Successful public symposium Religion in 2018

31 October 2018

At the end of October, NWO together with the Dutch national newspaper Trouw, organised the public event Religion in 2018. Researchers, policymakers and other interested parties exchanged ideas about legislation, identity and the public sphere. The successful event formed the conclusion of the NWO Religion in Modern Society programme.

We increasingly witness new forms of religion in the public sphere. These new forms are arising, for example, due to the depersonalisation of religion and due to individualisation, migration and refugee flows, as well as new forms of communication. In recent decades, the state, the legal system and the public sector have, in general, become less religious. However, in certain areas, such as security and the freedom of religion, religion is playing a stronger role. Furthermore, religion is appearing in the public space in new ways. These range from faith-based social initiatives, such as reli-festivals and new remembrance and burial rituals, to more controversial matters such as the visible wearing of headscarves and discussions about the reuse of religious buildings and objects for acts of worship.

Three themes

The public event considered the questions about religion and the public sphere based on three themes: religion and legislation, religion and identity, and religion and the public sphere. These themes were discussed in three parallel sessions that took the form of a public debate. During each session, a columnist entered into a discussion with researchers from the NWO Religion in Modern Society programme. The public participated in the discussions.

Questions considered were: Does our modern understanding of religion allow us to properly grasp and discuss contemporary developments? How are the public space and the relationship between the public and private domains changing? Which consequences does this have for various religions? And which (controversial) forms of religion and the public domain most concern us and why?


Under the leadership of the host for the day, Marcia Luyten, a wide variety of speakers crossed swords with each other. Those appearing were: Mohamed Ajouaou (VU Amsterdam), Hans Alma (Free University of Brussels), Erik Borgman (Tilburg University), Kauthar Bouchallikht (columnist and editor of Het Parool, Joop and De Correspondent), André van der Braak (VU Amsterdam, leader of the NWO project Multiple forms of faith), Nico de Fijter (Trouw), Ruard Ganzevoort (VU Amsterdam, leader of the NWO Project into Religion and Homosexuality), Yolande Jansen (VU Amsterdam and University of Amsterdam and leader of the project Religious criticism and the cultural representation of Jews and Muslims in the Netherlands), James Kennedy (Utrecht University and leader of the NWO project Shifting relationships, Anne-Marie Korte (Utrecht University), Rachida Lamrabet (writer and lawyer), Annelies Moors (University of Amsterdam and leader of the NWO project Muslim activism in the Netherlands after 1989), Susan Rutten (Maastricht University and leader of the NWO project into religion and divorce), Thijl Sunier (VU Amsterdam and researcher in the NWO project A closer look at the development of Islam in the Netherlands), Alain Verheij (Leiden University and writer), and Gerard Wiegers (University of Amsterdam and leader of the NWO project Fragile relations: Jews and Muslims in Amsterdam and London).

Religion in modern society

In 2011, NWO developed the Religion in Modern Society programme in collaboration with the Netherlands Institute for Social Research and the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations. Nine projects were funded within the programme, all of which focus on current subjects in the area of religion. Examples are the relationship between Jews and Muslims, religion and homosexuality, marital imprisonment, Muslims and the public debate, and multiple religious connections. In the research projects, researchers work together with societal partners as a result of which, the outcomes are concrete and relevant to society.

One day after the public event the scientific closing conference was held. With that, the NWO Religion in Modern Society programme is gradually drawing to a close. More information about the NWO Religion in Modern Society programme and the various projects can be found on the website.

Source: NWO