REL4020 – Religion and Politics

Schedule, syllabus and examination date

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Course content

Imagine a world where everybody shares the same values; where everybody agrees on what is most important and what the good life means. Then take a look at a newspaper and count how often religion is singled out as the cause of conflicts. This course tries to make sense of what is at stake in some of these conflicts.

Religion is a contested issue across the world. However, religion is not 'one thing' but a category with unclear borders – from peaceful yogis to furious gods, holy texts and bloody sacrifice, from monotheistic to polytheistic to nontheistic religions. But everywhere religious activities – and sometimes religious beliefs – are regulated by state law. In some countries the state has allowed religion a place in the political structuring of the state, as for instance in Saudi Arabia (Wahabbi Islam) or Sri Lanka (Theravada Buddhism). Other states have opted for secularism, whether by maintaining a strict divide between the political and the religious realm (France), or by a formal commitment to treat all religions even-handedly (as in India). Yet others again keep religion under strict state control (Russia and China) or define one religion as state church (Denmark).

The international political field is increasingly regulated by norms (trade rules) and regulations (human rights), but religion is systematically excluded from international politics. This does not mean that the political role of religion has been resolved, on the contrary, as illustrated by violent blasphemy controversies across the world – from Europe (Charlie Hebdo 2015) to South Asia (Asia Bibi 2018) and the Middle East (Raif Badawi 2015).

In this course we take the state-religion nexus as a starting-point for a comparative approach to 6 topical areas (examples in parenthesis):

1. Religion and state (how laws define the religion-state nexus differently)

2. Freedom of religion – whose freedom? (cases of blasphemy)

3. Secularisation (what happens when religion is subsumed under the secular state)

4. Violence (what is special about religious extremism)

5. Religious nationalism (identity politics)

6. Majority/minority religion (problems of religious and ethnic pluralism)

Learning outcome

Train your analytical abilities. Upon successful completion of the course you will be able to:

  • Identify and analyse the religious aspects of political conflicts
  • Compare religio-political cases from different socio-cultural and historical contexts
  • Integrate analytical concepts and theories from diverse disciplines (such as the study of religion, area studies, cultural history) into a coherent framework critically identify and analyse the religious aspects of political conflicts
  • Work in interdisciplinary teams to address current political debates
  • Contribute insights from your own discipline to a wider research context


Students who are admitted to study programmes at UiO must each semester register which courses and exams they wish to sign up for in Studentweb.

If you are not already enrolled as a student at UiO, please see our information about admission requirements and procedures.


Formal prerequisite knowledge

In order to take the course you have to be registered as an MA student at the University of Oslo. 


Spring 2021: This course offers digital teaching throughout the semester

There will not be a requirement for compulsory attendance for teaching in the spring of 2021, but we strongly recommend that you follow all the teaching.

The teaching consists of:

  • Lectures: Eight lectures throughout the semester (2 hours duration)
  • Seminars: Four seminars throughout the semester (2 hours duration)

Compulsory activities:

  • Five compulsory activities

The course is taught through a combination of lectures and seminars organised as 8 classes of 2 hours duration every second week, plus 4 seminars of 2 hours duration every second week throughout the semester.

Students' activities and team-work are emphasised throughout. To ensure students' learning outcomes and establish an interactive "student milieu" the students will be organised in inter-disciplinary teams (max 5) and given 5 obligatory tasks ("kvalifiseringsoppgaver"). Team-work in connection with obligatory tasks will take place during seminars and over the week. Students will organise their work as they see fit.


All compulsory activities must be approved in order to qualify for the exam. It is the student’s responsibility to check whether or not the compulsory activities are approved. This is how you apply for valid absence from compulsory activities/compulsory attendance.

The compulsory activity is only valid for one semester.



Term paper. 

Grading guidelines

Submit assignments in Inspera

You submit your assignment in the digital examination system Inspera. Read about how to submit assignments in Inspera.

Use of sources and citation

You should familiarize yourself with the rules that apply to the use of sources and citations. If you violate the rules, you may be suspected of cheating/attempted cheating.

Language of examination

You may write your examination paper in Norwegian, Swedish, Danish or English.

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail. Read more about the grading system.

Explanations and appeals

Resit an examination

Withdrawal from an examination

It is possible to take the exam up to 3 times. If you withdraw from the exam after the deadline or during the exam, this will be counted as an examination attempt.

Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.

Facts about this course






Every spring


Every spring

Teaching language