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Prof. Kocku von Stuckrad’s vision on future of Theology and Religious Studies in Netherlands

‘As a major player in the Netherlands, we must accept our responsibility’
24 November 2014

Prof. Kocku von Stuckrad , Dean of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Groningen, has published a number of theses as a contribution to the current discussion about the future of Theology and Religious Studies. He feels a responsibility on behalf of the University of Groningen to voice his support of teaching and research in the field of religion, and to stress the importance of multidisciplinary research into religion: ‘The University of Groningen is a major player in the Netherlands. We must accept our responsibility and show where Groningen stands on this issue.’

A lot has changed in Dutch society in terms of religion. Although the churches and confessionalism have lost ground over the past few decades, religion is currently a hot item and constant subject of discussion in society and the media. This is one of the reasons why the professional study of religion in the Netherlands warrants the greatest care and attention.

Prof. dr. Kocku von Stuckrad
Prof. dr. Kocku von Stuckrad

Foresight committee

In spring 2014, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) set up a Theology and Religious Studies Foresight Committee to analyse the position, challenges, opportunities and threats facing research and education in both disciplines in the current changing landscape. The committee was headed by Ed Noort, retired Professor in the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Groningen. The Committee has spent the last few months asking various relevant parties (management, Deans, PhD students, staff members) about their views on the position and future of the academic fields of theology and religious studies. In spring 2015, the KNAW will use the Committee’s initial findings to formulate recommendations for the academic field , research funders and the Ministry of Education, Culture & Science , with the aim of reinforcing both fields.


Kocku von Stuckrad, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Groningen, is Dean and Chair of the Netherlands Association for the Study of Religion (NGG). He is a member of a focus group that was consulted by the KNAW on 15 September, and has been invited to present his vision again on 1 December. He is glad that the KNAW decided to listen to these initial findings, and considers it a worthwhile move: ‘As religion is such an important social and cultural theme, it is now essential that we carry out multidisciplinary research and study religion from various angles. We are the only state university that still offers a programme in theology, and to have its own Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies. Our student numbers are growing, which cannot be said for other universities, where the number of chairs has dropped dramatically. The KNAW is keen to establish the exact state of affairs regarding religious studies in the Netherlands before making its recommendations about how to proceed.’

Top programme

The Bachelor’s degree programmes in Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Groningen were both recently awarded the 'Top programme' quality label by the Keuzegids Universiteiten (Guide to Dutch Universities). They were also judged to be the best in their category in the Netherlands. Although student numbers at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Groningen are still high, this is not the case in the rest of the Netherlands. Most of the programmes in Theology and Religious Studies are taught on a small scale, and certain course units are in danger of being dropped altogether.


Von Stuckrad considers cooperation between the various religious studies and theological institutions to be essential. ‘These programmes are under serious pressure at many universities and every chair that is withdrawn represents a grave loss of expertise; expertise relating to the history of Christianity, for example, or the philosophy of religion.’

‘Research into religion can involve both theology and religious studies,’ explains Von Stuckrad. ‘Independent historical and systematic research into the field of religion is academic scholarship and therefore part of the academic study of religion. Groningen leads the world in research of this kind. You can train to become a member of the clergy at a confessional institution such as the PThU, a university that enjoys close ties with the University of Groningen. This model works well for us.’

Prof. Kocku von Stuckrad’s theses:

Last modified:25 July 2023 1.02 p.m.
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