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Brenda Mathijssen awarded a Veni grant for her research project on sustainable funeral practices in a multicultural context

05 November 2020
Brenda Mathijssen (photo: Eva Plevier)

Today, the Dutch Research Council (NWO) officially announced the names of the talented early-career researchers who will be presented with prestigious Veni grants this year (read more here). Included in this list is Dr Brenda Mathijssen, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Culture and Religion at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies. She will receive €250,000, with which she will conduct a three-year research project on sustainable funeral practices in a modern, multicultural context.

A first

Brenda, explain to us: what is so exceptional and important about this research? Dr Brenda Mathijssen: ‘Sustainable, “green” funeral practices, such as natural burials and alkaline hydrolysis, are on the rise – but we know very little about the meaning of these practices. How are such practices culturally constructed? In which ways are they connected to people’s values? And what do they reveal about the relationship between humans and nature? My research will be the first to explore such questions and in doing so, will specifically focus on diversity. What do values such as sustainability mean for various groups of people, for example in terms of generational differences or on the basis of religion – or lack thereof – or ethnicity?’

Developing new ideas

Apparently, Mathijssen gleefully exclaimed ‘Yippee!’ when she heard the news that she was awarded a Veni grant. ‘Ha ha, yes, I believe I did... A Veni grant would offer me the chance to further work out my own research direction and to build a bridge between various scientific disciplines. Thanks to this NWO grant, over a period of three to four years, I will be able to map sustainable funeral practices and investigate how these tie in with the changing values and worldviews of people in our modern, multicultural society. To be more precise: with the help of qualitative research methods, I will look at how people with various ethnic and religious backgrounds use natural burial grounds. I am looking forward to getting back to full-time research over the coming years and to developing new ideas.’

Talking about death

Dr Brenda Mathijssen doesn’t only expect to gain new insights into these emerging funeral practices but also into the ways in which people construct their own existence and worldviews: ‘In other words, people’s existential questions and beliefs. For example, how do people understand themselves and how do they relate to the world around them? My project is interdisciplinary and the results will contribute to the religious sciences, especially the psychology and geography of religion, as well as thanatology and the environmental humanities. The most important findings of my research will be shared in due course with a broad public, by means of a podcast series and a card game about supporting discussions surrounding death in the public and private spheres. I will also write a brief policy memorandum for professionals in the funeral sector. To this end, I will also work closely with various societal partners.’

About Veni grants

Veni grants are awarded annually by the NWO to promising early-career researchers. The Veni grants are designed for outstanding researchers who have recently gained a PhD. Researchers are free to submit their own topics for funding. In this way, the NWO wishes to stimulate innovative and curiosity-driven research. The NWO selects the researchers on the basis of their quality, the innovative nature of their research, the expected societal impact of their research proposal and the possibilities for knowledge utilization.

Last modified:06 November 2020 8.06 p.m.
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