Theology and Religious Studies: Building Interreligious Relations

The need for interreligious dialogue
Specialization of:Theology & Religious Studies
Title:MA Theology & Religious Studies

Globalization has brought about a pluralization of the religious sphere, bringing other ‘world’ religions, such as Islam and different Asian traditions, to the West. The religious other is no longer an abstract figure but is seen in all her concreteness as neighbor, colleague, friend, spouse, etc. 

To increase social cohesion in society as a whole and more specifically in schools, (socio-political) organizations and companies, we need experts with the knowledge and skills to build bridges between people from different (faith) traditions. The growth of religious and interreligious literacy is necessary to foster interreligious relations.

Through classes, reading assignments, visits to local communities, and an analysis of case studies, students will be prepared to effectively become interreligious bridge-builders in an increasingly multi-religious world. By the end of this multidisciplinary program that involves an internship and writing a master's thesis, they will have developed the knowledge and skills needed to work in a multi-religious context and bring about a positive transformation.

This master's program is attractive to any who work in multireligious settings who wish to build interreligious relations within their schools, work or community environments.

In March 2017 the Theological faculty was ranked nr 7 in the world by the QS World University Rankings

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Our neighborhoods, schools and universities, working places and group of friends and acquaintances are becoming increasingly diverse. It is clear that religious diversity is a fact that poses real challenges for society. To increase social cohesion between people with various religious and non-religious backgrounds, we need ‘border-crossers,’ willing to participate in various forms of interreligious learning. Most policy makers agree that education, especially, carries a huge responsibility in promoting and fostering the competencies of interreligious literacy. This programme seeks to form students who, not unlike the Greek God Hermes, have the flexibility to move between different worlds and translate their convictions in a meaningful way to those who believe differently. 

The Building Interreligious Relations programme requires master students to complete 60 credits:

  • Building Interreligious Relations 1 (6ECTS);
  • Building Interreligious Relations 2 (6ECTS);
  • Hermeneutics + Scriptural Reasoning (6ECTS);
  • Research Skills (6ECTS);
  • Master Seminar (6ECTS);
  • Internship (12 ECTS);
  • Elective (6ECTS).

Building Interreligious Relations 1 (6ECTS) 

In this first module, we will delve deeply into the complexities related to the meeting between religions, so that students learn to get a better grasp of the deeper lying mechanisms that affect this meeting (for better or for worse). We will address fundamental questions touching upon:

  • How do we interpret the phenomenon of religious diversity –Why are there so many religions? How do they relate to one another? How do different models of religious diversity impact upon the way we understand the (im-)possibility of interreligious dialogue?
  • What are the conditions for interreligious dialogue?
  • What does it mean to be religiously committed in a time of detraditionalization, individualization and pluralization? How do we make sense of identity and alterity; are these exclusionary terms or are they somehow interrelated? 

These fundamental questions will be related to concrete challenges in different settings:

  • Interreligious learning in an educational setting
  • Concrete challenges connected to inter-rituality, i.e. the way interreligious encounters happen via, through and across rituals.
  • Interreligious Encounters in the public sphere and the possible conflicts that may emerge 

Building Interreligious Relations 2 (6ECTS)

This module deals with contemporary local and international grass root projects focused on building interreligious relations. The key question of this course is 'what is a good BIR-project?' We will examine theory, explore good (and bad) practices and develop criteria that may help students to develop their own project, which they will present in class.

Hermeneutics + Scriptural Reasoning (6ECTS) 

In this course you will be taught both philosophical hermeneutics and postcolonial, intercultural and feminist hermeneutical approaches. The course deals with the following questions: 

  • What, if any, is the abiding role of religious texts in a secularized, post-Enlightenment age?
  • And how can the academic study of sacred writings help to create an atmosphere of mutual respect and help to overcome conflicts rather than create them? 
  • What role do prejudices, power imbalances and gender differences play in the interpretation of sacred texts? 
  • Is understanding across religious and cultural texts traditions possible.

In this module students will also participate in a practice called Scriptural Reasoning. Scriptural Reasoning (SR) aims at building interreligious communion through a praxis of reading and studying the sacred texts (scripture) together. During a period of six weeks, students will meet on a regular basis and engage in this communal practice of interreligious reading.

