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Understanding the changing relations between science and religion

Sem01 (2022-2023) Science and Religion: Views from History

Science and religion are nowadays often seen as conflicting forces, but during much of European history, science and religion were seen to go together harmoniously.
  • How could this vision of harmony and concord prevail for such a long time?
  • When and where did tensions between science and religion arise and how were they resolved?
  • Why did the idea of a fundamental conflict between science and religion arise?
  • How was this development related to the changing social roles of science, scientists, and religion in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries?

These questions form the leitmotif of this Honours course. The main focus will be on the Christian religion, but attention will also be given to Islam.

Course details

  • Practical information

    Academic year


    1 & 2


    18.00 - 20.00

    Number of meetings

    Dates of all meetings
    5, 12, 19, 26 September

    3, 10, 17, 31 October

    7, 14, 21, 28 November

    Vrije Universiteit, De Boelelaan 1105, 1081 HV Amsterdam

    5, 12, 19, 26 September & 3, 10, 17 October: NU-4A67

    31 October & 7, 14, 21, 28 November: HG-07A36



    • Fokko Jan Dijksterhuis (Faculty of Humanities VU) coordinator of this course
    •    Dr. Ab Flipse (Faculty of Humanities VU)
    •    Prof.dr. Frans van Lunteren (Faculty of Sciences VU)
    •    Dr. Ahab Bdaiwi (University of Leiden)
    •    Dr. Hans van Eyghen (Faculty of Religion and Theology VU)
    •    Eva van Urk, MA (Faculty of Religion and Theology VU)
    •    Prof.dr. Eric Jorink (ING Huygens Institute/University of Leiden)

  • Learning objectives

    After completing this course:

    • Students have a broad overview of the changing relations between science and religion from antiquity to the present.
    • Students understand the key developments in the science-religion debate, such as the scientific revolution, and the debates about the theories of Galileo and Darwin, within their socio-cultural context.
    • Students have developed their own critical stance towards historiography surrounding these specific debates.
    • Students are aware of the various models put forward over the centuries to explain the relationship between science and religion, especially the question of how the vision of harmony could prevail for such a long time, and why the idea of a fundamental conflict has become dominant since the late 19th century onwards.
    • Students are able to understand and analyze a science-religion case study in the past by using the methodological tools from current science-religion historiography
  • Working formats & structure

    • Lectures and discussions
    • Individual oral presentations by students, based on preliminary version of final essay (meetings 12 and 13)
    • Individual final essay (3000-4000 words)
  • Assessment methods

    • Weekly assignments and participation counts for 20% of the final grade.
    • Individual oral presentation counts for 10%
    • Written essay counts for 70%
  • Study materials

    • Research articles and other readings
    • Primary sources