Plenary speakers

We are honored to host this year's conference with this incredible set of lecturers!

Prof. dr. Henk van den Belt


Calvinism and the Dutch: Liberty in the State, in Society and in the Soul


After reflecting on the definitions of Calvinism and Culture, my lecture will focus on Calvinism and Liberty in Dutch Culture.


Reformed Protestantism stands for political freedom from tyranny and spiritual freedom of faith and conscience. Is Calvinism a deterministic system dominated by divine predestination or is it a liberating force? At least, the origins of the Dutch Republic are intertwined with a theology that empowered a minority of repressed refugees to take a leading position in church and state. In the later history of Dutch Calvinism its theological principles helped minorities to claim their rights, for instance to educate their children according to their beliefs.


On the other hand, Calvinism in literature and the media is associated with moral rules that restrict freedom. The liberty of the Reformed tradition apparently does not line up with modern and enlightened notions of freedom. But perhaps Reformed Christians today have also lost the original Calvinist passion to transform culture and tend to withdraw from it instead.


Is it in possible to link typical Dutch attitudes – if they exist – to the historical influence of Calvinism on the Dutch mindset? Are the Dutch really so disciplined, sober, and egalitarian and – if so – is there any link with Calvinist influences? In any case, the history of the liberating and capturing Calvinistic tradition is a fascinating aspect of Dutch cultural and religious heritage.


Prof. dr. H. van den Belt is a professor of Reformed Theology, active in research on the field of Reformed Theology with particular attention to its sources, development and context. He pays special attention to the relationship between religion and culture. He earned both his MA and Ph.D. at the University of Leiden. He is also a pastor in the Protestant Church of the Netherlands.

Dr. Graeme Murdock


Refugees, migrants and the “problem” of Dutch Calvinism


Questions about the character and influence of Calvinism present complex analytical challenges. There have been lengthy debates about what Calvinism was, is, or ought to have been, and parallel arguments about the alleged long-term impact of Calvinism on modern identities and cultures. The Netherlands is at the heart of these debates- given the significance of its Reformed tradition both internally and in trans-national contexts, and in the light of the importance of Dutch confessional and national historiographical traditions in shaping modern (mis-) understandings of Calvinism.


We will consider here one theme to highlight the ‘problem’ of analysing early modern Calvinism in the Netherlands- the question of the importance ascribed to the contribution of refugees and migrants. We will analyse narratives about migrants and their suggested impact on the nascent character of Reformed beliefs, churches and societies in the Netherlands. We will use this example to query wider discussions about the influence of Reformed churches and Calvinist ideas.


Dr. Graeme Murdock specialises in the diverse and changing character of religious life in early modern Europe and is currently employed as Associate Professor in European History at Trinity College Dublin, before being a Senior Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Birmingham. His research interests include the impact of the reformation in Hungary and Transylvania, the consequences of religious division in French-speaking societies, and Calvinism.