Research Skills (6ECTS)

Research Skills’ will deepen your understanding of methodology. In this course you will also be trained in the philosophy of science, argumentation, and you will write your thesis proposal.

Master Seminar (6ECTS)

The ‘master seminar’ is an integral part of the whole master programme. During your internship and writing your thesis, you will be coached and supervised within the ‘master seminar’. Students develop and discuss a portfolio of their academic and professional qualities. This module is designed to run parallel to the other modules during the whole study-year in order to assure an individual accompaniment as well as a rich interdisciplinary and interreligious exchange among students and in dialogue with lecturers from various fields.

Internship (12 ECTS)

The teaching staff have a list of internship opportunities, however students may also suggest other opportunities. Research oriented students may contribute to one of the department’s research projects (e.g. on dual belonging or inter-religious spirituality or multiple religious participation). Students who have taken an interest in interreligious education may do their internship in one of multireligious schools in the Netherlands others help to facilitate interfaith initiatives between local religious communities. Some students go abroad for their internship.

Elective (6ECTS)

You can chose 1 elective that matches your specific interest, e.g. philosophy of Religion, Buddhist Spiritual Care, Media, ….

Theology & Religious Studies: Building Interreligious Relations courses in the study guide.

This programme seeks to prepare students effectively to become interfaith leaders in our increasingly multi-religious world. You will not only learn critically analyze different ‘theological, philosophical and ideological perspectives’ on the meeting between religions, you will also will also participate in various dialogue activities aimed at developing interreligious literacy. Thus, you will acquire the skills to become border-crossers and bridge-builders and these skills are increasingly viewed as a vital component for employees who seek work. Upon receiving your degree you will be qualified for challenging career prospects in any institution that demands interreligious competencies: schools, hospitals, governmental and non-governmental institutions as well as companies. Religious professionals and leaders will also benefit from this programme. 

If you want to become a secondary school teacher in the Netherlands, you are directly eligible for admittance in the (Dutch) Masters Leraar voorbereidend hoger onderwijs Godsdienst/Levensbeschouwing.

During the past few years VU Amsterdam has developed into a meeting place between people belonging to various cultural and religious traditions. This university cherishes the idea that from the confrontation and conversation between differences new insights can emerge. The Faculty of Theology not only reflects on the possibility of interreligious dialogue but also attempts to enhance the dialogue between the different religious traditions. Within the faculty itself, many denominations and religions are present. The religious diversity is a part of the atmosphere of the faculty and this strengthens the programme.

The Faculty of Theology of VU Amsterdam consists of excellent scholars with international reputations and connections in all the major fields of theology. You will be exposed to the best that scholarship has to offer. The research conducted here is of a high academic level, and seeks to closely interact with societal issues and interests. Our faculty has strong partnerships with various societal organisations and initiatives. The Graduate School of Theology and Religious Studies offers courses for (prospective) PhD students and functions as a platform for interaction between junior and senior scholars.

Dialogue and diversity 
VU Amsterdam is located in the Netherlands and has deep bonds with the Reformed Protestant tradition. In recent years, however, the student body has increasingly become interdenominational, international and interreligious. Your education will be enriched by fellow students who come from various denominations, from Pentecostal to Mennonite to Islamic to Evangelical to Buddhist. Students from other countries bring new and different perspectives on life and faith. You will learn to think about the meaning of your faith for your time and place in dialogue with others. You will discuss religious phenomena and ideas from several disciplinary perspectives, in conversation with students and teachers from various disciplinary backgrounds.

The Faculty of Theology is housed in a modern building in Amsterdam with a first-rate theological library on site. The building is equipped with the latest technology and study facilities. As a student you will have access to these facilities.

Since its founding in 1880 by the statesman and theologian Abraham Kuyper VU Amsterdam has been committed to first-rate scholarship and learning combined with utmost respect for faith traditions and theological points of view. You will become part of this great tradition.

Amsterdam is one of the most beautiful cities of the world and the cultural capital of the Netherlands. You will be able to live in Amsterdam and to benefit from all it has to offer. For students in theology or religious studies, Amsterdam is a perfect context to study, because of the multi-religious identity of the city.

Faculty of Theology

Overview Theology & Religious Studies: Building Interreligious Relations

Language of instruction



1 year (full-time) / 2 years (part-time)

Tuition fee

Application deadline

15 July for Dutch students. 1 April for EU and non-EU students. EU students with an international degree who do not need housing services through VU Amsterdam can still apply until 1 June.

