Original Research - Special Collection: Impact of Reformed Theology

The future of theology at public universities

Gijsbert van den Brink
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 54, No 2 | a2583 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v54i2.2583 | © 2020 Gijsbert van den Brink | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 02 December 2019 | Published: 15 June 2020

About the author(s)

Gijsbert van den Brink, Faculty of Religion and Theology, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam The Unit for Reformational Theology and the Development of the South African Society, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa


In the recent past, we have seen a parting of the ways of the theological discipline and public universities in many places throughout Western Europe. In this article, firstly, some backgrounds of this development are briefly explored, taking the situation in the Netherlands as an example. Secondly, it is argued that from a Christian – and especially a Reformed – theological point of view that this development is suboptimal and should be regretted. Thirdly, two lines of argument for retaining a place for theology at public and largely secular contemporary universities are investigated: the first one, which attempts to align theology to the natural sciences, is found wanting; the second one, which situates theology in the realm of the humanities, is argued to be largely convincing. Following this finding, a case study was offered of how a theological faculty or department could be (re)structured in such a way that – without turning it into an allegedly ‘neutral’ religious studies department – it continues to occupy a viable place within contemporary public universities. It is argued that theological faculties might have to open up to a variety of religious perspectives (rather than hosting just one religious tradition) both for epistemic and political reasons. Finally, a brief suggestion was made as to how such a development might be justified from a Reformed theological perspective.


Academic theology; Humanities; Natural sciences; Philosophy of science; Religious pluralism; Public university; Rationality; Reformed theology; Theology and science; Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam


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