Amsterdam Centre for Religion and Sustainable Development

Over the last few years the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have become the umbrella to address the challenges of our times, for example climate change, poverty, inequality, health and migration. In many of these challenges religion plays, or can play, a significant role. However, the specific contributions of religion, both in perpetuating certain problems and in overcoming them, are often less clear.

The Amsterdam Centre for Religion and Sustainable Development (ACRSD) focuses on the interaction between religion (including secular worldviews) and sustainable development. Focus areas include:

  • religion and climate change
  • religion and poverty
  • religion and gender
  • religion and health
  • religion and migration

The Centre seeks a dynamic interaction between scientific disciplines and societal partners on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) through a range of activities. It has an extensive and relevant national and international network. For instance it is part of the Department of Beliefs and Practices at the Faculty of Religion and Theology. In 2018 this faculty ranked number 5 in the world by the QS World University Rankings.

As of January 1st 2019, the Faculty of Religion and Theology of VU Amsterdam has established, in collaboration with development organizations ICCO and ACT Alliance, the Religion and Sustainable Development Chair. Dr. Azza Karam, active for the United Nations (UN), will hold the chair for the next five years. 

About Azza Karam
Dr. Azza Karam is senior advisor for cultures at the United Nations Population Fund and is chairwoman of the UN interagency taskforce for cooperation with faith-based organizations. She taught at several universities and has worked for many years at various UN organizations at the intersection of culture, religion and development. Dr. Karam is widely known for her expertise in religion and development. She is delighted with this chair of international importance: ”It is strange that religion hasn’t played a part within these international sustainability goals, especially because more than 80% of the world population is religious. The fact that the VU acknowledges this is a good start, mostly because religion does play a major role when it comes to gender issues, education, peacebuilding, but also poverty and climate change.”

Furthermore, ACRSD participates in the Amsterdam Sustainability Institute and cooperates with Environmental Humanities Center (VU). The Centre has developed several unique activities in the field of religion and sustainable development:

Master and PhD

Within the Master's degree programme Theology & Religious Studies the Centre offers the opportunity of a focus area, in which students pursue their interest in the field of religion, theology and sustainable development.

The Centre also allows students to do a PhD in the field of religion and sustainable development. Supervisors have backgrounds in various religious traditions and expertise in various themes of the SDG-agenda. Interdisciplinary projects are highly encouraged.

Round Tables

The Centre has initiated a series of 12 Round Tables on Religion and Sustainable Development over a period of three years. Two pilot Round Tables have been organised in 2017 and 2018 to test the model and build the network necessary for this project. Partnering with (faith-based) NGOs, religious communities, businesses, governments, and academia, each roundtable focuses on one of the SDGs, or on one of the specific targets within the SDG-agenda.

In preparation, a factsheet is compiled to provide background information for all participants. The factsheets developed will thus together map the available knowledge on the roles of religion in meeting the SDGs. During the roundtables, distinguished speakers from different (partner) organisations and sectors offer short keynote presentations. Participants then explore the best practices and pitfalls and the underlying dilemmas. Based on the roundtable whitepapers are drafted, compiling key insights and policy recommendations.

An impression on the Roundtable on Religion and Sustainable Development.

Fellowship Ethics of the Anthropocene

The Fellowship for Ethics of the Anthropocene is a joint initiative by the VU Faculty of Religion and Theology and the VU Institute for Environmental Studies of the Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences. Each year this project alternately appoints a Senior or one or more junior Fellows. The Senior Fellowship is a grant that allows internationally prominent scientists to work at the VU for a period of three to six months. The VU Junior Fellowship consists of a scholarship granted to one or more excellent PhD-students, which allows them to pursue part of their project up to six months at the vibrant academic community of the VU. In order to allow for the engagement with different religious traditions and different schools of thought, fellowships will be granted only for one period and cannot be extended or renewed.

Download a summary (pdf).

Dr. Henk Blezer is lecturer both at the VU and Leiden University. His research covers Tibetan and also Indian history of ideas, notably Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, and Bön.

Prof. Dr. Gijsbert van den Brink holds the University Research Chair for Theology & Science. His research is on the interface of religious faith and the (natural) sciences. He is Head of the Department of Beliefs & Practices.

Dr. Victor van Bijlert is lecturer Religious Sciences and Sanskrit. His research is on ethical and theological aspects of modern Hinduism, and Hindu/Buddhist texts on epistemology, logic and soteriology. He coordinates the bachelor Hinduism.

Dr. Yaser Ellethy is lecturer and director of the Centre for Islamic Theology Studies at the Faculty of Religion and Theology. He holds a PhD in Islamic Theology. He also holds a PhD in Philology.

Annemarie Foppen MA, MSc is a PhD-candidate on Religion and Leadership. She has completed both a master in Theology and religious studies and Organizational sciences. In 2018 Annemarie was one of the 3 nominees for Young Theologian of the Year.

Prof. Dr. Ruard Ganzevoort is Dean of the faculty and Professor of Practical Theology. His main areas of interest are pastoral theology and psychology, psychology of religion, narrative approaches, trauma, and popular culture. He is a member of the Upper Chamber of the Dutch national parliament.

Drs. Jan Jorrit Hasselaar MA (coordinator) is economist and theologian. He finalizes his PhD ‘A hopeful response to climate change: Public theology and economics in interaction on radical uncertainty’. He chaired the working group 'Sustainable Development' of the Dutch Council of Churches.

Drs. Miranda van Holland has completed both a master in Art history as well as Religious Studies with a focus on media and popular culture. She currently works as a valorization officer for the faculty and as the program manager for the new VU debate center, 3D. She is also involved in EARS, the European Academy on Religion and Society.

Prof. Dr. Manuela Kalsky holds the Edward Schillebeeckx Chair for Theology and Society and is director of the Theological Research Centre of the Dutch Dominicans (DSTS) and in charge of the multimedia project New We ( in the Netherlands.

Dr. Azza Karam (academic director) is senior advisor for cultures at the United Nations Population Fund and chairwoman of the UN interagency taskforce for cooperation with faith-based organizations. She taught at several universities and has worked for many years at various UN organizations at the intersection of culture, religion and development.

Dr. Samuel Lee is lecturer in the theology of migration and the coordinator for Center for Theology of Migration. Samuel Lee's interests are in the fields of religion and migration, especially the dynamics of how migration influences the religious landscapes within a society.

Dr. Annette Mosher is lecturer of Ethics and Senior Policy Advisor Internationalization. The focus of her research is on religion ethics, particularly deep green religious ethics, as well as ecofeminism and religious aesthetics.

Prof. Dr. Peter-Ben Smit holds the Dom Helder Câmara Chair in Contextual Biblical Interpretation. As a New Testament scholar with expertise in the history of Christianity and ecumenical theology, his interest is in the relationship between biblical interpretation and context.

Eva van Urk MA is a PhD candidate investigating theological perspectives on ecological responsibility. Her main focus is the concept of imago Dei (humans as being created in the image of God). She studied applied psychology as well as theology and religious studies. In 2017 she was Junior Fellow in Ethics of the Anthropocene.