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Nederlandse Religiegeschiedenis * Joris van Eijnatten & Fred van Lieburg (isbn 9065507868)

ReLiC is an initiative that was started in 2002 by people associated with the Vrij Universiteit (free university, or VU) in Amsterdam. Professors and investigators of a variety of fields cooperate to investigate the history of the Netherlands better. On 27 march 2005 ReLiC had a symposium in Amsterdam with as title ‘religion in the Netherlands in the first millenium’. Historians, archeologists and culture-historians came to tell what their current fields of investigations are. This was a very nice view on the scientific/scholarly world. The investigations of today are the reading of tomorrow and indeed, even on subjects that have been investigated for decades or centuries, still new angles can be found to shed new light on our past. Two days earlier ReLiC presented a book from their circle Nederlandse Religiegeschiedenis (‘Dutch religious history’). I got a copy to review and read the book from cover to cover before I wrote this review.

Nederlandse Religiegeschiedenis is a magnificent book! Even though 2000 years of history is given in ‘only’ 400 pages the book is highly interesting, informative and often very detailed. There are four parts. First there is the ‘pre-Christian’ period (0-1000 CE), then the Christian period, then the period in which Christianity changed a lot and at last modern times. The book starts only around the year 0 because this is the first time that relatively reliable information is available (the book isn’t written by archeologists). So after a prologue, you can read about Roman times, which Teutonic/Germanic and Celtic tribes could be found in this area and eventually how Christianity came northwards. It may be a book about religious history, but to put things in perspective, you will also get a lot of information about political and social developments, sometimes also abroad. This way you will not only get to know which Frisians and Franks where here at what time, but you will be able to see the Netherlands becoming the Netherlands slowly. Areas that are conquered by a person or tribe, collaborating with other persons or tribes, areas that fall apart and reunite.
And this we slowly move from the higly interesting ‘pagan’ period to the Christian period. Christianisation wasn’t too easy in these parts, just think about the killing of Bonifatius in Dokkum in the year 754. Still, at the end Christianity won and the native faith died away.

And so we go to part two in which you can read how the power of Christianity grew inspite of the many changes and problems. Diocenes are formed and fall apart, go together with other areas and so on. The Christian doctrine is formed, the hierarchy gets structure, dogmas are forced on the masses and the Christian faith starts to get the form we recognise today. But then monastries are formed, new forms of faith appear and eventually the Reformation sets in. The Oranjes (our Royal family until today) appear on the stage and the Netherlands become recognisable.

Part three is mostly about the changes within the Church. There is a struggle between the ‘original Christians’ and the reformed. Political and religious power goes from the (now so called) Roman Church and the reformers. Peace, war, invasions from the south (Spanish and French), but in the end a (relative) peacefull situation was created.

The last part starts with our constitution of 1848. Again major changes in the religious landscape. Information of new (Eastern) religions comes to the people, political parties are being created to give power to the people, sciences flourishes and people realise that they may not need religion as such afterall. But still a new kind of religiosity will come to the country. Immigrants bring new faiths (Jews have been here for centuries, Muslims start to come as well), new religious expressions come up and shortly the subject of the New Age is touches upon.

But of course I can’t give a very detailed history in this short review. If I caught your interest, you must definately read this book. It is great how you can read from Caesar all the way to the present day, even the killing of Theo van Gogh (4/11/04). The book as a whole puts even this in perspective. Moreover, many Dutchmen and -women may have a little idea about our past (abroad people sure think this is the case), this is your change to get even. You will have a brilliant book with a massive index and extra information in separate tables as the great reference book for both the religious and the political/social history of our country.

The book is very well-written (sometimes a bit too detailed and towards the end not very detailed anymore), is published nicely with heavy paper and two-colour printing and all in all is a must-read for anyone with interest in the history of the Netherlands (and who can read Dutch of course…).

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