How can we interpret the influence of religion on local and global developments? What are the relationships between religion and other cultural domains such as science, philosophy and politics?
In this Research Master's Programme you will study how religion is embedded in present-day and in historical cultural contexts. You will explore the impact of local and global socio-economic and political developments on religion, and how religion contributes to such developments. A staff member whose research interests in religion matches yours best, will act as your supervisor throughout the programme.
You will acquire an overview of central debates in the study of religion and develop key research skills by following three compulsory core modules. We offer four specialization routes within which you can develop your individual research profile and skills. Your individual, tailor made route within the programme consists of a combination of optional modules from one of the one-year master specializations, research traineeships, (individual) tutorials and writing a thesis and a research proposal. The modules, traineeships and tutorials are designed to equip you with in-depth knowledge of specialized subjects, together with subject-specific methodological skills. The final specialisation occurs in the Research Master's thesis, which forms the basis of a PhD thesis proposal or an application for research funding.
The Research Master accommodates diverse interests
As someone interested in a variety of subjects that do not clearly belong to a particular discipline, I found the Research Master's in Theology and Religious Studies in Groningen to be an excellent fit. The programme's interdisciplinary nature and the diverse opportunities for research traineeships provide students with the flexibility to develop a unique course of study.
While working towards my first MA in East Asian studies, I found myself increasingly drawn to topics that challenged the very analytical categories we use to define disciplinary boundaries, such as 'Eastern' and 'Western' cultures, or even 'religion' and 'science.' Understanding how these boundaries are constructed and deconstructed is essential for a reflective and accurate analysis.
Now as a Research Master's student, I have the opportunity and support to explore largely uncharted territory, such as the public role of 'privatized' spirituality, the religiosity of science, and the scientification of religion, and to compare systems of knowledge across cultures. These topics often give rise to metaphysical and epistemological matters, such as the clash between the often physicalist worldview of science and the dualist view of many religious philosophies. The traineeships allow me to explore these topics that lie outside traditional disciplinary lines uninhibited.
This programme is providing me with the training I need to become a distinctive and innovative scholar.
Looking at the world without a Eurocentric lens
After gaining my Bachelor's degree in History, I applied for admission to the Research Master's programme in Theology and Religious Studies. I chose to specialize in Religion, Conflict and Globalization because I wanted to study the role of religion in the contemporary world.
In this programme, you do not try to ‘prove’ the existence of religions, but rather focus on religions as phenomena that influence people’s lives, identities and behaviour. You are encouraged to observe the world from a non-Eurocentric perspective. We may have become secular nations here in the West, where religion doesn’t play a large role, but that is not the case for the rest of the world. My fellow students have various backgrounds. This makes the discussions in class very interesting. I believe this Master’s programme not only helps you to expand your knowledge, but also transforms you personally.
My thesis focuses on the role of religion in international development programmes. Since Western Europe dominates international politics, the development agenda is highly secular, and local religious and cultural systems are often not taken seriously. In my thesis I look at religious NGOs, and inquire whether they bring something new to the table in this regard. After graduating, I would like to pursue a PhD degree in order to learn more about this topic. In the future, I hope either to work as an academic or to establish my own NGO, one that strives to serve the interests and goals of local communities, not those of politicians or big companies.
The most demanding and rewarding degree programme that we offer
The Research Master in Theology and Religious Studies is in many ways the most demanding and rewarding degree programme that we offer. In addition to specializing in a specific research area, you receive intensive 'generalist' academic training. This combination will be an important string to your bow; you are trained to connect your core expertise with different research traditions — a valuable asset wherever you choose to apply your talents.
In the Research Master programme, I co-teach the course Philosophy of Science in the Study of Religion and Culture with Professor Kocku von Stuckrad and Dr. Joram Tarusarira. It is one of the two course units that provide the 'generalist' training.
My own research interests lie in the historical and philosophical part of the curriculum. I am interested in the role of religion in ethics and political thinking, and more broadly in the history of ideas. For instance, I have worked on the changing face of virtue ethics, from Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy to its use in today's political election programmes.
At the moment I am intrigued by the changing attitudes towards consolation in Western culture. While philosophers and theologians in the past wrote letters of consolation and treatises about how to offer comfort to the bereaved, the culture of a highly argumentative approach to death and dying has increasingly come under pressure. What can this development tell us about the role of religion, about changing views about the self, reason, emotion and human fulfilment? To cut a long story short, consolation is an understudied but fascinating and highly significant cultural 'marker' for the development of Western culture.
Are you interested in such questions yourself? Come and have a chat.
Thinking beyond mere economic value
I studied History, Philosophy and Religious Studies because I have a broad interest in culture and people. Maybe it is due to my atheist upbringing that I have always been fascinated with what attracts people to religion.
Relatively quickly after graduating, I started working as a consultant, helping businesses to innovate and obtain grants. The company I worked for mainly employed economists and business experts and was keen on hiring someone with a different perspective. I then spent a number of years as a project manager in the cultural sector, developing and managing exhibitions, outreach projects and international collaboration projects. After that, I was a fundraiser for the UG Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies and the Faculty of Arts. In 2015, I took my family to London, where I became a fundraiser at the London School of Economics.
After years of project management and fundraising, I was yearning for more ‘substantive’ work, i.e. research, alongside my practical duties – provided that the subject could generate clear societal impact. That is why I now work as a researcher and fundraiser at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences, where I study social enterprises and societal impact at the NoorderRuimte knowledge centre. In addition, I also lead a large European research project on the impact of social sciences and humanities research.
I believe that the strength of the humanities mainly lies in their reflective character, their ability to think beyond mere economic value and to put developments into context. My current job includes doing research – a skill which I also developed during my Research Master's programme, of course.
Privacy and security are increasingly important in an access-oriented world
Right after graduation, I was accepted into a national trainee programme for information management. This traineeship included several short-term projects with various government institutions. Someone in my personal network tipped me about a job vacancy for an Information Manager at the Municipality of Nijmegen. I could already start there when I was halfway through my traineeship.
My job as information manager is very active and it gives me a lot of energy. Every day is different and time flies. Through training and coaching, I am becoming aware of what sensitive information is and how to handle it. I also think along and offer advice on how to build an archive, which has great cultural and historical as well as legal importance. Project management plays an important role in my job as well: from tender to implementation, from applications to new ways of working.
My degree programme has been useful for my job, particularly in terms of acquired skills, such as networking, presenting, thinking critically and analytically and approaching issues from different perspectives. During my Research Master, I followed the Religion, Conflict and Globalization track. Globalization and digitization form interesting links between this programme and information management, as privacy and security are increasingly important in an access-oriented world. This means that information must be handled with utmost care. On the one hand digitization can be a convenient means: relevant information is rapidly available and it enables safe and efficient collaboration. On the other hand, radical ideas also manifest themselves on the internet, information can fall into the wrong hands, data leaks can occur and cyber attacks are being launched.
The extracurricular activities that I did alongside my studies have proven extremely important for my current job. I was a member of the Programme Committee and the Faculty Board, for instance. Both memberships were useful as I am involved in consultancy and policymaking. I also gained experience with information provision as Master's ambassador and with organizing and promoting events as a member of the sustainability committee.