Church and slavery research project receives major NWO grant

19 July 2022

The research project into church and slavery of, among others, the PThU, is to receive a grant of € 750,000. The Dutch organisation for scientific research NWO confirmed this on 14 July. The research examines the role of the Protestant church in the Dutch colonial history of slavery. The NWO calls the research of enormous value for the current social debate.


The project is officially titled 'Church and Slavery in the Dutch Empire: History, Theology and Heritage' and is a collaboration between the PThU, the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the University of Curacao. The National Institute of Dutch Slavery History and Legacy (NiNsee) is also associated with the project as a social partner, and PThU works closely with various ecclesiastical partners. Main applicant Prof. Dr. Annette Merz (PThU) is delighted with the award: “A thorough research into the relationship between church and slavery is not only scientifically necessary, but also answers questions from church and society. We are therefore very pleased that we will be able to work on this project with our partners in the coming years.”

Multiple perspectives

In the research project, the universities involved are studying the role of the Protestant church in the Dutch colonial past in the East and West. The researchers look at the theological and exegetical arguments put forward by church and academia to defend or criticize slavery. They also look at the financial, social and administrative part of the church in slavery and the slave trade (as slave owner, investor, missionary, pastoral, guardian of society). Multiple perspectives are portrayed (of enslaved, former slaves, natives, groups of mixed descent, white settlers). The project is also looking at the legacy of slavery in today's churches and society.

Religiously and socially relevant

The NWO considers the research project, which the PThU co-finances for a quarter from its own resources, of great scientific importance. It also has enormous value for the current social debate about the colonial past of the Netherlands. Annette Merz agrees: “As early as 2013, the Council of Churches in the Netherlands had recognised the involvement of church associations and individual church members in maintaining and legitimising the slave trade in general terms. This research will enable us to find out in much more detail what forms of ecclesiastical involvement existed, how they manifested themselves in different parts of the Dutch colonial empire and how they evolved over time.”

Start of the project

The research project will start recruiting researchers after the summer (two PhD students, one postdoc) and hopes to be able to present its first results in July 2023, when the 150th anniversary of the de facto abolition of slavery is celebrated. The full text of the awarded NWO application can be found at (Dutch - research proposal in English).