Universiteit Leiden

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Elly Mulder

PhD candidate

C. Mulder
+31 71 527 2727

PhD Research

Swedenborgianism in the Netherlands

Swedenborgianism, often referred to as ‘The New Church’, is the name for a number of historically related Christian denominations that evolved as a new religious movement on the basis of the theological works of eighteenth century scientist Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). In the Netherlands, Swedenborgianism manifested itself institutionally first in the twentieth century. In the 1880s the writings of Swedenborg were brought to the attention of the Dutch public by Gerrit Barger (1846-1921), resulting in the foundation of the Swedenborg Genootschap in 1909. A small group of ‘Swedenborgians’ dedicated themselves to the translation, publication, and dissemination of Swedenborg’s writings.

Twelve years later, the foundation of the first ‘New Church’ in the Netherlands was a fact: the Algemeene Kerk van het Nieuwe Jeruzalem established itself in The Hague in 1921 as the Dutch branch of the American General Church of the New Jerusalem. Theological disputes among leading Dutch Swedenborgians led to a doctrinal position, known as the Hague Position. As a result, in 1937 a schism occurred: a large number of Dutch newchurchmen separated from the Algemene Kerk and founded a new, independent church organisation: Des Heren Nieuwe Kerk Zijnde Nova Hierosolyma. The Hague Position caught on and led to New Church schisms worldwide.

These historical facts lead to a host of questions: Why did it take relatively long before ‘organised’ Swedenborgianism emerged in the Netherlands? The Swedenborg Society in the UK was founded in 1810, whereas the Swedenborg Genootschap did not establish itself until 1909. So, why were the Netherlands so slow? Did Swedenborg’s writings not catch on? Were the Dutch simply not interested in Swedenborg’s teachings? Was there some form of ‘competition’ from other new religious movements? Could it have something to do with the Dutch church schisms that took place in the nineteenth century – ‘De Afscheiding van 1834’, ‘De Doleantie’ in 1886? The emergence of religious modernism? Or the pillarization that divided Dutch society as from the second half of the nineteenth century? And why did doctrinal differences result in a schism, within a decade after the first Dutch New Church had established itself in 1921? To what extent did the Dutch context play a role in these developments?

This research project aims to trace, record, and analyse Swedenborg’s cultural impact by looking into historical organisations and social groupings that emerged in the second half of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the Netherlands.

The Netherlands, at the turn of the twentieth century to the Interbellum onwards, can be viewed as a hub for new religious movements and esoteric currents. Academically, for a scholar of religion who looks at ‘religion’ primarily as a social phenomenon, the first half of the twentieth century is exciting and intriguing: the dualism (optimism ánd pessimism, ‘vooruitgangsgeloof’ versus Weltschmerz) of the fin-de-siècle, followed by the doubts, deceptions, and disillusionments after World War I at the time of the Interbellum. This epoch serves as a goldmine of ideas, ideologies, experiments, connections, oppositions, and intersections that may shed light on beliefs and behaviours today.

In order to understand social, cultural, and religious phenomena today – ranging as widely as emerging alternative spiritualities, populism, secularization, perceived isolation and actualized segregation, cultural defence narratives, and more –, we need to look at history – and learn from it. By studying the emergence, development and decline of new religious movements and alternative spiritualities in their original settings, we may understand what is happening in society today.

Supervisor: Prof. dr. E.G.E. van der Wall

Education and Professional Experience

Elly Mulder graduated cum laude in 2016, earning her MA in Theology and Religious Studies from Leiden University. The topic of her thesis was the interpretation of Emanuel Swedenborg’s theological works by Unitarian clergyman and New England intellectual Octavius Brooks Frothingham. In 2015 she was awarded the BA Thesis Prize for Religious Studies, for a historical and comparative reflection on the ideas and intellectual legacy of modernist theologian and freethinker P.H. Hugenholtz jr.

From 2000 to 2012, Elly Mulder worked as a self-employed, independent copywriter for a varied and challenging circle of clients. Assignments included creative copy, commissioned by advertising, marketing and (graphic) design agencies as well as informative texts, for publishers, news media, and special interest magazines.

Prior to this, from 1984 to 2000, Elly Mulder acquired extensive professional experience in management support and (marketing) communications positions, mainly at larger corporations that are often leading in their market segment. 


‘Kerken en het koloniaal verleden. Religieuze standpunten over slavenemancipatie in Nederland tussen 1840 en 1863’, in: Radix, jaargang 43, nr. 4, 2017, 203-214.

Ancillary Activities

Elly Mulder is co-owner/consultant at Sprenger & Kramer, a training and consultancy firm that incorporates perspectives and approaches from the sciences of religion into the policy toolkit of organizations in the public domain.

For more information: www.sprenger-kramer.nl

PhD candidate

  • Faculty of Humanities
  • Leiden Institute for Area Studies
  • LUCSoR


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