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 three specialisation 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 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 'Religion, Ethics, Pluralism' with Kim Knibbe. It is one of the three course units that provide the 'generalist' training. You learn to analyse responses to religious diversity from different angles: historical, anthropological, sociological and philosophical. We explore how you can use your own research expertise to make a fruitful connection to the topic and the theories you have analysed in the classes.
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.
The programme helps me to understand social tensions and look for ways to resolve them
Since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on 9/11, Islam has been at the center of many debates. In many European countries the presence of Islamic symbols and rituals in the public domain is disputed. Samuel Huntington's book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, which predicts an inevitable clash between 'Islam' and 'the West', receives support in parts of the academic world.
During my BA Religious Studies, I was already very motivated to understand these debates, as I believe that it is both worthwhile and necessary for academics to look for ways to resolve the social tensions related to these debates. To further my understanding on these matters, I decided to focus on the role religion plays in international relations, conflicts and peace building during my Research Master's programme in Theology and Religious Studies. Therefore I did four months of anthropological fieldwork on the fight of Religious NGOs against HIV/Aids in Kenya and Uganda. Furthermore, I am planning a research trip to Ambon, Indonesia, for my MA-thesis to learn from the peace building process there.
This is exactly what I like about the Research Master's programme in Groningen. It offers possibilities to be involved in subjects of your interest that are socially relevant in many different ways. What makes the master's programme even better is the fact that you receive excellent supervision and guidance from your personal mentor. My mentor, Dr. Marjo Buitelaar, proved to be an excellent coach by advising me about practical, personal and academic choices related to the activities I undertake.
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.
The Research Master improves your chances of being accepted for a PhD
When I started my Bachelor's degree programme in Religious Studies I already knew that I wanted to do research, and that it should be about 'something old'. In the end, the world and writings of Jews and Christians in the Greco-Roman period captured my interest most, partly thanks to the great expertise of the teaching and research staff in the Department of Jewish, Christian and Islamic Origins.
I am now writing my PhD thesis and also teaching several course units at the Faculty. Doing a Research Master's programme improves your chances of being accepted for a PhD programme – my PhD project on Jewish and Christian self-definitions in the cultural and political context of first-century Rome even evolved out of a paper I wrote for one of the Research Master's course units. It also helps you find out if research is really what you want to do, and whether you have the motivation, the perseverance and the analytical and writing skills needed to complete a PhD programme.
There are several reasons why I chose to stay in Groningen for the Research Master. There is a good balance between core course units on the one hand, in which you work with peers on the same subject, and the freedom to design a tailor-made programme on the other hand. I spent part of my programme at the University of Oxford and took course units at the Department of Ancient History in Groningen. Another reason is that the Faculty is a very open environment, well connected with interdisciplinary networks across the University, which really broadened my horizons. Collaboration with Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology in the CRASIS institute still helps me in my present research studying Jews, Christians and their writings not in cultural isolation, but as part of the ancient world.