used as such. The idea is that pupils draw up policy plans for vacant church buildings. This way we aim to make students aware of the rich heritage that their own environment has, and encourage them to think about how to deal with this heritage.

    – Fardo Eringa
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