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Education Master's and PhD degree programmes Theology & Religious Studies Religion, Health and Wellbeing
Header image Religion, Health and Wellbeing

Religion, Health and Wellbeing

What role does religion and spirituality play in our experience of health and wellbeing? How does the biomedical focus of current healthcare practice affect us?

This interdisciplinary degree programme examines what it means to be ill or healthy in diverse, individualized and highly technological societies, from psychological, cultural, ethical, and political perspectives. Not only does religious, cultural, political, physical, and technological diversity influence how we try to recover or maintain our health, it also influences what we think 'health' is in the first place.

This track within the Master's Programme in Theology and Religious Studies, has two specializations: 'Spiritual Care [Geestelijke Verzorging]' and 'Ethics and Diversity'.

› The specialization in Ethics and Diversity imparts the academic knowledge and skills to examine the anthropological, sociological, and ethical dimensions of health and well-being. This specialization is taught in English.

› The specialization in Spiritual Care imparts the academic and practical knowledge and skills needed to examine the psychological, ethical, and spiritual dimensions of health and wellbeing, enabling you to become a registered spiritual care giver [geestelijk verzorger]. This specialization is mainly taught in Dutch.

Facts & Figures
MA in Theology & Religious Studies
Course type
12 months (60 ECTS)
Croho code
Language of instruction
English, Dutch
Theology and Religious Studies
Why study this programme in Groningen?
  • unique combination of clinical, empirical, conceptual, and historical approaches
  • the Spiritual Care (Geestelijke Verzorging) specialization is accredited by the SKGV (Stichting Kwaliteitsregister Geestelijke Verzorging)
  • we relate the latest research and theories to current developments
  • taught by internationally recognized experts in the field at a non-denominational university

The MA track in Religion, Health and Wellbeing consists of:

  • An introductory course unit: Perspectives on Religion, Health and Wellbeing (5 ECTS)
  • A course unit on Ethics in Care (5 ECTS)
  • A course unit on Research Methods (5 ECTS).
  • Three electives, depending on your specialization (15 ECTS).
  • Placement (10 ECTS) and Thesis (20 ECTS).

The introductory course outlines some of the basic theories and concepts that help us think through the intersections between religion, health, and wellbeing from psychological, anthropological, and philosophical perspectives. Case studies will be taken mainly from the field of Spiritual Care.

The course unit on Ethics in Care explores the moral issues surrounding various forms of intervention in human life. The bounds of technical possibilities are constantly shifting. How do ethicists discuss euthanasia, dignity in the process of dying? And how do we define what is good care within specific contexts? Issues such as relationality, vulnerability and embodiment in relation to processes of signification will be discussed from an ethics of care perspective.

Compulsory: Ethics in Care (5 EC)

You will study the concept of dignified living for elderly, as well as the ethical questions concerning the end of life.

Compulsory: Perspectives on Religion, Health and Wellbeing (5 EC)

You will examine psychological, anthropological, philosophical and historical perspectives on questions concerning diversity in religion, health and wellbeing around concrete cases from health care practice and policy.

Elective: Religion, Gender, and Sexuality (Ethics and Diversity) (5 EC, optional)

You will focus on learning to recognize and conceptualize the links between religion, gender and sexuality. You will be introduced to classic authors on these topics whilst in the second part of the course you will focus on discussing ethnographic research detailing how sexuality and gender are shaped culturally and religiously.

Elective: Spiritual Care (Spiritual Care) (5 EC, optional)

During this module you will explore the job profile of a spiritual care counsellor and their position within organisations. This course unit is taught in Dutch.

Compulsory: Conducting Research on RHW (5 EC)

You will be prepared for researching and writing your thesis.You will be taken through the steps of designing your own research, in consultation with your supervisor and learn research methods and ethics at the same time.

Elective: (Beyond) Bioethics (Ethics and Diversity) (5 EC, optional)

You will look into the glory and the limitations of bio/medical ethics, and the need of a broader medical and health humanities approach. Our focal point is a question that has long been central in the field of bio/medical ethics: the end of life.

Elective: Healing, Possession, and Illness (Ethics and Diversity) (5 EC, optional)

You will discuss the phenomena of possession, healing and illness as the site where culture and embodiment become entangled. Most societies are characterized by medical pluralism: people have different ideas of what causes illness and what may heal illness, and even manifest different kinds of illnesses cross-culturally. You will explore this variety in this course.

Elective: Psychopathology and Religion (both specializations) (5 EC, optional)

You will familiarize yourself with (religious) psychological theories surrounding the balance between mental health and religion, namely psychopathology. Taught in Dutch.