Start date

1 September

Study type

Part-time, Full-time


specialization of Theology & Religious Studies (1 year)

Field of Interest

Religion and Philosophy

On a regular basis, international scholars are invited to interact with students and to give a keynote.

Invited Guest Speakers (2012-2015)

  • Richard Kearney, The Charles Seelig Professor in Philosophy, Boston College, June 2012
  • Catherine Cornille, of Catholic Theology at the University of Bristol, Boston College, November 2013
  • Paul Hedges, Associate Professor in Interreligious Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, NTU, Singapore
  • Francis Clooney, Parkman Professor of Divinity Professor of Comparative Theology, Director of the Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard, November 2014
  • Richard Kearney,  Charles Seelig Professor in Philosophy,Boston College, June 2015 (see
  • Gavin D'Costa, Professor of Catholic Theology at the University of Bristol, June 2015
  • David Ford, Regius Professor of Divinity Director, Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme, December 2015

 research Building Interreligious Relations

Faculty Theology 
Though the faculty of theology, VU Amsterdam remains strongly rooted in the reformed tradition and is strongly committed to Christian tradition, since 2000 it has become a center where not only other protestant denominations are welcomed (Mennonites, Baptists, Pentecostals, evangelicals etc.) but also Hindus and Buddhists, as well as Muslims.

Students are trained to become religious scholars, theologians, pastors, imams or Buddhist and Hindu spiritual care givers. In any case, this faculty has become a meeting place for believers belonging to different religious traditions and Christian denominations. It is a daily challenge to do justice to the particular confessional commitments of our students while at the same time creating an educational environment of dialogical openness. In this context people with their different religious backgrounds need to learn to accept this situation of diversity, tolerate and respect confessional differences, deal with faith-related conflicts and (hopefully) come to regard the plurality of worldviews as an opportunity to learn with and from each other

Our staff

Foto marianna 

Marianne Moyaert is Full Professor and Chair of Comparative Theology and the Hermeneutics of Interreligious Dialogue at the VU Amsterdam. She recently obtained a five-year research grant to explore further the phenomenon of interreligious ritual sharing. She has authored three books, including In Response to the Religious Other; Ricoeur and the Fragility of Interreligious Encounters (2014) and Fragile Identities: Towards a Theology of Interreligious Hospitality (2011). In addition, she has published over fifty articles, approximately half of which appeared in peer-reviewed journals, in both English and Dutch. She is specialized in Jewish-Christian Dialogue after the Holocaust.

Interview with Marianne Moyaert (in Dutch) - Leren bouwen aan interreligieuze relaties 
Interview with Marianne (in Dutch) - Dialoog bij Universiteit 
Interview with Marianne Moyaert (in English) - Towards a Liturgical Turn in Comparative Theology?

Gerdien Bertram-Troost
 finished her PdH-project in December 2006. Her research was about religious identity development in adolescence. She's especially interested in the way schools for secondary education effect or can effect this development. After finishing her PhD Gerdien worked as a post-doc researcher. Her work was closely related to the European project REDCo, which focused on Religion in Education as a matter of Dialogue or Conclict. Gerdien is co-editor of two international books in which the findings of both the qualitative and a quantitative research within the framework of RedCo are described. Since April 2009 Gerdien has a part time position as teacher/researcher at the Faculty of Psychology and Education.


Manuela Kalsky is the director of the Theological Research Center of the Dominicans DSTS and professor in Theology and Society at the VU Amsterdam. She created a multimedia website, looking for a new ‘we’ in the Netherlands:, and just started a new research project on ‘multiple religious belonging’. Manuela Kalsky is a well known speaker about issues related to multicultural and multi-religious society.


Annewieke Vroom, PhD (MA Philosophy MA Religious Studies) is specialised in the thinking on God in religious traditions, especially the Buddhist-Christian dialogue. She has a longstanding specialty in dialogical teaching and enhancing dialogue in religiously diverse groups, for which she received a Good Practice education prize from VU Amsterdam in 2008. Also, in 2007 and 2014 she was nominated by the students of the Faculty of Theology as Best Teacher. Before working at the university she worked as an identity coach guiding primary schools in how to deal with their multi-religious identity.

foto maral 

"As a lawyer I specialized in Law & Politics of International Security. In light of the refugee crisis, radicalization amongst our youth and the general fear of religious extremism, I felt the strong urge to deepen my understanding of religion and to invest my time and energy in the necessary knowledge and skills for me to become a mediator between different groups in society. 

