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RELS239 Religion and Identity

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How do religions generate identities? How does religious identity affect law, politics, economics and violence? We explore these questions in reference to Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, neo-spirituality and more.

Discussions of religious identity appear everywhere in the media. Yet, what is religious identity, and how does it differ from other types of identity? How does it influence politics and society? Under what circumstances might religious identities contribute to war and violence? How ought we to think about and approach religious identity in the contemporary world?

This paper explores these questions using case studies from Asia, New Zealand, Europe and North America. The paper follows two directions of inquiry. After examining the concept of identity, the first half of the paper explores how particular 'technologies' of religion (e.g. ritual, myth, symbols, bodily practices) influence the formation of identity. The second half of the paper examines the links between religious identity and politics, law, society, economics and war. Classes will combine lecture and discussion and will link together theory with a variety of important, real-world case studies.

Paper title Religion and Identity
Paper code RELS239
Subject Religious Studies
EFTS 0.15
Points 18 points
Teaching period Not offered in 2022, expected to be offered in 2023 (Distance learning)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $929.55
International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.

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36 points
RELS 314 and RELS 414
Schedule C
Arts and Music, Theology


Teaching staff

Lecturer: Associate Professor Ben Schonthal

Paper Structure

This paper covers the following topics:

  • Theories of religious identity
  • Links between myth, ritual, belief, and piety and identity
  • Religious conflict and religion-based 'othering'
  • Religious 'rationalisation'
  • Multiculturalism
  • Religious syncretism, hybridity and 'new' spiritualities
  • Commodification and commercialisation of religion


  • Written reflection 10%
  • Debate assignment 20%
  • 2000-word essay 30%
  • Final exam 40%
Teaching Arrangements

Campus: Weekly videoconferenced lectures.
Distance students are also invited to join weekly videoconferences.
However, recordings will be available on Blackboard for students who cannot attend live.


No textbooks are required. A coursebook has been developed for this paper.

Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Global perspective, Interdisciplinary perspective, Scholarship, Communication, Critical thinking, Ethics, Research, Self-motivation.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes

By the end of this paper 200-level students should be able to:

  • Describe multiple ways of understanding religious identity and how it differs from other types of identity
  • Compare and contrast how distinct technologies of religion - ritual, myth, symbol and practices of the body - shape religious identity
  • Analyse the ways in which contemporary legal and political institutions affect how religious identity is understood and regulated
  • Confidently use key theories and concepts in the academic study of religion
  • Design a cogent, persuasive, original research paper that identifies a clear research question, draws upon independent research and uses appropriate primary and secondary materials
  • Draw upon scholarly sources and the arguments of peers to engage responsibly and collegially in sophisticated academic discussion on religious identity

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Not offered in 2022, expected to be offered in 2023

Teaching method
This paper is taught through Distance Learning
Learning management system