It’s our job to explain religion

The impact of religion on society is huge and different forms of religion are emerging everywhere. Yet there is also a great deal of negativity. In my experience, however, everyone can name a situation in which the church played a key role. Community spirit, support and sanctuary play a major role in the Netherlands and Europe. It’s our job to explain religion to society.

Don’t get stuck in the past

‘In my research, I look at how the Old Testament has been used in books, paintings and plays over the years. By placing the texts from the Bible in the present era, you learn that you can do things differently and indeed that, in your own age and culture, you must do things differently. Every age and culture interprets the texts in its own particular way, which prevents you continuing to apply them as they were applied in the past. Many extremists do this, they stick to the original interpretation.’ ‘When you look at the past, you constantly see shifts and new applications in different eras. This fascinates me. It’s crucial that we continue to interpret the texts on the basis of the current situation. That way, a community remains flexible.’

Who are your audience?

‘We train ministers to think carefully about who they are talking to and to listen to their needs. Our students also end up working in spiritual care, in hospitals, in the armed forces and in prisons, for example.’ ‘People’s individual needs and questions must always be taken into account. One thing is for certain: it’s always a trade-off between the text and how it is interpreted by the individual of the day. Everyone has their own story.’

Who still knows the original meaning of Christmas?

‘More and more children in our schools today have not grown up with the Christian tradition of Christmas. I’m part of a working group for secondary schools that considers the meaning of Christmas. How do you explain this to non-believers? How can you ensure that everyone understands it, whatever their background? That’s the challenge, that’s the great thing about my work.’

EvelineEveline van Staalduine is Professor of Reception History of the Hebrew Bible in Antiquity