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Research Biografie Instituut

The Religious factor in Biography

19 & 20 November 2009 in Groningen

From a census held in 1879, it came to light that only 2% of the Dutch population did not belong to a church. In spite of the far-reaching secularisation of the 1960’s and 1970’s, in 1979 about two-thirds of the Dutch population were of the opinion that religion played some, though not necessarily important, role in their lives. However, in biographies that deal with persons from the period 1880-1890, scant attention is often paid to personal faith when interpreting the public actions of writers, politicians, entrepreneurs, researchers or artists. In those cases where religion does play a significant role in a biography, it is normally with regards to figures who saw religion as a component of their public activities, such as church fathers, ministers or Christian politicians, or in biographies that are motivated by faith itself. During this conference, the focus will be on the religious factor on an individual level, in particular the part it played in the stated foundations of public life of religious persons who made their mark outside the church.

A variety of speakers from numerous disciplines will provide answers to questions such as: how does one strike a balance between an affinity to the subject’s life and work, including his or her religious experience and driving forces on the one hand, and the scholarly hallmark of distance on the other? How does one take the broader context, in which certain forms of religious involvement are manifested, into account? What is the difference between considering religion as a factor of interpretation in the life of someone who lived in 1920 compared to someone who lived in 1960? What proportion does the religious factor occupy in relation to the cultural shift, which has been manifesting itself since the 1960’s in the form of secularisation and individualisation? To what extent does insight into religious action contribute to a better understanding of art, literature, politics, business or the scientific practice? What is the relation between the biographer’s attention to religion as cultural setting and the exploration of the individual’s religious experience? These and other questions, which are explored with regards to four periods between 1880 and 1890, form the subject of this conference.

Organisation: Institute of Biography and the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies (Research group Religion, Representation and Power), University of Groningen.

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