How can we facilitate a dialogue in the public sphere which is not filled up with populist rightwing or leftwing one-liners? How can we take the fear of religion serious within society if we are not willing to create a space in which we truly listen to different groups in society? These questions and many more pushed me to choose the specialization Building Interreligious Relations. I have absolutely found theoretical and practical answers to these questions and discovered many more questions and answers. Perhaps unexpectedly, I have also learned so much about myself and how I will be able to position myself as a mediator and a bridge builder. 

For my internship I will move to Alexandria, Egypt where I will be involved in the day to day activities of the Jesuits cultural center and organize two dialogue events. I hope to learn more about the great work this cultural center does in the complex religious landscape in Egypt and get inspired on how to include the cultural sector much more in my work when I return to the Netherlands." 

Georgia Carter — Reflections on the Building Interreligious Relations Master’s

Georgia CarterWhy did you want to study at the VU? 
After visiting the Netherlands for the first time and falling in love with the country as a whole, I was determined to find a way to pursue my graduate studies here. Having just completed my Bachelor’s in Religious Studies, I was very impressed and intrigued by the numerous concentrations of study available at the VU within the Religious Studies Master’s programme. As an exchange study, my home university in Canada had a pre-existing bilateral agreement with the VU, which encouraged me to explore the option of attending even further. 

I made an initial inquiry with the International Office at the VU, and was immediately met with helpfulness and interest in my intended course of study. These first interactions greatly influenced my decision to pursue my studies at the VU.

How did you find the Master's programme BIR, and why would you advise others to also follow this programme?

I found the BIR Master’s programme almost by chance, as I was already taking courses towards my Master’s in Religious Studies at my home university. I wanted to see if the VU had an equivalent programme which I could participate in. However, much to my surprise and delight, I discovered that the VU offered a number of options within the Religious Studies Master’s programme. My own research interests lie in the field of interreligious dialogue and relations, and I was amazed that the VU offers a Master’s programme that focuses specifically on this incredibly important and interesting topic. I had never seen any programme like it offered at another school, and was very keen to participate. I would advise this programme to anyone interested in the field of interreligious relations—both from a research standpoint, as well as a practical standpoint. This programme has given me the tools to think critically about the conditions for and nature of interreligious relations, as well as a better understanding of how to practically apply my knowledge in a concrete setting. The students in my class were passionate about the topic, and eager to learn and engage with the material—the latter of which owed greatly to the excellence of the professors who coordinate the course. Dr. Marianne Moyaert and Dr. Gerdian Betram-Troost present the material uniquely from the perspective of their own academic context and training, and as a result provide a rich presentation of the course material. I found it to be a very inspiring course, which taught me a great deal about interreligious relations in both theory and praxis, while also encouraging self-reflexivity through personal reflection and group discussion. 

Something about Amsterdam, as an international environment? 
Amsterdam is a wonderful city to study in as an international student. There is always so much to do and see, while also remaining accessible and welcoming. The city is incredibly culturally diverse, and I have found the people I have met to be extremely helpful and welcoming during my time here. It is also a delight to be able to live in a city with such a rich history, where there is something new to learn around every corner.

What is your experience being an exchange student (finding housing, etc.)?

As an exchange student, I found setting up my life here in Amsterdam to be relatively easy. I live in student housing, where I share my apartment with one other roommate. It was quite stress-free for me to secure my housing, and I have been very happy with my living situation since moving here. I was greatly assisted by the VU International Office in all other matters related to my move (such as applying for my Residence Permit, registering for courses, etc.), which made the transition overseas relatively smooth. Since my arrival, if I have had any questions, I have been able to find assistance from the school quite readily, which has allowed me to more fully enjoy my studies and my new city!

Dutch students

  • Students holding a Bachelor’s degree from a Dutch University (WO) are directly eligible for admittance in this Master’s programme.
  • Students with a suitable HBO degree can apply for a premaster’s programme (this programme is taught in Dutch). Our Admission Board will have to approve your request for admission. 
  • You need to apply before July 15 in Studielink. The registration has to be completed before August 31.

