Theology and Religious Studies: Exploring a Discipline

A combination of guidance and freedom
Specialization of:Theology & Religious Studies
Title:MA Theology & Religious Studies

The specialization Exploring a Discipline is really unique in its combination of guidance and freedom. In the MA Exploring a Discipline you can pursue your own area of interest in a focused manner.
This one-year programme is best for you if you:

  • want to deepen your expertise in and knowledge of a particular discipline or topic in theology or religious studies;
  • are already a professional in the field of theology or religious studies (minister, teacher, chaplain, etc.) and want to deepen your knowledge.

The programme can also serve as the first year of the two-year Research MA in Theology and Religious Studies.

The programme offers you maximum freedom within your studies to choose courses in your field of interest. You can either create a fully personalized programme, or follow one of the tracks. These are offered through the centers and chairs of the Faculty of Theology and the institutions affiliated with it. The tracks listed under Study programme illustrate the breadth of options.

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

More information
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Structure and Electives 
The curriculum of Exploring a discipline (pdf) consists of 2 required modules, Hermeneutics and Research Skills. These will provide the theoretical basis for research in theology and religious studies.

Besides these 2 modules, you are free to choose 3 modules from the list of master courses in the first semester. You can choose specialization courses in Dogmatics, Biblical Studies, Church History, Practical Theology, Philosophy of Religion and Islamic Theology and courses from the other 4 specializations (Leadership, Media, Spiritual Care and Teaching Religious Diversity).

The various tracks, thematic tracks and tracks within a theological tradition, offer particular sets of modules for this part of the programme, information can be obtained from the contact persons of the track you are interested in.

Core Modules 
In the module on hermeneutics you will be taught philosophical hermeneutics, which is one of pillars in the methodology of theology and religious studies. ‘Research Skills’ will deepen your understanding of methodology. In this course you will also be trained in the philosophy of science, scholarly argumentation, and in writing your thesis proposal.

The ‘master seminar’ is an integral part of the whole second semester. During your internship and writing your thesis, you will be coached and supervised within the ‘master seminar’.

Internship and Thesis 
In the second semester you will do a (research) internship, write your thesis and take part in the ‘master seminar’ (n.b.: this last course will have initial meetings during the first term!).

The thesis and internship topics are chosen in consultation with the coordinator of the programme. The internship can be an internship in an organization or company, but you can also do a research internship within the faculty of theology itself. Your MA thesis is an independent research project under the supervision of one of the members of the faculty, it will connect to your own focus and interest.

Disciplinary Tracks
Disciplinary tracks are developed in cooperation with representatives of the disciplines present in the Faculty of Theology, such as biblical studies (Old and New Testaments), church history, practical theology, comparative religion, philosophy of religion, systematic theology, and ethics. A track consists of modules taught by scholars of the chosen discipline.

Thematic Tracks

Tracks in a Theological TraditionTheology & Religious Studies: Exploring a Discipline courses in study guide.

The specialization ‘Exploring a Discipline’ first of all turns the student into a specialist in the chosen discipline, theme, or theological tradition. This qualifies a graduate for a range of professions, such as:

  • Policy advisor on religion in governmental and NGO contexts (think of a police force that has to come to terms with religious radicalism).
  • Editor in the field of religious publishing (imagine doing an internship in such publishing and making a career out of it).
  • Specialist in the field of religion and law (needed when religious and secular law collide).
  • Advisor or manager of educational programs in the field of religion and society (increasingly in demand, given widely spread ‘religious illiteracy’).
  • Theological advisor to institutions with a religious background (for instance, schools and hospitals).

Furthermore, if you complete your masters with a grade average of 8 out of 10, you can enter the second year of our Research Master's programme. In this year you will be trained further in research skills and be prepared for your PhD. This can be the gateway to an academic career.

The specialization Exploring a Discipline is unique in its combination of guidance and freedom. On the one hand, there is clear guidance in the development of the skills required for doing research. On the other hand, the student has a high degree of freedom in setting up his or her own programme.

The Faculty 
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.

Yvonne Moonen



"Studying Islam at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is extremely interesting, as we study Islamic theology from an inside perspective. At the same time we study philosophy of religion, hermeneutics and are in dialogue with people of other faiths and beliefs. The result is that we learn to reflect on religion in relation to the perspective we take. To be aware of this is very useful in our pluralistic societies."

Overview Theology & Religious Studies: Exploring a Discipline

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



Specialization of Theology & Religious Studies (1 year)

Field of Interest

Religion and Philosophy

William Harding



"The Exploring a Discipline program has helped me find what I am truly passionate about! The flexibility of the program allows you to find your individuality within the confines of rigorous academics, bountiful seminars, and first rate faculty members. It was perfect for me, as I did not have a specific research interest (but now I do!)." 

Annemarie Foppen



"By choosing 'exploring a discipline' I was able to create my master exactly as I liked. I am now combining my passion for theology with social psychology."

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 Exploring a Discipline master's specialization programme 
If you have questions about the programme you may contact dr. P.B.A. Smit,

Information days

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 Exploring a Discipline 

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 Exploring a Discipline master's specialization programme 
If you have questions about the programme you may contact dr. P.B.A. Smit,

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 

Information days

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:

Eva van Urk



"The specialization Exploring a Discipline enables me to follow my own research interests. At the same time there is a good interplay with other theological disciplines. Very inspiring."