Placement (Spiritual Care) (15 EC)

You have the option of a research internship or a practical internship in the work field of Spiritual Care.

Placement (Ethics and Diversity) (10 EC)

In stead of a placement, you have the option to do a research project.

Thesis + Thesis Seminar (20 EC)

During the seminar meetings, you will discuss and practice specific aspects of the writing, planning and researching process involved in producing a thesis on a master level. Through peer-review, you will benefit from regular feedback. Methodologies to be discussed and practised include interviewing, observation, discourse analysis and statistical analysis.

Study load

28 hours of class and self-study per week on average


For a description of the course units of Ethics and Diversity, see: For a description of the course units of Spiritual Care, see:

Programme options
Ethics and Diversity (specialization)

What is health? What is wellbeing? In Europe, these seemingly simple questions are usually answered from a biomedical perspective.

However, how people experience wellbeing is also influenced by their religious and cultural background. In this specialization, you will find out how various contexts influence what people perceive to be healthy or unhealthy.

You will study ethical issues related to the end of life and the dominant biomedical approach in healthcare. What do people regard as good health care? And for whom is this "good"? You will learn to ask critical questions about wellbeing and health care in this modern and diverse world. You will be taught about religion and sexual wellbeing, ethics and end of life, cure and disease in various contexts, and psychopathology.

In addition to the compulsory courses you will take three additional course units:

  • Religion, Gender, and sexuality;
  • The End of Life: Bioethics and beyond;
  • Healing, Possession and Illness, or Psychopathology and Religion
Spiritual Care (specialization)

How do people give their lives a sense of purpose and how do they process significant events? At some time in our life, we will all face decisions concerning health and illness, life and death.

As a student of Spiritual Care, you learn to support people in crisis situations by counselling them about purpose and spirituality. You will be taught religious psychology, psychopathology, ethics and philosophy. In addition, you will explore pastoral and spiritual care in contemporary society and the place of spiritual carers in primary healthcare or in a healthcare institution. Students with no previous education in theology or religious science will have to follow a pre-Master's programme first.

Alongside the compulsory course units you also follow course units in Spiritual Care and Psychopathology and Religion, as well as an intensive placement.

More information about this option

Master's Honours Programme (honours program)

The Master's Honours Programme was developed especially for students who want to get more from their studies. The programme of 15 ECTS is followed in addition to your regular Master's programme.

It is a one-year interdisciplinary programme that is designed to introduce students to various aspects of leadership.The theme of leadership is explored from various angles in the Masterclasses. Leadership skills are the focus in the Leadership Labs and Workshops. The Master's Honours Programme concludes with a Master Work – a project of your choosing that you design and implement.

More information about this option

Study abroad

  • Study abroad is optional
  • For an average of 20 weeks
  • Maximum of 30 EC

The Master has several exchange contracts with other universities within and outside Europe to follow a part of the study at these universities. It is also possible to undertake a traineeship or graduation research abroad. For our exchange partners, see:

Entry requirements

Admission requirements

Specific requirementsMore information
assessment interview

Voor de specialisatie Geestelijke Verzorging geldt een intakegesprek. Het intakegesprek is bedoeld om wederzijdse verwachtingen te bespreken. Om toegelaten te worden tot de stage in de specialisatie Geestelijke Verzorging dien je voorafgaand aan de toelating tot de master een assessmentprocedure te doorlopen.

grade list

Een overzicht van behaalde resultaten in de gevolgde bacheloropleiding met een toelichting op de gevolgde vakken.

previous education

Specialisatie Ethics and Diversity: Bachelordiploma in Theologie, Religiewetenschappen, Letteren, Filosofie of Sociale Wetenschappen (zoals antropologie, psychologie, sociologie). Afhankelijk van je vooropleiding, krijg je ter voorbereiding een leeslijst aangereikt. Bij aanvang van de studie gaan we er van uit dat je op de hoogte bent van de concepten en theoretische discussies die in deze literatuur is beschreven. Studenten met een andere vooropleiding moeten een premasterprogramma volgen.

Specialisatie Geestelijke Verzorging: Bachelor Theologie of Religiewetenschappen (WO) met premaster van specifiek voorbereidende vakken (30 ECTS). Andere afgeronde HBO- of WO-opleiding (bachelor of master) met premaster van maximaal 60 ECTS, bestaande uit algemeen voorbereidende vakken en specifiek voorbereidende vakken.

