The Eclipse of Liberal Protestantism in the Netherlands

Religious, Social, and International Perspectives on the Dutch Modernist Movement (1870-1940)


In The Eclipse of Liberal Protestantism in the Netherlands, Tom-Eric Krijger is the first to offer a synthesis of the development of the Protestant modernist movement in Dutch religious, social, cultural, and political life between 1870 and 1940. In historiography, the liberal Protestant community is said to have lost appeal and influence in these decades due to a lack of theological clarity, inner harmony, and organisation. Analysing liberal Protestants’ self-perception vis-à-vis Christian orthodoxy, self-understanding as a faith community, attitude towards other alternatives to orthodoxy, class-consciousness, literary criticism, political commitment, and involvement with foreign mission, Krijger challenges this view. Making an international comparison, he argues that the Dutch modernist movement failed to make headway primarily due to liberal Protestant expectations and discourse.

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Biographical Note

Tom-Eric Krijger, Ph.D. (2017) University of Groningen, is a historian and religious studies scholar who has lectured at that university and at Leiden University. He has published on various aspects of the history of post-Reformation Dutch Christianity, including its worldwide expansion.

Review Quotes

"The Netherlands is a small(ish) country with a very large and very complicated religious history. One important component of this history is the “rise” and “fall” of liberal/modernist Dutch Protestantism. That movement emerged in dramatic fashion in the 1860s with visions of spearheading a “Second Reformation” and foreshadowing a future universal religion. In the decades that followed, however, the movement, in the eyes of both its many foes and even its own supporters, largely failed to meet these high-flying expectations. The “modernist phenomenon” has hitherto been relatively little studied (and remained virtually inaccessible to non-readers of Dutch). Now with his English-language monograph, Dr. Krijger provides interested readers worldwide with a comprehensive account of the phenomenon in its regional, national, and international dimensions, doing so by drawing on a vast array of sources, both published and unpublished. On this basis he provides a plausible explanation, that both complements and goes beyond, previous proposals on the matter as to why the Dutch liberal Protestant movement took the course it did in the period between 1870 and 1940." — Professor Christopher T. Begg, Catholic University of America

"This book is a major contribution to our understanding of the multi-faceted history of liberal religion in the Netherlands in a pivotal period. Combining engaging narrative, immense research, and thorough argumentation, Krijger has written what will become the definitive account of the modernist movement, presenting to us not only a rich portrait of both major and minor personalities and developments but also offering an impressive in-depth study of how and why religious liberalism, after its promising beginnings, was to experience a profound decline. His innovative approach in which he elegantly and convincingly mixes historical and sociological methodologies as well as political, cultural, and social dimensions leads to a compelling study which is also relevant to our time." —Professor Ernestine van der Wall, Professor emerita of Culture and History of Christianity, Leiden University

Table of contents

Notes to Reader
Abbreviations of Names of Organisations
Bibliographical Abbreviations
1 Modernising Christianity and Christianising Modern Society
2 Methodological Considerations
3 Historiography
4 A New Perspective
5 Synopsis

The Dutch Modernist Movement

1 The Genesis of the Modernist Movement
1 ‘The First Characterisation of Modernism’
2 A Characterisation of Modernism
3 The Roots and Dual Character of Modernism
4 Modernism before the Founding of De Hervorming
2 The Modernist ‘Tribune’
1 A Liberal Protestant ‘Gentleman’
2 Nieuw Kerkelijk Weekblad
3 De Hervorming (I): Its Position within the Dutch Periodical Press
4 De Hervorming (II): From 1875 to 1934
5 The Agency of De Hervorming within the Modernist Movement

Modernising Christianity: Ecclesial-Religious Life

3 Modernism, Orthodoxy, and Self-Identification
1 ‘Chinese in Europe’
2 The ‘True Heirs to the Reformation’
3 Criticising Modernist Identity
4 Revising Modernist Identity
5 Formulating Modernist Identity
6 Identifying Modernism: An Evaluation
4 Envisioning the Faith Community of Tomorrow
1 “The Ape of God’s Kingdom”
2 The NPB and the Free Congregation as Alternatives to the Existing Churches
3 Disappointment and Renewed Appreciation for the Institution of the Church
4 Ecclesial Competition and Introversion
5 The Modernist Movement and Church Reforms: An Evaluation
5 Little Religions, ‘Liberal’ Tendencies, and Atheism
1 Liberal Protestantism Broadened into ‘Free Religiosity’?
2 Modernism and the Rise of ‘a Hundred and One Prophets’
3 Modernists and Adherents of Little Religions: Attraction or Repulsion?
4 Potential Fellow Reform Movements
5 Atheism and Nondenominationalism
6 The Modernist Movement and Other Alternatives to Orthodoxy: An Evaluation

Liberal Protestant Discourse

6 A Spiritual Aristocracy of Tutors
1 Stained-Glass Windows Exemplifying Liberal Protestant Discourse
2 Defining ‘Spiritual’, ‘Aristocrats’, and ‘Tutoring’
3 Liberal Protestant Discourse in the Context of the Church: The Case of Lay Preaching
4 Liberal Protestant Discourse in the Context of Society: The Case of District Nursing
5 Liberal Protestant Discourse: An Evaluation

Christianising Modern Society: Socio-Cultural and Political Life

7 Conquering the Lower Classes
1 What Now?
2 The Social Question and the NPB
3 Views on Modernism in the Socialist Labour Movement
4 Views on Socialism in the Modernist Movement
5 The Modernist Movement and Socialism: An Evaluation
8 Captivating the Intellectual Class
1 A Bourgeois Movement
2 Modernism in Intellectual Life
3 Modernist Responses to Intellectuals
4 The Modernist Movement and Contemporary Literature: An Evaluation
9 Becoming a Pillaret
1 The Uncontrollable Need to Organise
2 Politically Liberal ‘by Nature’
3 Non-Socialist Modernist Criticism on Political Liberalism
4 Modernist Group Formation within Political Liberalism
5 Dissatisfaction with ‘Neutrality’ (I): Public Education
6 Dissatisfaction with ‘Neutrality’ (II): Associations on a General Basis
7 Case I: The Association for the Support of the Uncared-For and Fallen Women
8 Case II: Liberal Protestant Student and Youth Leagues
9 Case III: The Liberal Protestant Radio Broadcasting Corporation VPRO
10 The Modernist Movement and the Process of Pillarisation: An Evaluation

The International Context

10 Fields Ripe for Harvest?
1 “A Difficult Combination”
2 Foreign Missions as a ‘Problem’
3 Discussing Foreign Missions
4 Liberal Protestant Discourse in a Missionary Context
5 The NPB in the Dutch East Indies
6 The Modernist Movement and Foreign Missions: An Evaluation
11 The International Liberal Protestant ‘Family’
1 “A Grand Global Movement”
2 Germany
3 France
4 Switzerland
5 Alsace-Lorraine
6 Hungary
7 Sweden
8 Estonia
9 Unitarians in the United Kingdom and the United States
10 Liberal Protestants Elsewhere
11 Dutch Modernists and Like-Minded Groups Abroad: An Evaluation
Concluding Remarks
1 Recapitulating the History of the Modernist Movement
2 Interpreting Modernist History: The Significance of the NPB and De Hervorming
3 Evaluating the History of the Modernist Movement
4 The Modernist Paradox
5 A Final Word
Index of Names


All interested in the history of the Netherlands between 1870 and 1940 in general, and the history of liberal Protestantism in Dutch religious, social, cultural, and political life, from an international perspective, in particular.

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