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Christianity, Nationhood, and Citizenship: Historical Perspectives on the Dutch Case


Admission requirements

  • Students who have successfully completed the BA course ‘Christendom: de basics’, either as part of the BA Religiewetenschappen, the Minor Religion in a Changing World, or as an elective course during their BA studies at Leiden University are automatically admitted.

  • History MA students are automatically admitted as well.

  • All other students need to contact the course instructors to discuss if they are eligible to be admitted.


Not a day goes by without media in the Western world reporting on (perceived) controversies surrounding religion. The questions of how religious pluralism should be dealt with, whether a secular state requires a secular society, to what extent citizenship and public morality are compatible with religious belief, and how religious and national identities relate to each other are among the burning questions of today.

The Dutch case serves as an excellent point of departure to explore these issues. After all, the Netherlands has been home to a high number of different church communities ever since the outbreak of the Reformation and the proclamation of the Dutch Republic at the end of the sixteenth-century. The ever-increasing fragmentation of Christianity in the Netherlands is wittily captured in an old French proverb, which says that one Dutchman is a theologian, two Dutchmen make a church, and three Dutchmen make a schism. Spreading Christianity to other parts of the world from the early seventeenth century onwards, and claiming sovereignty over the largest Muslim country in the world (Indonesia) until the mid-twentieth century, the Netherlands experienced a decline in church membership and the simultaneous arrival of Christian, Muslim, and other migrants from all over the world in the decades after WWII. The country has had the reputation of being a haven of religious tolerance ever since the earliest days of the Dutch Republic, when Protestant and Jewish migrants found refuge in its towns and cities. In the course of the seventeenth century, Baruch Spinoza, the son of a Portuguese-born Jewish migrant, would emerge as one of the strongest advocates of religious tolerance, the detachment of doctrinal religion and citizenship, and freedom of speech. Nowadays, however, the tolerant nature of Dutch society in past and present is called into question.

In this course, we shall discuss the strategies that different groups of Christians, theologians, philosophers, legal scholars, and political authorities in the Netherlands and its overseas territories have adopted or suggested from the late sixteenth century onwards in order to deal with religious pluralism and religious minorities. How did adherents of a particular denomination perceive the position of their own faith community and other such communities in Dutch society? How did their religious beliefs relate to their ideas on the body politic and the civil order? How did the Dutch government approach different faith communities? What implications did government policy on religion have for political views on citizenship? What implications did the rise of non-Christian religions and non-denominationalism in Dutch society have for public opinion on religious pluralism and religious motives of behaviour and action in the public domain? Does a decline in church membership and attendance necessarily imply a loss of the social and political influence and relevance of Christianity and, if so, why, how, and to what extent?

Questions such as these will be addressed from different angles and approached from a comparative perspective. While each class has an overarching theme, the course as a whole is structured chronologically, in order for us to identify continuities and discontinuities as well as similarities and dissimilarities in Dutch strategies of dealing with a religiously diverse population. We shall see that current discussions on religion, nationhood, and citizenship are, in essence, nothing more than ‘old wine in new bottles.’

Ideally, this course will consist of both on campus and on the spot education: if possible, some classes will be held at locations linked to some of the course’s key individuals and publications (e.g. the Department of Special Collections of the Leiden University Library, the Museum Het Spinozahuis in The Hague, and/or the Teylers Museum in Haarlem).

Course objectives

After successfully completing this course, students

  • are able to identify, and differentiate between, strategies of dealing with religious pluralism in the Netherlands and its overseas territories from the late sixteenth century onwards;

  • have learned to contextualise, interrelate, and interpret these strategies;

  • are able to recognise these strategies in a given case and to apply them to a given case;

  • have learned how Christianity in the Netherlands has developed in interaction with trends and events in theology, science, domestic politics, geopolitics, society, and culture;

  • have become familiar with different views on Dutch national identity and religious pluralism in Dutch society;

  • have become familiar with different views on ‘good’ citizenship in its relation to individual and collective religious motives of social behaviour and action;

  • are able to determine whether the Dutch case was exceptional in comparison to other countries in the Western world at a given moment in time;

  • are able to identify similarities and dissimilarities between past and current discussions on religion, nationhood, and citizenship in the Netherlands;

  • have been encouraged to develop, and express, their own ideas on the various topics in a well-founded and coherent manner.

Career Skills Development
During the course, students

  • improve their language skills in general;

  • develop their analytical and interpretative skills by means of assignments, discussion, and literature analysis;

  • develop their writing skills by means of assignments;

  • develop their skills at oral discussion;

  • develop their cooperative skills by means of a parliamentary-style debate and peer feedback;

  • develop their ability to conduct independent research on a topic related to the theme of the course, and present their findings in a well-structured and well-substantiated paper;

  • develop their ability to relate historical events and perspectives to the present.


The timetables are avalable through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Assessment method


The assessment will be based on the following components:
A. Attendance and Class Participation + Outline of Final Paper
B. Weekly Questions Based on the Literature (10%)
C. Mid-Term Exam (30%)
D. Parliamentary-Style Debate (10%)
E. Final Paper (50%)


  • Component A will not be graded, but has to be satisfactory to successfully complete the course.

  • The final mark is established by the weighted average of the grades for components B, C, D, and E.

  • (B * 0,1) + (C * 0,3) + (D * 0,1) + (E * 0,5) = final mark.

  • The final mark needs to be a 5,50 (= 6) to pass this course.


Students whose average final grade is lower than a 5,50 will be given the opportunity to make one alternative assignment (the form of which will be established at the end of the course).

Inspection and Feedback

Assignments will be graded and feedback will be given in Brightspace.

Reading list

  • A full reading list will be put in Brightspace prior to the first session of this course.

  • All weekly readings will be made available either in Brightspace or on a shelf in the course reserve section at the University Library prior to the first session of this course. Students are expected to download and/or make copies of these readings themselves.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Vrieshof


  • Brightspace will be used for notifications, information on the weekly reading schedule, additional literature and audio-visual sources, discussions, instruction on assignments, and the submission of the paper outline and the final paper.

  • A detailed course guide will be made available in Brightspace at least one week prior to the first class.

  • Class participation is mandatory. Students who cannot attend a class need to inform the instructors of their absence in advance.

  • Students who are absent more than twice will be excluded from the course.