mei 20, 2024
Participants of the Expert Meeting; to the left Prof. dr. Rose Mary Allen and next to her Vincent Laarman

On the 16th and 17th of April our research project ‘Church and Slavery in the Dutch Colonial Empire: History, Theology and Heritage’ organized an Expert Meeting on the relations between Protestantism, slavery, mission, and racism. The expert meeting was meant to help our PhD Candidates (Donate Philbert-Nieveld and Vincent Laarman) choose a focus for the rest of their PhD trajectories. The experts that responded to their work were Prof. dr. Jessica Roitman, Dr. Karwan Fatah Black, Dr. Nicole Maskiell, and Dr. Katharine Gerbner – whom we all thank for their generous and constructive comments. As part of the Expert Meeting, we organized two public events: a keynote lecture by Katharine Gerbner, and a session on racism in churches today.

Keynote Lecture: Christian Slavery, St. Thomas and the Dutch

Katharine Gerbner in the Luther Museum Amsterdam

Katherine Gerbner has written an enormously important book (Christian Slavery. Conversion and Race in the Protestant Atlantic World) on her theory that religion was fundamental to the development of both slavery and race in the Protestant Atlantic world. Slave owners in the Caribbean and elsewhere established governments and legal codes based on an ideology of ‘Protestant Supremacy’ (a precursor of White Supremacy) which excluded the majority of enslaved men and women from Christian communities. On the 16th of April, she gave a public lecture for us at the Luther Museum (Amsterdam) in which she also related her theory to Dutch sources. She discussed the situation on St. Thomas, which was a Danish colony, but culturally heavily influenced by the Dutch (to whom the colony also belonged for a short while). The enslaved on the island also spoke a variant of the Dutch language, Dutch Creole. Gerbner told us about one of her findings, a letter to the Danish king written by an African woman who was converted to Christianity by the Moravians, Madelena. Gerbner found in the Moravian archives the original letter, which not only contained the Dutch Creole version, but also a version in the African language of Madelena. Together with a team of linguists she is now reconstructing and translating the original African text, which gives a unique insight into Madelena’s thoughts. For example, Madelena uses the designation ‘Mau Bruku’ when she speaks about the (Christian) God, while these words designate in West Africa female (!) supreme beings.

Public Meeting: Entanglement of Theology and Racism

First copy of Lieuwe Mietus’ book for Mirjam Hoijtink

On the 17th we shifted the focus from history to (Dutch) current affairs: Kirsten van der Ham presented parts of her empirical research on discussing racism in churches today. In general, her interviewees found it difficult to speak about the subject as well as to identify their own role in sustaining racist ideas and systems. One of the things she was surprised by in her research was how limited the awareness was amongst her interviewees of the role of theology in racist and theological thinking. This entanglement of protestant theology and colonialism in the Dutch self-image was the subject of the second lecture, by Dr. Janneke Stegeman and Dr. Saskia Pieterse, who are working on a book on that topic that will be published later this year. They discussed, among others, the theological idea of supersessionism and its significance for the Dutch colonial enterprise. The day was finished in a festive way with the presentation of Dr. Lieuwe Mietus’ latest book on the colonial backgrounds of missionary Friedrich Eigenbrod’s collection: Een onbetaalbare collectie. The first copies were handed over to Dr. Mirjam Hoijtink, head of Research and Collection of the Wereldmuseum, and Prof. dr. Heleen Zorgdrager, from our research project.

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