PThU to investigate legacies of slavery in the church

14 October 2021

The Protestant Theological University (PThU), in collaboration with several researchers from the VU, is starting the study 'Church slavery history'. The central question of the research is how slavery has played a role in the church.

The researchers will build a database of various church source material and examine church archives. In this way, the researchers map out which theological positions on slavery existed in the church. In addition to this historical research, the current position of the church in the racism debate will also be examined. The project is led by Dr Heleen Zorgdrager, professor of systematic theology and gender studies at the PThU.


In recent years, the slavery history of the Netherlands has been on the public and scientific agenda in many ways. From Zwarte Piet to diversity quotas, from reparations to the discussion about Keti Koti as a national holiday. Driven by the large-scale Black Lives Matter protests, the history of slavery is seen by more and more Dutch people as a topic with social urgency and relevance. This is especially true for the city of Amsterdam, where the slavery past is still prominent in all kinds of ways, both in its buildings and its inhabitants. In June 2019, a majority of the Amsterdam city council therefore ordered a scientific study into the role that the city of Amsterdam played in the slavery history of the Netherlands.

Research into the position of the church

The churches also feel the need to know more about their own slavery past. This stems from a growing realization that the consequences of the past have a major impact on the church and society of today and tomorrow. Research into the theological dimension of slavery then provides more insight into its impact in the present. In addition to insight, churches also want to learn from what goes on in and between faith communities, especially faith communities that consist of (predominantly) descendants of enslaved people. The research is therefore also set up and carried out together with them. The extensive research, which consists of various sub-studies, will result in, among other things, a media production, information and working material for churches, books and collections, conferences and scientific publications.

Traveling exhibition 'Slavery past and churches in the Netherlands'

The traveling visual exhibition 'Slavery past and churches in the Netherlands' can be seen from 15 October to 27 December 2021 at the PThU in Amsterdam. The image exhibition is an initiative of the Working Group Heilzame Verwerking Slavernverleden in collaboration with the PThU. With this exhibition, the initiators want to facilitate small-scale human-to-human encounters in a polarizing society and to change entrenched patterns of thinking, imagination and attitudes. In 2022, the exhibition will travel to various ecclesiastical communities in the Netherlands to make encounters around the theme even more context-determining.


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