Religion in the Netherlands

Religion in the Netherlands

Historically the Netherlands is characterized by multitude of religions. Although religious diversity remains to the present day, there is a major decline of religious adherence.


The Netherlands became independent from Spain in 1648, after the Eighty Years' War. The independence was partially religiously motivated: during the Reformation the Dutch had become Anabaptist, Mennonite and Calvinist forms of Protestantism. These religious movements were suppressed by the Spanish, who supported the Counter Reformation. After independence the Netherlands adopted Calvinism as a state religion, but practiced religious tolerance towards non-Calvinists. It became a haven for Jewish and Protestant refugees from Flanders, France (Huguenots), Germany and England (Pilgrims for instance). There have always been considerable differences between orthodox and liberal interpretations of Calvinism: between Arminianism and Gomarism in the 17th century; and between the Dutch Reformed Church and the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands in the late 19th century. Catholics, who dominated the southern provinces, were not allowed to practice their religion openly. They emancipated during the late 19th and early 20th century through pillarization, by forming their own social communities. In the 20th century the major religions began to decline: most of the Dutch Jews did not survive the Holocaust; and in the 1960s and 1970s the Protestantism and Catholicism began to decline. There is one major exception: Islam which grew considerably as the result of immigration. Linked with the decline of religion is the Dutch adoption of liberal social policies towards abortion, euthanasia, prostitution and same-sex marriage. Since the year 2000 there has been raised awareness of religion, mainly due to Muslim extremism [Knippenberg, Hans "The Changing Religious Landscape of Europe" edited by Knippenberg published by Het Spinhuis, Amsterdam 2005 ISBN 9055892483, pages 102-104 ]

Major Denominations

According to the most recent Eurobarometer Poll 2005,citeweb|url=|title=Eurobarometer on Social Values, Science and technology 2005 - page 11|accessdate=2007-05-05]

* 34% of Dutch citizens responded that "they believe there is a God".
* 37% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force".
* 27% answered that "they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force".

Roman Catholicism

Currently Roman Catholicism is the single largest religion of the Netherlands, forming the religious home of some 26.6 % of the Dutch people down from 40 percent in the 1970s. The number of Catholics is not only declining, also many people who identify themselves as Roman Catholics do not attend Sunday mass often. Fewer than 200.000 people or 1.2 % of the Dutch population attends mass on a given Sunday. [according to the University of Nijmegen institute for ecclestical statistics in their most recent annual statistical update of the Dutch catholic province. [ website] Request quotation|date=January 2008] Most Catholics live in the southern provinces of North Brabant and Limburg where they make up the majority of the population. But even north, historically, in regions such as West Friesland, Zeeuws Vlaanderen and Twente and the cities Utrecht and Nijmegen catholicism was the largest religious denomination until late in the 20th century. ["De Grote Bos Atlas" 51st edition 1997 p.46] The Archbishop of Utrecht Willem Jacobus Eijk is the highest Catholic authority.

Protestant Churches in the Netherlands

The Protestant Church of the Netherlands (PKN) forms the largest protestant denomination, with some 12% of the population. It was formed in 2004 as a merger of the two major strands of Calvinism: the Dutch Reformed Church (which represented roughly 8,5% of the population) and the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (3,7% of the population) and a smaller Lutheran Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Netherlands (0,1%). Since the 1970s these three churches had seen a major decline in adherents and had began to work together. The Church embraces religious pluralism.

A large number of Protestant churches, mostly orthodox Calvinist splits, stayed out of the PKN, they represent some 6% of the population.


Islam is a relatively new and fast-growing religion in the Netherlands, as per recent (CBS) statistics about 944.000 or 6% of the Dutch population are Muslims. [Data drawn from [ 2007 SCP report page 34] ] Islam numbers began to rise after the 1970s as the result of immigration Migrants from former Dutch colonies, such as Surinam and Indonesia, were Muslim, as well as migrant workers from Turkey and Morocco. During the 1990s, the Netherlands opened its borders for Muslim refugees from countries like Somalia, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. Of the immigrant ethnic groups, 99% of Moroccans; 90% of Turks; 69% of Asians; 64% of other Africans and 12% of Surinamese were Muslims. [ [] ] Muslims form a diverse group. Social tensions between native Dutch and migrant Muslims began to rise in the early 21st century, with the rise of populist politician Pim Fortuyn and the murder of Theo van Gogh by an extremist Muslim, Mohammed Bouyeri.


Judaism has been present in the Netherlands for much of the country's history. Because of its social tolerance, the Dutch Republic formed a haven for Jews that were persecuted because of their beliefs throughout Europe. Prominent Dutch Jews include Baruch Spinoza, a 17th century philosopher, Aletta Jacobs, a 19th century feminist, and Henri Polak, who founded both the socialist party SDAP and the labor union NVV. The majority of Jews lived in Amsterdam, where they formed an eighth of the population. During the Second World War, in which the Netherlands was occupied by Nazi Germany, the majority of Jews (about 70%) were deported and murdered in the Holocaust.


In the following table one can see the complexity of religion in the Netherlands: while 45% of the Dutch population is not member of any religious community, the other 55% are distributed over a diversity of religions. 43,4% of the Dutch population is affiliated with a Christian church. The largest group, 26,6%, is Roman Catholic. The rest is distributed over a multitude of Protestant churches. The largest of which is the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, which in fact is an alliance of three Churches, two Calvinist and one Lutheran. Some 12% of the population is member of this Church. Smaller Churches have either been the result of conflicts within the Calvinist Church or been imported, mainly from the United States. The remaining 10% of the population is member of another religion, including Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.

It should be noted that different sources give very different percentages. [Knippenberg, Hans "The Changing Religious Landscape of Europe" edited by Knippenberg published by Het Spinhuis, Amsterdam 2005 ISBN 9055892483, page 92] A 2007 research "God in Nederland", based on in-depth interviews of 1132 people concluded that 61% of the Dutch are non-affiliated. Fewer than 20% visit church regularly. Similar studies were done in 1966, 1979 and 1996, showing a steady decline of religious affiliation. That this trend is likely to continue is illustrated by the fact that in the age group under 35, 69% are non-affiliated. However, those who "are" religious tend to be more profoundly religious. Religious belief is also regarded as a very personal affair, as is illustrated by the fact that 60% of self-described believers are not affiliated with any organised religion. There is a stronger stress on positive sides of belief, with Hell and the concept of damnation being pushed into the background. One quarter of non-believers sometimes pray, but more in a sense of meditative self-reflection.

ee also

*History of Dutch religion
*Hinduism in the Netherlands
*Islam in the Netherlands
*Judaism in the Netherlands
*Religion by country
*Roman Catholicism in the Netherlands


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