Universiteit Leiden

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David de Boer

PhD candidate

D.R. de Boer MA
+31 71 527 1646

David de Boer (1990) studied history at Utrecht University. His PhD project, conducted at Leiden University and University of Konstanz (cotutelle), examines publicity for religious persecutions in Dutch popular press (ca. 1650-1750). Since 2018 he teaches modern history at Leiden University.

More information about David de Boer

Fields of interest

Religious conflict and tolerance; transnational solidarity and compassion; history of humanitarianism and foreign intervention; public debate/public sphere(s); secularization; political argumentation; normative principles; confessionalization; diplomacy; iconoclasm


The century after the Peace of Westphalia has often been approached as a period of political secularization. Having experienced the devastating consequences of religious war, rulers no longer tried to spread their confession with the sword. Instead, so the argument goes, the norm of non-intervention triumphed in international relations. However, Europe's days of religious conflict were far from over. The period 1650-1750 saw a significant number of religious persecutions, as many princes continued to strive for religious unity within their domains. Sometimes, conflicts between confessional minorities and their rulers even escalated into (civil) wars of religion.

Rulers often tried to manage or contain information about the religious conflicts in their realms. But despite their attempts to monopolize public political communication through censorship, monarchs had few means to keep persecuted subjects from drawing public attention abroad. For repressed groups, the foreign press could be a powerful weapon to mobilize foreign governments or interest groups to come to their aid – by providing financial support, diplomatic intervention, or military pressure.

Dutch printers played a leading role in bringing the fate of persecuted Protestants close. Together with their counterparts in other international printing hubs, they repeatedly turned the plight of foreign communities into international causes célèbres. To inform and affect their audiences, opinion makers tried to answer a fundamental question with which we still grapple with in our times: Why should we care about distant suffering? It has often been assumed that transnational compassion and solidarity revolved around confessional brotherhood. However, opinion makers developed different answers to this question.

The plight of persecuted minorities provided unmatched occasions to discuss fundamental questions about man and his attitude toward fellow men, about rulers’ bonds with their subjects, as well as about the relations between different rulers. In other words, religious persecutions acutely laid bare questions about how society is justly ordered and maintained. In my dissertation, I argue that international public debate about religious persecution revolved around five normative principles. (1) ‘religious righteousness’, (2) ‘sovereignty’, (3) ‘rule of law’, (4) ‘reason’, and (5) ‘humanity’. By exploring how these normative principles were negotiated in relation to each other, this project investigates the dynamics of international news, public debate, and transnational compassion. In doing so, it aims to shed light on the changes in political argumentation in an age of apparent secularization.

PhD supervisors

Prof. Dr. Judith Pollmann 
PD Dr. Malte Griesse


2018-present: Lecturer at Leiden University
2019: Lecturer at Utrecht University
2013-2018: PhD Candidate at University of Konstanz and Leiden University
2016-2017: Research Fellow at Leibniz Institute of European History (IEG Mainz)
2014: Research Fellow at Harvard University
2011-2013: Research MA (cum laude) in Modern History at Utrecht University
2012: Visiting graduate student at UCLA
2007-2011: BA in History at Utrecht University
2009-2010: Erasmus at University of Siena

Grants and awards

2016/7: Doctoral Fellowship IEG Mainz
2015: DAAD Conference Grant
2014: Vereniging voor Nederlandse Kerkgeschiedenis master thesis award
2012: K.F. Hein Foundation Exchange Grant
2012: UU-UCLA Exchange Grant

PhD candidate

  • Faculty of Humanities
  • Institute for History
  • Geschiedenis diversen


No relevant ancillary activities

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