Coordinator of the Building Interreligious Relations master's programme specialization: 
Prof. Marianne Moyaert

VU Public Relations Office 
Please phone us at +31 (0)20 598 5000 (Monday - Friday, 9:00 to 17:00). You may also e-mail us at:

International students

Admission is based on a strict selection procedure. The Faculty’s Admission Board will decide upon your admission after having evaluated your complete online application. 

In order to gain admission to one of our Master’s programmes, you will need to have at least a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited research university including at least three full years of academic study amounting to a minimum of 180 ECTS or equivalent. 

Specific admission requirements for the Master’s Programme Theology and Religious Studies, specialization in Building Interreligious Relations 

Students with a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology or Religious Studies from a university abroad will only be admitted following an assessment of their degree by the admissions board. Students with Bachelor’s degrees in other disciplines are also welcome to apply, provided that the degree obtained is from a research-oriented university. Before the start of the academic year the student needs to have an intake with the coordinator of the specialization. The aim of this intake is to discuss possible deficiency in theological knowledge of the student. 

You must always present official test results proving your proficiency in English. Only students who have completed a full high school or bachelor’s degree in Canada, USA, UK, Ireland, New Zealand, or Australia may be exempted. We require a TOEFL score (score 580 paper based, score 237 computer based or score 92 internet based) or an IELTS score of 6.5 overall band score. Cambridge English: Cambridge Proficiency Exam A, B, C, or Cambridge Advanced Exam A, B, C. 

Please refer to the language requirement page for the general requirements regarding the English language test.

If you have read the admission criteria and feel you are eligible for admission, please take the following steps to submit your application. Note that the initial application procedure is fully online and that scans of your relevant documents are required.  

Step 1: Meet admission criteria 

Step 2: Prepare documents and apply online 
Please prepare the following documents. You can find an explanation of each document on the application page. All documents should be provided in English. 

  • Copy of your valid passport or ID (ID only for EU residents) 
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Motivation Letter
  • Two Letters of Recommendation
  • Transcript of records 
  • Thesis (or another sample of academic writing, at least 5 pages plus a list of used literature)
  • A description of the relevant courses you have taken during your previous higher education 
  • A list of all the main literature used during your previous higher education. 

After having prepared the required documents, please follow the online application procedure. After you have completed the application, our international student advisors will contact you via e-mail. 

Step 3: Await decision on admission 
The admission board will review your application as soon as it is complete. Normally this takes about four weeks, but it might take longer in busy periods so be sure to apply as soon as possible. If you gain admission, you will receive a letter of conditional admission by email. You can start planning your move to Amsterdam! 

Step 4: Finalize your registration and move to Amsterdam! 
Make sure to finalize your registration as a student before the start of the programme. Here you will find an explanation what to do after admission. When all conditions are met you will be ready to start your programme at VU Amsterdam! 

Further information about; 

Tuition fees   

As an international student planning to study at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, you can apply for a variety of grants and bursaries. 

Detailed information about scholarships and deadlines can be found on or

Additional Scholarship offered by the faculty

Mijntje Pruissen Scholarship

Mijntje Pruissen Scholarship is a Merit scholarship programme for strongly motivated international students with excellent study results. Eligible candidates must be able to prove their academic excellence, and they must be admitted to the Master’s programme in Theology and Religious Studies (all specializations, and both the one- and the two-year Master’s programme). This concerns English taught Master’s programmes only.

Students eligible for this scholarship are students from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) who are applying for an English taught Master’s programme in Theology and Religious Studies at the Faculty of Theology. Students with the Dutch nationality and/or a Dutch degree (if the Dutch degree is used for admission) are not eligible for admission.

The scholarship amounts to € 5,000. Application deadline: 1 April 2017

For more information or questions about the procedure please send an e-mail to:

Mr. Stipo Jelec

Coordinator of the Building Interreligious Relations master's programme specialization: 
Prof. Marianne Moyaert

For detailed questions about the Master’s programmes or the application procedure contact your International Student Advisor at the International Office: 

Stipo Jeleč          
Tel + 31 (0)20 598 8920 

VU Public Relations Office 
Please phone us at +31 (0)20 598 5000 (Monday - Friday, 9:00 to 17:00). You may also e-mail us at: