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Between Cosmology and Community: Religion and Sustainable Development

In an exciting intensive course on religion and development, master students and PhD candidates will be teamed up to explore empirical research methods in theory and practice. The course investigates the relations of religion with decolonial development, ecology, politics, gender equality and peace through high-profile lectures and conveys vital academic methods and soft skills, e.g. participatory observation, research ethics, grant application writing, academic networking etc. The ambitious course supports aspiring young academics to pursue their individual interests in the field of religion and development and connects international students and researchers in a personal setting at the University of the Western Cape.

Course periodJuly 20, 2020 - Aug. 1, 2020 Session II
Category Cultural Studies & Religion
Course levelsMaster, Ph.D.
Class size

18 participants; 12 master/honours students and 6 PhD candidates. 10 participants from South Africa, 4 participants from other African countries and 4 students from Germany will be accepted to participate.

Credits and certificate

8 ECTS; to be awarded with ECTS credit points, participants are expected to attend at least 80% of the course

Application deadline March 31, 2020, or when participant quota is reached
Course fee0.00 Euro | (excl. program fee and discounts)

DAAD scholarship (travel allowance and lodging allowance)
The program fee will be waived.

Application documents for DAAD scholarship:

  • letter of motivation/ cover letter (approx. 1 page in English)
  • CV
  • copy of valid student ID
  • copy of valid passport

Information about the content of the letter of motivation/ cover letter:
- Explaining the motivation for participating in the summer school.
- Outlining a preliminary idea, research question and outline for a small empirical field work project related to the topic of religious communities and sustainable development to be conducted during the summer school in Cape Town.
- Please state your prior experience or knowledge of religion and sustainable development in theory and practice (if any).
- Stating how the participation in the summer school will benefit your future studies or career.
- Please state your religious affiliation as discussions in class will benefit from religious diversity in the learning group.

For PhD candidates: in addition to the points mentioned above, a short research outline of your PhD project on religion and sustainable development should be included in the cover letter. Please note that PhD candidates must work in the field of religion and development in order to qualify for the course.

Application period: 10 February - 31 March 2020


Cosmology and Community highlight a field of tension and constitute two foci: On the one hand, religious communities are social entities, whose constitutive factor is the interaction among their members and with wider society. On the other hand, the distinctive feature of religious communities is their reference to cosmology. They are agents of world view production, identity formation and values synthesis. With respect to sustainable development, Community indicates active contributions by religious agents to processes of social, economic, ecological and cultural transformation. Cosmology refers to the ideological dimension, the impact of the formation of mind-sets, belief and knowledge systems, attitudes and behaviour on these processes of transformation.

Sustainable development is often understood as such development that produces sustainable change. The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a key frame of reference, but related to the realm of Cosmology, the aim of the Summer School will be to investigate notions of development both of religious communities and their respective ideological presuppositions. The current discourse on religion and development largely takes place within a secular framework. This is challenged by the perspective of religious actors themselves, for whom development is part of religion, i.e. professional and academic experts’ notions of development represent only one dimension in a more comprehensive human and social transformation. Hence, under the theme of Cosmology, the Summer School will analyse notions in religious communities as the good life, human flourishing and transformation in relationship to dominant western and secular notions of development and modernity.


Preliminary Course Program

Course structure

The summer school is divided into a course week and a research week.

Course week (20 – 26 July 2020):

The first week will focus on theories and methods in the research field of religion and development covering the following focal areas:

  • Religion and (Decolonial) Development,
  • Religion and Ecology,
  • Religion and Gender Equality,
  • Religion and Peace and
  • Religion and Politics.

The teaching formats are lectures, seminar sessions and group work. In addition, there will be excursions to religious communities and keynote lectures by religious leaders.

During this course week master students will form international learning tandems. These tandems will jointly plan small field research projects to be conducted in the second week (= research week).

Each learning tandem will be supervised by a PhD student, who advises the masters students in the planning of the research methods and the implementation of the field research. PhD candidates are thus given the opportunity to gain experience in academic supervision.

Research week (28 July – 1 August 2019):

In the second week the master students will conduct their own field research in close consultation with their PhD candidate mentor. This could, for example, be an interview with a religious leader on the topic of gender justice in her community or a participatory observation in a religious community on the significance of health and healing. The results of the field research will be presented and discussed in the plenary.

While master students conduct their field work, PhD students will attend an advanced research course, which will prepare them on the topics of science management (third-party funding applications, project management), research ethics, academic networks and academic writing.

Each learning tandem should produce an article on their field work, which will be published online jointly with a paper by each PhD student as results of the summer school.

This course is part of a Summer School Hub of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Participants will also join the general social programme organised by the international office of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

Motivation Letter about one page in German
Student Profile

Master students, Honours students and PhD students with an academic background and a strong interest in religious studies, theology, development studies, cultural studies, sociology, anthropology or related subjects.

Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Gräb

Ms. Juliane Stork

Ms. Marie-Luise Frost

Mr. Philipp Öhlmann

Dr. Ignatius Swart

Dr. Tanya van Wyk

Dr. Séverine Deneulin

Mr. Muoegamad Gallant

CoordinatorPierre Steuer/ Carmen Opolski/ Sanja Müssig
Contact detailsInternational Department
Unter den Linden 6
10999 Berlin