Religion in the Modern Netherlands and the Problems of Pluralism


  • James C. Kennedy
  • Jan P. Zwemer



Church and State, Pillarization, Religion


The religious history of the Netherlands during the last two centuries exhibits some of the same dynamics and tensions as those evidenced in neighbouring countries. This article selects from religious history three historiographical issues salient to transnational patterns. The first pertains to Dutch churchstate relations in the nineteenth century, most notably a relatively early disestablishment. The second theme concerns the so-called ‘pillarization’ (verzuiling) of Dutch society, and to what extent pillarization – to the extent it is a useful concept at all – can be regarded as a quintessentially ‘Dutch’ way to manage religious pluralism.


The last theme focuses on secularization, a concept which historians have used to analyse the decline of organized religion in the Netherlands, particularly the sharp decline in religious participation and adherence after 1960. Religion, however, has remained an important focus of debate in recent decades, as the Dutch sought again to renegotiate the politics of pluralism.


This article is part of the special issue 'The International Relevance of Dutch History'.


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How to Cite

Kennedy, J. C., & Zwemer, J. P. (2010). Religion in the Modern Netherlands and the Problems of Pluralism. BMGN - Low Countries Historical Review, 125(2-3), 237–268.