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Header image Religion and Pluralism, Ancient & Modern

Religion and Pluralism, Ancient & Modern


When you take part in this MA programme, you will benefit from the expertise of the scholars in the Department of Jewish, Christian and Islamic Origins. The inclusion of all three traditions exemplifies the department's comparative perspective.

Both teaching and research focus on the formative stages of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, more specifically on their dynamic interrelationship in the context of ancient Near Eastern, Graeco-Roman and late antique cultures.

Lecturers and their expertise

All staff members bring their own research into teaching in order to prepare graduates for a career at the cutting edge of their chosen specialism.

  • Susanna Luther is assistant professor of New Testament. Her expertise lies in the ethics of interpersonal verbal communication in the ancient world and early Christianity.
  • Steve Mason is Professor of Ancient Mediterranean Religions and Cultures. He specializes in the history and literature of the eastern Mediterranean under Roman rule, particularly of Roman Judea.
  • Mladen Popović is Professor Old Testament and Early Judaism, with special attention to Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls. He directs the University’s Qumran Institute, an international hub for the study of the Scrolls and Jews in the Graeco-Roman World. From 2017 he is Dean of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies.
  • Lautaro Roig Lanzillotta is Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity. He specializes in alternative Christianities with a focus on the Nag Hammadi library and the Apocryphal Acts of Apostles.
  • Jacques van Ruiten is Professor of the Reception History of the Bible. He specializes in biblical interpretation, especially in the ancient world.
  • Clare Wilde is Assistant Professor of Islamic Origins. She specializes in the Qur’ān in its historical context – particularly the Jews and Christians known to its first auditors.

Interdisciplinary approach

All members of the Department deal with the sources of the three monotheistic religions in their historical, social, political, and literary contexts. While fully respecting the role of tradition in each case, we explore these original contexts for new insight. In this programme, we are particularly concerned with the actual relations of ancient Jews, Christians, and Muslims with others in their various environments, and when they were in positions of relative weakness or power.

The courses reflect our interdisciplinary approach: in our classes we work with literary, documentary, and epigraphic texts, alongside iconographical and archaeological sources from Near Eastern, Graeco-Roman and late antique cultural contexts.

Research Institutes

This MA programme connects with the research of:

Here you can meet like-minded students and researchers from across the university.

  • Testimonial van

    Exploring the possibilities of tolerance

    Religious pluralism has never been a more timely theme. Religious interactions, especially among Christians, Jews, and Muslims have taken a central place in western societies. Pluralism is not merely plurality or variety, which is inevitable, but implies some sort of rationale or intention to accommodate plurality and toleration, if not actual acceptance of the Other. These issues can be explored in many ways, for example from political and social-scientific perspectives.

    The unique feature of this track is that it fuses these contemporary concerns with a substantial investigation of the ancient origins of the three traditions, their early interactions, and their mechanisms or rationales for toleration of otherness. An important dimension is the study of ancient social-political discourse, and the tolerance (or not) of Jews and Christians in the Graeco-Roman world. 

    I will lead the core seminar on Politics, Religion, and Pluralism from Alexander the Great to Theodosius II. This is an in-depth investigation of ancient social-political categories (e.g., ethnos, ancestral traditions, laws and customs, polis, sacrificial cults, philosophical schools, and voluntary associations), in which we consider the possibilities of tolerance, protectiveness, fear of others, expulsion of foreigners, and attraction to foreign ways. The course examines the general scene and also the place of Jewish-Judaean minority populations and Christian associations in that framework. You will have the opportunity to reflect in a sustained way on factors influencing community stances toward others, from a wide variety of angles. The alienness of the ancient world along with its importance for our traditions make it an ideal canvas for exploring the possibilities of human existence. Students who complete this programme will have a solid grounding in ancient religious pluralism as a foundation and reference point for addressing related modern phenomena.

     Central questions include these. What limits did the Hellenistic kingdoms and Roman Empire impose on diversity? What sorts of considerations led people to undertake the rigours of migration and resettlement in the ancient Mediterranean? What levels and kinds of cross-cultural interaction (in business, trade, cultural events) occurred in normal times? What happened practically in times of severe crisis? Who was in charge? What was the relationship between political rhetoric and lived reality concerning minority communities?

    I am a historian of the eastern Mediterranean under Hellenistic and Roman rule. My latest books are about inter-ethnic conflict (2016) and the categories of ancient social-political discourse or the mapping of ancient peoples (2017).

  • Testimonial van Addy van der Woerd - NL

    Unique perspective on historical-political issues and social inequality

    I chose the Master's degree programme in Religion and Pluralism, Ancient and Modern because I saw it as a logical continuation of my Bachelor's programme in Theology in this Faculty, and the Philosophy of a specific discipline (Theology) in the Faculty of Philosophy. I was particularly excited by the part-historical, part-philosophical approach to substantive concepts such as 'religion'.

    Every course unit has a specific focus (historical, conceptual, thematic) and at least half your mark is based on a final essay. You are free to choose your subject and I seized the opportunity with both hands, thoroughly enjoying writing essays on a wide range of subjects. Writing essays helps you to develop your organizational skills and discipline. If you know that planning isn’t your strongest point, don’t be afraid to say so. A bit of help from other people can go a long way!

    It’s fascinating to merge various approaches and fields of interest in my Master’s thesis. That’s why I combined early Islam with my interest in philosophy and hermeneutics, and ended with the ninth-century Arabic scholar Al-Kindi. He was the one who introduced Aristotelian concepts into Islamic ideology.

    The Master’s programme helps you develop a critical attitude and analytical skills. This gives you a unique perspective when it comes to historical-political issues and social inequality. If I can combine this with my placement field (a television company), I might soon find a job making documentaries. But I also have ambitions in politics, journalism and teaching.

    – Addy van der Woerd - NL
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