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Erin Wilson appointed Professor of Politics and Religion

01 May 2022

Erin Wilson has been appointed Professor of Politics and Religion at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies of the University of Groningen from 1 May 2022 . “The creation of this chair is a recognition of the significance of this topic: the intersection of politics and religion globally,” she comments. Wilson will also continue her work as Vice Dean and Director of Education in the faculty.

Renaissance of the interest in religion’s relationship with politics

Prof. Erin Wilson elaborates on the importance and relevance of this topic: “Interest in religion’s relationship with politics has experienced something of a renaissance in the last couple of decades. In the late 20th century, post-Cold War, scholars in Europe and America began actively paying attention to the fact that religion hadn’t disappeared as had been predicted by secularisation theory and it remained as relevant to society and politics as it ever had been, just in different ways and forms. This focus really picked up in the early 21st century, and we saw in some circles an almost obsessive focus on religion in relation to conflict and security.”

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Prof. Erin Wilson

Emphasis on religion and religious identity

“This over-emphasis on religion has been just as problematic as the previous tendency to ignore religion, though,” Professor Wilson continues. “It has contributed to heightened forms of discrimination against people on the basis of their assumed religious identity and mistakes in security, conflict and law that have detrimentally impacted the safety and human rights of people on the ground in Afghanistan, Iraq, Europe, Myanmar, just to name a few. Explicit and heightened emphasis on religion and religious identity has also been an important part of the rise of right-wing extremism in Europe and North America. And religious history, identities and narratives are also central to the discourses circulating around Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Religious dynamics are everywhere, embedded in identity, history, norms and values underlying law, politics and society. That doesn’t mean that everything is about religion, but it does mean that we can’t fully understand the events taking place in our world today and their consequences for people’s lives if we don’t also incorporate nuanced, detailed analysis of how religion in its diverse manifestations and interpretations interacts with and forms part of those events.”

Strategic importance for the Faculty

Prof. Mladen Popović , Dean of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, considers the new chair of Politics and Religion of strategic importance for the Faculty as it will solidify the University of Groningen’s strong and leading position in the field : “In the early 21st century religion as a cultural phenomenon and societal factor has once again become a crucial element in the domestic and international political landscape. However, to this date in the Netherlands there was no chair in the important field of religion and politics; a chair with attention for geopolitical issues, as well as, for example, human rights and cross-border discussions regarding extremism, freedom of expression and freedom of religion.” Popović enthusiastically adds why Prof. Dr Erin Wilson is the right person for this chair: “Dr Wilson came to our Faculty in 2012 to create the Centre for Religion, Conflict and Globalization and has been very successful in doing so. She has excellent research skills (see, for instance, her important publications, grants like the Aspasia grant, membership of KNAW’s De Jonge Akademie) and is an excellent teacher who was elected Lecturer of the Year in 2015 and recently received the UG’s Best Practice in Teaching & Learning Award .”

Unique opportunities

Erin Wilson agrees with the Dean on the significance of the chair in Politics and Religion: “The creation of this chair is a recognition of the significance of this topic, for the Faculty, the University, broader politics and society, within the Netherlands and beyond. It’s the first chair of its kind in the Netherlands and one of only a handful of chairs focused explicitly on the intersection of politics and religion globally.” She says it’s both humbling and exciting to hold this chair: “For me personally, it’s a recognition of the hard work that the team in Groningen have done over the last decade or so to really bring this topic on the map, through the work of the Centre for Religion, Conflict and Globalization and the MA program of the same name. Holding this chair offers unique opportunities for building on that already strong foundation, expanding our networks further, hosting more conferences, events and continuing to work with the policy and civil society communities.”

Last modified:22 May 2022 5.51 p.m.
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