Curriculum Vitae (CV)No further information
written request

In je motivatiebrief schrijf je voor welke specialisatie je je wilt aanmelden: Geestelijke Verzorging of Ethics and Diversity. In deze brief schrijf je waarom je je wilt aanmelden voor deze opleiding (1 pagina). Bij de specialisatie Geestelijke Verzorging reflecteer je in je motivatiebrief op de diverse leerlijnen binnen het portfolio van de premaster. Voor de specialisatie in Ethics and Diversity stuur je ook een voorbeeld van een door jou geschreven academisch paper mee (bij voorkeur je bachelor-scriptie).

Registration procedure

Students with a Dutch Bachelor's degree send all the documentation by mail to onderwijs.ggw, even if a direct access is applicable.

Dutch students with a non-Dutch Bachelor's degree send in all their documentation after registration in Studielink via the Online Application System (OAS).

The specialization in Spiritual Care has additional admission requirements.

Transfer options

Study programmeOrganizationTransition
Religious StudiesAll Research universities

Additional requirements

Additional requirements:
  • written request
Theology (part-time)All Research universities

Additional requirements

Additional requirements:
  • written request
GodgeleerdheidAll Research universities

Additional requirements

Additional requirements:
  • written request
HumanistiekAll Research universitiesAdditional requirements
Liberal Arts and SciencesAll Research universitiesAdditional requirements
Arts and Culture StudiesAll Research universitiesAdditional requirements
Cultural Anthropology and Development SociologyAll Research universitiesAdditional requirements
Interdisciplinary Social ScienceAll Research universitiesAdditional requirements
Medicine, profile Molecular MedicineAll Research universitiesAdditional requirements
GezondheidswetenschappenAll Research universitiesAdditional requirements
Health and Life SciencesAll Research universitiesAdditional requirements
Health and SocietyAll Research universitiesAdditional requirements
Psychology (EN)All Research universitiesAdditional requirements
Study programmeOrganizationTransition
SociologyUniversity of GroningenAdditional requirements
Liberal Arts and SciencesUniversity of GroningenAdditional requirements
Medicine, profile Sustainable CareUniversity of GroningenAdditional requirements

Admission requirements

Specific requirementsMore information
grade list

A grade list of the marks of your bachelor's degree programme with an explanation of the followed courses.

language test

Sufficient proficiency in English is required. Minimum requirements: TOEFL 580 paper/237 computer/92 internet or IELTS: 6.5 (6.0 on each part). Native speakers of the English language, as well as Dutch applicants with a VWO certificate, are exempt from this requirement.

previous education

Bachelor's degree in Theology, Religious Studies, Arts, Philosophy or Social Science (e.g. Anthropology, Psychology, Sociology). Depending on your former study and courses a reading package will be provided. We assume that you are aware of the concepts and theoretical discussions outlined in this literature.

Students with another bachelor's degree can be permitted via a bridging programme.

Curriculum Vitae (CV)No further information
written request

A letter of motivation to the admissions board explaining the choice for this study programme (max. 1 page) is required, accompanied with a writing sample of an academic paper, preferably your Bachelor's (or Master's) thesis.

Language requirements

ExamMinimum score
IELTS overall band6.5
IELTS listening6
IELTS reading6
IELTS writing6
IELTS speaking6
TOEFL paper based580
TOEFL computer based237
TOEFL internet based92

Registration procedure

International students and Dutch students with non-Dutch qualifications are not automatically admitted to a Master's degree programme at the University of Groningen. The full registration procedure will take longer than for Dutch students with regular Dutch qualifications and consists of three steps: application, admission and registration.

Check the admissions guide for more information about the admissions procedure.

Students with a Dutch Bachelor's degree send all the documentation by mail to, even if a direct access is applicable.

Application deadlines

Type of studentDeadlineStart course
Dutch students01 May 202001 September 2020
01 May 202101 September 2021
EU/EEA students01 May 202001 September 2020
01 May 202101 September 2021
non-EU/EEA students01 April 202001 September 2020
01 April 202101 September 2021
Tuition fees
NationalityYearFeeProgramme form
EU/EEA2019-2020€ 2083full-time
non-EU/EEA2019-2020€ 12500full-time
EU/EEA2020-2021€ 2143full-time

Talent Grant available for Non-EU students, check this and other funding options here:

Practical information for:

After your studies

Job prospects

This Master's degree qualifies you to work in a care institution, such as a hospital, nursing home or psychiatric hospital, for example as a spiritual carer. You could also become a policy officer in public health, global (mental) health and healthcare, or a consultant on a medical-ethical committee. These days, it is becoming increasingly common for spiritual carers to start their own practice.

Check our alumni-page to find out where our alumni end up.

