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NWO grant for research into sexuality, religion and secularism

Project group led by Kim Knibbe to receive EUR 750,000
01 July 2015
Pentecostal church

Dr Kim Knibbe , University Lecturer in Sociology and Anthropology of Religion at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies of the University of Groningen, is one of six researchers who have been awarded a grant by the NWO in its Free Competition (Humanities). For the research project Sexuality, Religion and Secularism. Encounters between Cultures in the African Diaspora in the Netherlands, Knibbe and her fellow applicant Rachel Spronk from the University of Amsterdam will receive EUR 750,000.

In the project, they want to research the different understandings of and approaches to sexual health in the African Diaspora in the Netherlands. Dutch welfare organizations, the media and the authorities view sexual health from a secular perspective. They often see religion as an obstacle to a safe approach to sexuality, but in many African countries it plays a big role in how people understand, experience and deal with their sexuality. This also applies to African migrants in the Netherlands. This friction is a key factor in the research.

Dr Kim Knibbe

HIV healings

‘My inspiration for the research project came from research I conducted in Amsterdam Zuid-Oost between 2007 and 2010’, says Knibbe. ‘At the time there was a big uproar about African Pentecostal churches holding gay and HIV healings. Journalists had no idea what was really going on and knew nothing about the Pentecostal movement. People were very negative about it.

Local councillors and health organizations assumed that these people weren’t open to medical approaches to aids prevention nor to sexual education and STD prevention. They saw religion as an obstacle to discussing and dealing with sexuality, but that’s not the case. One does not have to exclude the other.

What is more, the very same Pentecostal churches are sometimes very open about sexuality and carry out all sorts of activities, for instance helping partners improve their sexual relationship. When I came to work here in Groningen, Brenda Bartelink, a PhD student at the Faculty who now works for Oikos, came up with the idea of a research project that would look in more detail at how these different views meet, clash and change each other’.

Effective sexual health

The grant will enable them to hire two PhD students and a postdoc to carry out three sub-projects. The first year will be devoted to exploratory fieldwork, which will form the basis of a report for sexual health organizations. The first sub-project will focus on health organizations whose target group is migrants, and thus African migrants. As these organizations address public health, they have certain priorities and working methods that sometimes fail to tally with how migrants and their religious leaders see the world, and thus have little effect. Religious organizations that focus on sexual health will also be studied in this project to see to what extent they play a mediating role.

The second sub-project, which will be carried out by a postdoc, will focus on religious actors and how they contribute to sexual health. As little is known about which types of Islamic groups and organizations cater for African migrants, this sub-project aims to change this. The third sub-project will research how diverse groups of African migrants see sexuality. How do they use the organizations on offer that promote sexual health and rights? What is the role of religion in their perceptions of sexuality? Which problems do they encounter and which solutions do they try to find?

By working with public organizations, the researchers aim to generate knowledge and understanding of this topic that will be useful for experts and religious leaders who work with migrants, for whom religion and tradition are important in their dealings with sexual health. They also want to inform the public debate on the role of religion and secularism in sexuality, gender and the Dutch multicultural society.

About Kim Knibbe

Dr Kim Knibbe (1976) is University Lecturer in Sociology and Anthropology of Religion at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Groningen, coordinator of the Master's programme in Religion, Conflict and Globalization and founder of the Anthropology of Gender and Sexuality Network. She is also a lecturer in the successful free online course Religion and Conflict . Her expertise lies in the field of African Pentecostal churches and contemporary forms of spirituality.

NWO Free Competition (Humanities)

The Free Competition (Humanities) is for research that does not fit certain thematic programmes. The projects must comprise at least two sub-projects that seek answers to a main problem and that require NWO funding for this. The final product of the project (for example a book, congress or series of articles) must demonstrably provide more than the sub-projects alone. Six researchers have been awarded funding in this round.

Last modified:28 August 2023 5.26 p.m.
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