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PhD Defence

Pleidooi voor een lekenrenaissance

Tuesday 5 February 2019
Rapenburg 73
2311 GJ Leiden


  • Prof.dr. P.B. Cliteur


PhD defences are free; you do not have to register.


In Belgium, officially recognised religions receive financial support from the state. Partly as a result, there is no clearly implemented secularism (separation of church and state) though this is considered to be a guiding notion in modern constitutional theories.

Many agreements on ideological matters clearly stem from a certain period and appear to have a high level of compromise which is now outdated. The existing agreements in the area of the recognition and funding of ideological beliefs are regarded as unwavering. For many decades it was possible to maintain the compromise, but in the twentieth century the system came under pressure. Besides blatant discrimination in favour of the Roman Catholic Church, other concerns include financial sustainability, the uncompromising response to developments in society and the lack of transparency. How the relationship between the government and ideological beliefs came about in Belgium makes any intervention very difficult.

Fascinated by these issues, Vannieuwenburg began his research which he labels a 'historical exploration'. Interventions during the French and Dutch period were also investigated in the process. The object, therefore, was to investigate what impact politics had under the French and Dutch regime on the current specific Belgian constitutional system. To clarify the spirit of the times, the atmosphere and the structured character of the opposition within the Roman Catholic Church, a number of pamphlets distributed by Catholic clergymen were studied.

His historical exploration brings Vannieuwenburg to a clear conclusion: the current Belgian system has reached its best-before date, if not gone beyond it. Immigration, multiculturalism, ideology shopping and multi-religiosity colour society. The compromise politics that developed over time, the lack of transparency, the multiple ad-hoc constructions, the cost of the compromise politics, linked to the fear of being accused of religious intolerance in particular, endanger all forms of good governance. Vannieuwenburg believes that if political willingness can be found, adjustments are possible in the existing system of recognising and subsidising religions and the existence of separate types of education.

Instead of the current system, the researcher calls for assertive secularism. The system in which ideologies are recognised and subsidised should be extensively reviewed and the education system should be replaced by one neutral pluralistic education project that is set up integrally by the government in response to today’s complex reality. The researcher also calls for the implementation of legally sound measures to enable the punishment of religious organisations recognised by the government, if they disregard Belgian fundamental values or clash directly with the values of the liberal rule of law.

PhD dissertations

PhD dissertations by Leiden PhD students are available digitally after the defence through the Leiden Repository, that offers free access to these PhD dissertations. Please note that in some cases a dissertation may be under embargo temporarily and access to its full-text version will only be granted later.

Press contact

Maarten Muns, Scientific Communications Adviser, Leiden University
+31 71 527 3282

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