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Hanneke Muthert appointed as Professor in Psychology of Religion

'Everyone needs a sense of purpose'
04 February 2021
Prof. Hanneke Muthert (Photo: Merel Weijer)

From 1 February 2021, Dr Hanneke Muthert will be appointed as an associate professor to the chair in Psychology of Religion, with a special focus on Spiritual Care and Wellbeing, in the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Groningen. ‘Together with fellow researchers and partners from the field of care and work, we can do a lot of useful work relating to secular and religious meaning.’

Everyone needs a sense of purpose

Muthert’s predecessors in this chair were Professor Hans-Günter Heimbrock, Professor Patrick Vandermeersch and Professor (by special appointment) Hetty Zock. Mladen Popović, Dean of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies: ‘The Faculty has been wanting to appoint someone to this chair again for several years. We are delighted that we now have a new occupant in Hanneke Muthert, who will work as an associate professor in a tenure track post leading to a full professorship. The field of Psychology of Religion and Spiritual Care is one of the pillars of our faculty. Amongst other things, it tackles questions relating to finding a sense of purpose. This involves important questions that almost everyone asks themselves; they may relate to serious matters such as crises and trauma during catastrophes – take the earthquakes here in the Northern Netherlands – or to matters relating to your work and what it means to you within the context of your day-to-day life. Everyone needs a sense of purpose in these ever-changing times, be it secular or religious. The field of Psychology of Religion and Spiritual Care also forms a powerful link between our faculty and colleagues in other faculties and fields within the UG and the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG), via the Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health, for example.’

A sense of purpose in care and work

Hanneke Muthert explains the focus of her job: ‘Psychology of Religion within our faculty combines approaches from the humanities with research traditions from the social sciences. This integration is important because it is the only way to do justice to the study of religion as a complex, dynamic phenomenon. This applies to learning to understand both historical developments and recent developments relating to religions. One of these developments is the increasing focus on meaning and spirituality as dimensions of health, wellbeing and resilience. I will be concentrating on ways that we address and support matters relating to a sense of purpose these days, within the different contexts in which people care for each other. I will do this against the backdrop of an era in which a common language for discussing philosophical reflection or purpose is often lacking. On how attention for meaning takes shape at the individual and organizational level and within the societal context: everything is shifting in this respect, which makes it a highly relevant research field.’

Spiritual care during earthquakes and COVID-19 and at work

‘So how do people in different societally complex contexts make meaning and spirituality a topic for discussion? I concentrate on contexts in which finding a sense of purpose is important enough to warrant the help of experts in creating meaning and ideology (bereavement, suffering, pathology and destructive social forces). Spiritual carers are good at this. How can they and others contribute to places where existential exchanges are encouraged and supported? I call them existential training grounds for “speakable spirituality”. In concrete terms, there is currently a project looking into spiritual care in the region of Groningen that was affected by earthquakes. We are also looking at what spiritual workers are doing during the coronavirus pandemic, and I have been very interested in the mental healthcare services ever since I started my career. In addition, we will focus on the work context: work is an increasingly important part of people’s identities these days, and attention for a meaningful, enjoyable career is growing among employers, HR professionals and employees themselves. And then there’s the question of how various professional groups add meaning to paid and unpaid work: another world to be explored.’

Useful work

‘I am pleased and grateful to able to contribute to this societally relevant theme from within such a wonderful faculty and university. Together with fellow researchers and partners from the fields of care and work, we can do a lot of useful work relating to secular and religious meaning. I am really looking forward to it!’, says our new associate professor in Psychology of Religion.

Last modified:04 February 2021 4.46 p.m.
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