Job examples

  • Spiritual Carer

    In the specialization in Spiritual Care, you will study a wide range of religious traditions and personal convictions. You will learn how to counsel groups and individuals, helping them to find meaning and stability in their lives. You can also train company employees and offer advice and opinions at policy level. Spiritual Carers can find jobs in care institutions, for example general or psychiatric hospitals, nursing homes or institutions for people with a mental disability. These days, it is becoming increasingly common for spiritual carers to start their own practice instead of working for an institution.

  • Policy Advisor Health(care)

    You will gain knowledge and understanding of ethical questions, diversity and health, based on case studies and care practice. You can work as a policy officer for the government, a patient organization or a care institution, or in an advisory position, for example on a medical-ethical committee.

  • Teacher

    Once you have completed this Master's programme you will have enough knowledge of the subject to become a secondary school teacher in the subject of Religious Studies. You could also opt for a position in higher vocational education, for example teaching Theology at a university of applied sciences. As you also need didactic skills as a teacher, it is advisable to do a Master's in Education after you have completed your regular Master's programme, or follow this track within the two-year Master's programme in Education.

  • Academic Research

    Traditional forms of religion are making way for new ways of searching for meaning and purpose in your life. How do modern opinions of health and wellbeing fit in? What is the role of spirituality and religious convictions? How do present-day dilemmas and divergent ideas about these dilemmas affect both our wellbeing and the way we organize our care system? What is the function of professional spiritual counselling in our current healthcare system? This Master's programme will equip you to answer these and other questions. The two-year Research Master's degree programme also offers a specialization in Religion, Health, and Wellbeing. The Research Master's is the best way to prepare for a career in academic research.



The MA in Religion, Health and Wellbeing is a multidisciplinary programme, and so you will benefit from the expertise of the Centre for Religion, Health and Wellbeing and its affiliated scholars. The Centre for Religion, Health and Wellbeing is part of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies and focuses on these specializations.

Spiritual Care
Spiritual care professionals and chaplains contribute to healthcare by providing support and sustenance for people who struggle with questions posed by their life events; such as severe physical and mental illness. These life events may bring up questions around meaning, purpose, self-identity and value, which require an interdisciplinary approach informed by a blend of sociological, philosophical, ethical; anthropological, theological and psychological theories. These theories explore religion, spirituality, coping; human relationships and health/wellbeing. Research in the field focuses on how theoretical and empirical insights can be used to inform both practice and policy to improve or maintain biopsychosocial-spiritual well-being and how healthcare and community-care can be organised to support these goals.

Ethics and Cultural History
Study in this field concentrates on a culturally and historically informed analysis of generally-held key concepts and practices around both health and wellbeing. This then develops into identifying the key theoretical concepts which are put to work in the proposals of (for example) the World Health Organisation. The concepts are critically examined; both in terms of their feasibility and their situation within a larger cultural-historical map.

Health Psychology
One of the avenues of research is explicitly psychological; focusing on the role of behaviour, psychology and culture in physical health and wellbeing. More specifically, topics in this area include the prevention of illness through behaviour change, optimisation of medical treatment through the application of psychological theory and ideas of coping, stress and diversity (socio-economic status, culture, gender and religion). Health psychology is an interdisciplinary field; drawing from the social sciences, psychological traditions, humanities, medicine and life sciences.

Cultural Anthropology and Sociology of Culture
This field of research is informed by anthropological and sociological approaches within the sub-fields of the anthropology of religion and medical anthropology. Furthermore, feminist approaches to issues of embodiment and health are explored. Empirical research is developed from the standpoint that many people look for holistic ways of addressing health and wellbeing.

Lecturers and their expertise

Staff members within the MA in Religion, Health and Wellbeing bring their own research into teaching; preparing graduates for a career at the cutting edge of any chosen specialism.

  • Christoph Jedan is Professor of Philosophy of Religion and Ethics. Central terms in his research are the history of death, dying and bereavement; religion and emotion; and 'levenskunst' (Art of Living).
  • Kim Knibbe is an associate professor in Sociology and Anthropology of Religion. She researches the relationship between religious and secular notions concerning sexuality in the African Diaspora and looks into how religion, globalization and health are intertwined.
  • Brenda Mathijssen is assistant professor of Psychology, Culture, and Religion. Her expertise lies in the fields of human attitudes to death, and the role of ethnic-cultural and religious diversity in relation to health and welfare.
  • Hanneke Muthert is an assistant professor of Psychology of Religion and Spiritual Care. She specializes in the the relationship between mental disorders and religion, and in trauma, mourning and coping with loss.
  • Anja Visser is an assistant professor in Spiritual Care. She is an expert on forms of spirituality and religion outside traditional religious institutions and specializes in the role of spirituality when coping with curable or chronic forms of cancer.
Apply nowBrochureEventsContact
Master's day University of GroningenBroerstraat 5More information


