Dean's Master Class: research theme 'Religion'

September 17, 2015

Event information

Type: Master Class

Date: September 17 (Thursday) 2015

Time: 12.15 - 17.00
(walk-in lunch 12.15 - 12.45; drinks afterwards)

Location: The Hague, ISS campus (directions) room 3.39

Enrolment: free for Graduate School members
(before Thursday, September 10)


Telephone: +31 (0)10 40 82607

The upcoming edition of the Dean's Master Class will focus on the research theme 'Religion'. Graduate School Dean Professor Liesbet van Zoonen again chosen a theme which cuts across disciplines and asked four distinguished EUR scholars, from four academic fields, to present their research on the theme. Those four disciplines are: History, Sociology, Media Studies and Gender Studies.

The master class is a highly interactive event, consisting of a combination of presentations, discussions and assignments. During the afternoon, PhD candidates will work in groups towards presenting a draft research proposal on 'Religion'. The best proposal will be awarded 'The Dame'; the Dean’s Award for Multidisciplinary Excellence.

Read the retrospective of the first master class for an impression of the afternoon’s set-up.

The Dean’s Award for Multidisciplinary Excellence was awarded to Daniel Adamu (Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies), Leonieke Bolderman (Arts and Culture Studies), Antonio Cañez Cota (Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies) and Mark van Ostaijen (Public Administration).

Speakers Dean's Master Class 'Religion'

Dick Douwes is Professor of History of the Middle East, at the Department of History of Erasmus University Rotterdam. Since 2006 he is also dean of the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (ESHCC).

Title presentation:

"Shrine culture, sectarianism and violence in the Middle East"
Today's violence in the Middle East is often defined as being sectarian, in fact, most parties involved in warfare in Syria and Iraq use a sectarian or an anti-sectarian discourse, the most obvious case being the Islamic State (IS) that staged an apocalyptic battle based upon radical readings of the religious past and present. But desecrating and destroying what is held sacred by the other is not exclusively an IS performance. Contrary to popular assumptions that the historical antagonism between the various religious communities in the region sufficiently explain today’s tensions, I argue that sectarianism is part of modernity and one of the consequences of colonial and post-colonial interventions in the region. Having said that, local dynamics, not necessarily ‘sectarian’ in origin, are to be taken into account.

  • Required reading:
    Salamandra, C. (2013). Sectarianism in Syria: Anthropological Reflections. Middle East Critique, 22(3), 303-306.
    Available online

    Douwes, D. (2013). Going public: Minority Muslim communities and Public Space in Syria (prior to the revolt). In W. Hofstee & A. van der Kooij (Eds.), Religion beyond its private role in modern society (71-81). Leiden/Boston: Brill publishers.
    Available upon registration

Willem de Koster is Associate Professor of Sociology at Erasmus University Rotterdam. He obtained his PhD degree (Erasmus University, 2010), with a thesis addressing the virtual community debate in Internet Studies, focusing on the question of how different types of virtual togetherness on online forums can be understood in relation to offline social life.

Title presentation:
"The social significance of religion in times of secularisation
"Religion is increasingly considered to be a private affair and decreasingly as the basis for group formation and societal organization". This is how a recent key Sociology textbook summarises a widely held view on the contemporary social significance of religion. Is religion indeed becoming socially irrelevant in western countries such as the Netherlands, which have allegedly witnessed a relentless process of secularisation? Or can we discern the rise of new public clashes over the proper social role of religion? And are these here to stay, or mere hiccups in a more encompassing process of secularization?

  • Required reading:
    Achterberg, P. et al (2009). A Christian cancellation of the secularist truce? Waning Christian religiosity and waxing religious deprivatization in the West. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 48(4), 687-701.
    Available online

Professor Stef Aupers

Institute for Media Studies, University of Leuven (Belgium)

Stef Aupers is professor 'media culture' at the Institute of Media Studies, Communication Sciences, University of Leuven. He published widely on religion, spirituality and conspiracy theories in modern  society and, particularly, on the mediatization of these cultures through ICT and games. His latest books are 'Religions of Modernity: Relocating the Sacred to the Self and the Digital' (edited with Dick Houtman, 2010, Brill publishers) and 'Paradoxes of Individualization: Social Control and Social Conflict in Contemporary Modernity' (with Dick Houtman and Willem de Koster, 2011, Ashgate Publishers).

Title presentation:
"Beyond belief: Playing with pagan spirituality in World of Warcraft"
Since the 1960s the Christian churches are running empty in most parts of Western Europe. Instead of secularization, however, we are rather witnessing religious change. In our 'post-secular society' (Habermas), there is a wide interest in buddhism, esotericism, occultism while religion and spirituality are entering the public domain through media culture - novels, films, series, games. In this meeting we will use the case-study of online computer games to study the latter development. Can playing a game like World of Warcraft generate religious meaning and have 'ultimate significance'? Do game worlds like these provide the opportunity for youngsters to 'play' with religion without believing? And what does this say about the transformation of religion in the contemporary world?  

  • Required reading:
    Aupers, S. & Schaap, J. (2015) Beyond belief: Playing with pagan spirituality in World of Warcraft. Heidelberg Journal for Religions on the Internet, 7, 190-206.
    Available online

Associate Professor Dubravka Zarkov

International Institute of Social Studies

Dubravka Zarkov is Associate Professor in Gender, Conflict and Development at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam. She teaches on feminist epistemology, conflict theories, and media and war. Her main fields of interest are gender, sexuality and ethnicity/national identity in the context of war and violence, with focus on sexual violence and its media representation. 

Title presentation:
"What is race to religion? Abu Ghraib violence in theoretical and political debates"
Sexual violence against Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison has generated a lot of research and political and theoretical debates. Within feminism, Black studies, studies of sexualities and ethnic studies, both the acts of violence and the practice of their media representations have had wide resonance, revoking various histories of oppression, marginalization and exclusion. In this short presentation, I will address the ways gender, sexuality and race have been brought into the early discussions about Abu Ghraib violence, leaving religion and specifically Islam and Islamophobia, un(der)stated, replaced or totally invisible.

  • Required reading:
    Butler, J. (2008) Sexual politics, torture, and secular time. The British Journal of Sociology, 59(1): 1-23.
    Available online