Due to climate and ecological changes, Christians today face existential questions, as well as questions of faith: how do we relate to the earth in a way that is theologically justified? This interdisciplinary five-year research project takes ‘soil’ as its starting point.

About the project

The project, that started in September 2023, focuses on views on and dealing with agricultural land of farmers and of church congregations that lease land. In addition, views on earth, ground and soil as embodied in sermons and prayers in church communities come into focus. Together with the people involved (e.g. farmers, pastors, church members), the project wants to develop a responsible, context-sensitive theological vision of soil in the Netherlands that serves Christians and Christian communities in their faithful relationship with the earth.

Watch a short clip about this project

The Soil research team consists of (from left to right): Nelleke Plomp, Arnold Huijgen, Erik Oevermans, Marileen Steyn, Mirella Klomp, Mariëlle van Es, Thijs Tromp, Joyce Rondaij and Ciska Stark.

Project summary

Climate and ecological changes confront human beings with urgent and complex questions regarding their view on and dealing with the earth. These questions touch the heart of human existence, and for Christians also touch their faith: how to account for a theologically responsible relationship of human beings with the earth? Theology has various good reasons to fundamentally rethink the relation of humans and the earth through a focus on ground, soil and land. That 60-70% of the European soils are currently unhealthy, gives theological reflection its urgency.

This five-year project employs such focus in exploring the question “What are qualities of a responsible, context-sensitive embodied theological view on ground in the Netherlands, in light of 21st-century climate and ecological problems?” Considering the relatively large agricultural area in the Netherlands, the focus on ground firstly brings up on the agenda actual views on and dealings with agricultural land by farmers and by Christian congregations owning farmland. Secondly, the embodied views on earth, ground, soil and land in practices of prayer and preaching by professional theologians and church members in Christian congregations will be studied, in connection with updated understandings of relevant theological and philosophical notions, such as creation, nature, earth, salvation, and eschaton. In several work packages, the project thus addresses the transforming potential of Christian identity and how the good life is mediated in this 21st-century context.

This intra- and interdisciplinary project brings theological and philosophical, rural-sociological and agricultural disciplines together, following a methodology based on a paradigm that accounts for different metatheoretical decisions, and combines literature research, quantitative and collaborative qualitative research. By increasing awareness of the theological problem and developing context-sensitive theological models and practices, the project guide Christians and the church in its diversity towards a responsible theological view on ground that (re)connects Christian faith to the earth in all its materiality and critically-constructively relates to behavioural alternatives currently offered in sustainable and green discourses.

Soil: into the country!

Throughout the project, we will go "Into the country". With a public programme under the banner De boer op!, we will share our scientifically gathered knowledge at festivals, at (our own) events and in creative sessions. Think "Bible reading on the farm" and roundtable discussions with local and regional food producers. In this way, we want to equip farmers, pastors, tenants and landlords, faith communities and interested parties with appropriate theology that can further assist in a faithful engagement with the land.

We cannot do this alone! Financial support, as well as tips, great examples and suggestions are most welcome. See how you can contribute.


  • Jan Overeem
    Chairman Christen Contact Agrarisch

Soil beneath my feet, soil to cherish, to utilise, to walk on, to sow, to cultivate, to harvest. Soil that teems with life, where worms, mice, or other creatures work the soil. Soil where stewardship and responsibility are the foundation beneath your feet. This soil provides a fascinating research perspective for the PThU.

  • Henk Massink
    Philosopher and theologian, expert in sustainability and agriculture

There is a lot of discussion today about soil and land use, especially in our densely populated country. What does it mean that God is the Creator and Owner of this earth? And what are the implications for humanity as stewards of it? It is valuable that the PThU examines this from a theological perspective.

  • Trees van Montfoort
    Eco-theologian and ordained minister

When I published "Groene theologie" (Green Theology), my intention was to broaden theology from a focus on God and humans to encompass the entire creation. It's great that the PThU is now taking 'soil' as its starting point. This project will demonstrate that theologians contribute something essential to finding a way out of the ecological crisis.