If you want to know more about the programme Religion, Health and Wellbeing, please contact:

  • Student Ambassadors (Our Student Ambassadors are happy to tell you more about the MA programme)
  • Drs. Thea de Boer (Student Advisor)
    Telephone: 363 5581
						Testimonial of Thijs Hoogeveen

    The reciprocity is what makes the work inspiring

    – Thijs Hoogeveen
    Read more

    The decision to study Spiritual Care in Groningen was an important one for me, as I believe it was for many other students. Indeed, it was the consequence of personal development and events in my life until then. After my studies in Industrial Engineering and Management, I witnessed spiritual care at my volunteer job in a hospice. I thought it was a very special profession.

    The UG degree programme in general spiritual care appealed to me because I don't adhere to any one religion. Plus, I could follow the Master's degree programme after a shortened pre-Master's programme. What I like about the Master's is how the course units combine an academic level with a focus on practice. Psychopathology & Religion is a good example of this. They challenge you to reflect on the theory and your own position in it as a future spiritual carer. The combination of course units and a placement also spark a different learning process: that of dealing with stress and (re)claiming your own space and inspiration to function properly as a spiritual carer.

    I now work as a spiritual carer at the UMCG, where I did my placement. I enjoy working in a hospital very much. On the one hand because it is about collaborating with other care providers in a dynamic organization; on the other hand because it allows you to counsel people at a precarious time in their lives: being sick and hospitalized is often a very profound experience. It is a time at which existential questions may arise and spiritual care may be needed. In the hustle and bustle of a hospital environment, spiritual care enables you to focus on the effects of illness on a person, but also to find someone's sources of strength and inspiration. I believe that the conversations we have can be wholesome and rewarding for patients and spiritual carers alike. So you could say there is reciprocity in our relationships with people, which makes the work inspiring for me.

						Testimonial of Sjoukje Eringa

    A solid basis for practice

    – Sjoukje Eringa
    Read more

    What attracted me in Spiritual Care was its attention to meaning and existential questions. The opportunity to become an independent spiritual carer made the Groningen programme ideal for me. The atmosphere was open, with students and lecturers stimulating each other and critically exploring each other's views.
    Everyone showed geniality, interest, commitment and an eye for context, without making concessions to academic quality – exactly the qualities of a good spiritual carer! I now realize that the theory I gained in course units like Psychopathology and Religion and Care Ethics are not only a solid basis in daily practice, but they also help me reflect on that practice.

    I really love my job as a spiritual carer in nursing homes. I was drawn to elderly care because of its special way of communicating with residents. My creativity is constantly being challenged there by questions like: how can I get through to residents? What do their seemingly unrelated statements mean? How can I connect with their reality? My tasks here are very diverse. Of course I talk to people, in groups and individually. But I also provide palliative care and lead liturgical services and memorial services in the residents’ living room. In addition, I participate in various networks, such as the Alzheimer Café and the Palliative Network, and I keep in touch with spiritual carers and ministers in the area.

    Since my graduation, I have gained so much experience that I returned to the Faculty recently. Not as a student, but as a lecturer, teaching the course unit in Conversation Techniques and Group Dynamics and to supervise internships of students in Spiritual Care.


Other degree programmes in religion

If you are interested in a master's degree programme in religion, you might also consider:

Read more

Study associations

Gerardus van der Leeuw

Gerardus van der Leeuw is the faculty community of Theology and Religious Studies of the University of Groningen.
The community exists since April 2003 and is named after Gerardus van der Leeuw the first theologian who introduced religious studies to the UG
Read more
Student profile

You are interested in the intersection between people's search for health and wellbeing, as well as the techniques, rituals and practices that religious contexts can offer. You want to know how health and wellbeing can be understood differently across cultural and religious contexts, as well as historical periods - and what the ethical implications of this are. You enjoy the intellectual challenge of combining insights from across psychology, anthropology, philosophy and religious studies.

Study support

Master's students are expected to show a large degree of independence. If necessary you can make use of various forms of study supervision and study support. For example, you can contact a mentor or your study advisor. While writing your thesis, you will receive personal supervision from one of the lecturers.

Immediately after arrival, students who gained their Bachelor's degree at a different faculty or university as well as international students will be allocated a mentor who will help them get to know the Faculty. You can also go to the study advisor if you have doubts about your abilities or for whatever reason run the risk of study delay. You will receive intensive supervision while writing your thesis. The Master's programme includes a thesis seminar, where attention is paid to how to tackle writing a Master's thesis, and where the progress of the process is monitored closely. You will also receive structural supervision from the lecturer who is the specialist in the field of your thesis.