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During the conference 'Regimes of Religious Pluralism in 20th Century Europe' the role of religion in 20th century Europe will be discussed with a host of lectures and speakers. The conference is being jointly arranged by the University of Amsterdam and VU University Amsterdam and will take place from 19 April to 21 April


At the end of the nineteenth century, new communities emerged in Europe that signaled new ways of thinking about politics and the place of religion in society. Scholars such as Peter van Rooden and Hugh McLeod have argued that these new developments were related to the rise of new “religious regimes.” In the Netherlands, a number of communities came to embody distinct moral collectivities within the nation. Through this process, religious/ideological diversity became the principle of social organisation that the Dutch call “pillarisation.” This arrangement of segmented pluralism, however, abruptly ended in the 1960s. Though Van Rooden limits his analysis to the Netherlands, similar transformations in the social role of religion took place across Europe. Are these changes comparable or perhaps even part of a shared historical process?

The question of the social role of religion in Europe raises a number of questions. How do citizens make particular arrangements of religious pluralism dominant and in which social domains do they implement their ideas? Why do some groups succeed and others fail to realise their ambitions? Related to this is the question of which problems such arrangements (are meant to) solve and which problems they in turn themselves create within religious groups, politics, civil society, art and culture. Especially relevant here is an international comparative framework: what is the relation between local, regional, national and colonial religious regimes? This implies that within any given national setting there will not be one national arrangement, but rather competing formations.

Working from this historical perspective, the conference also intends to consider more recent developments. It is often assumed that since the 1960s no new dominant arrangement of religious diversity has emerged. Is it more accurate now to speak of “secular regimes,” within which religion is of little significance? Or, on the other hand, in view of the persistence of religious traditions is it perhaps possible to distinguish the contours of a new “inclusive” arrangement? In that case, how can we describe the place of religion in contemporary society more precisely? Which developments have shaped current patterns the most? In this regard, the question of the relation between changing religious/secular regimes and narratives of individualisation, diversification, secularisation and globalisation are especially relevant.

By focusing on changes in the governance of religious diversity, this conference intends to stimulate research on the place of religion in European history and society. Drawing on multiple disciplines, the conference will closely engage the complex relation between ideals and actual practices in the competing religious regimes of twentieth century Europe.


19 April

14.00-15.30: Regimes of religious pluralism in 20th century Europe

  • Keynote Peter van Rooden (University of Amsterdam) Reaction Peter van Dam (University of Amsterdam)

15.30-16.00: Coffee break

16.00-18.00: Religious communities

  • Hugh McLeod (University of Birmingham): The Pluralism of Everyday Life: England since c. 1870
  • Benjamin Ziemann (University of Sheffield): Limits of Diversity in the German Religious Landscape, 1900-1960

18.00-19.30: Reception

20 April

08.30-10.30: Politics and governance

  • Carl-Reinhold Brakenhielm (Uppsala University): Transformations of Secular Regimes in Sweden
  • Monika Wohlraab-Saar, Marian Burchardt & Cora Schuh (Universität Leipzig): Contested Secularities: Religious Minorities and Secular Progressivism in the Netherlands
  • Charles Glenn (Boston University): Unstable Patterns of Religion and Education

10.30-11.00: Coffee break

11.00-13.00: Civil society

  • Marjet Derks (Radboud University Nijmegen): Claiming the “Authentic”. Religious Radicalism in the Netherlands and its International Impact, 1954-1985
  • Andrea Maccarini (University of Padua): Re-entering Pluralism, Emptying the Public Sphere? Secularization and De-secularization in Italian Civil Society
  • Stephen Monsma (Calvin College): Faith-Based Organizations in Civil Society: American and Dutch Views

13.00-14.30: Lunch

14.30-18.00: Workshops, including:

  • Migration and Religious Pluralism: Non-Christian Minorities in European Societies
  • Religious Pluralism and Perceptions of the Past
  • ‘God is now my Neighbour’. Transmitting religious traditions since 1945
  • Religious Regimes of Welfare: State, Society and Social Security

21 April

09.30-11.30: Global society

  • Markha Valenta (University of Amsterdam): Religion on the Move and Secularism in Place: The Geopolitics of Pluralism
  • Peter Geschiere (University of Amsterdam): Nation-States and the Managing of Difference – Examples from Europe and Africa

11.30-12.00: Coffee break

12.00-13.00: Closing lecture by James Kennedy and plenary discussion


Due to the limited capacity of the facilities, registration for this conference is mandatory. The conference fee is 20 € per person. Please register online (see hyperlink below).

Students and PhD students may participate without any additional costs and may register online via another registration form.


  • Prof. James Kennedy (University of Amsterdam)
  • Prof. George Harinck (VU University Amsterdam)
  • Dr Markha Valenta (University of Amsterdam)
  • Dr Peter van Dam (University of Amsterdam)
  • Drs Paul van Trigt (VU University Amsterdam)


Dr Peter van Dam
Faculty of Humanities - University of Amsterdam
Spuistraat 134
1012 VB Amsterdam
T. 0031 20 525 4466