Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Spirited narratives of purpose and progress: church-society engagement alongside the (Company-) state

How did day-to-day interactions and political thought influence the self-legitimacy of clergy in Batavia and Ambon, and how the narratives of purpose they wrote affect the colonial culture in the Netherlands?

2018 - 2022
Alexander van der Meer

From the beginnings of the Dutch colonial enterprise, the church formed an important component of Dutch rule. It functioned as a spiritual, educational and legal body. The church councils in Maluku and Batavia reported to the VOC, but also upheld separate correspondences with classes in the Netherlands to keep the classes informed about local affairs. Church ministers were appointed separately, but otherwise there were considerable cross-overs between members of the church councils and officials of the administration. The churches functioned within and alongside the colonial realm, and in the Indonesian archipelago they continued to do so during and after the Napoleonic wars.

The church reports and council minutes form two fascinating continuous source series throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century, in which not only administrative tasks and the spiritual development of its members were discussed, but in which clergymen also justified the presence of the church in the Indonesian archipelago.

Moreover, when missionaries started to arrive in the first half of the nineteenth century, they were largely adopted into the already existing ecclesial framework, which was entangled with the colonial state. They kept their constituency in the Netherlands informed by written texts such as letters and missionary journals. Therefore, these sources form a window into the day-to-day interactions of missionaries in the colony, and also into the narratives of purpose they spread in the Netherlands.  

This research project looks at the creation of institutional memory amongst clergy. While their aims seem obvious, the narratives of purpose they developed is less evident, but it will surface through a longitudinal reading of the sources. It focuses on perceptions of Dutch Sovereignty and the role of Protestantism; Indigenous religions and political culture; Social hierarchies in society; Nature and geography; Local history, and consists of four parts:

Key questions

1. What narratives of purpose were produced and reproduced in the reports throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century?

2. What impact did the “Age of Revolutions” have on the self-image?

3.How did daily experiences influence the production of this self-image?

4. To what extent did the narratives of purpose produced by the Church and missionaries find their way into Dutch society?   


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