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Contextual Biblical Interpretation and Theologies - Research Team

The Research Team Contextual Biblical Interpretation and Theologies focusses on the relationship between contextuality and Biblical interpretation and adresses specific attention to ‘majority readers’.

This gives the Research Team a distinct profile that sets it apart from groups focused on other aspects of biblical interpretation and hermeneutics. Themes and topics that are addressed in concrete research projects range from the discovery of the Netherlands as a ‘context,’ by way of gender, sustainable development, migration, to overarching hermeneutical questions.

Research group Contextual Biblical Interpretation and Theologies

  • Mission

    The research group ‘Contextual Biblical Interpretation and theologies’ focuses on contextuality as a catalyst for biblical interpretation by (a) analysing the relationship between contextuality and Biblical interpretation in contexts both local and global; (b) fostering the conversation between ‘majority readers’ with academic exegetical discourses. In doing so the group brings together scholars working with social-scientific, historical and exegetical methods.

  • Aim

    The group aims to foster innovation in the field of biblical exegesis and hermeneutics (by integrating the voices of ‘majority readers’), developing insight into the contextual ‘lived hermeneutics’ of communities of readers, and contribute thematically to topics covered by the SDGs in the sense of the ‘science for society’ paradigm. 

    Innovation is achieved in particular in two ways:

    1. new knowledge as to the actual use and influence of the Bible is generated, which, for instance with regard to the Dutch context, is surprisingly slim;
    2. through interaction with ‘majority readers’ new ways of reading texts are discovered and explored; integrating the perspective of ‘majority’ (or ‘ordinary’) readers into the interpretative enterprise is a proven, yet by no means exhausted manner of achieving innovation.

    Current and prospective research activities:

    • Regular meetings of the (now international) colloquium in contextual biblical interpretation (4-5 times annually)
    • Annual Dom Helder Camara Lecture (November), leading to a conference volume
    • Edition of the volume ‘Challenging Contextuality’, a handbook on contextual biblical interpretation (under negotiation with OUP, 2021/2022)
    • Edition of a thematic volume of Kerk en Theologie (in process of publication, 2021)
    • Edition of a conference volume (open access, online) of the Bridging Gaps at 25 conference of November 2020
    • Applications under way:
      • NWO PhDs in the humanities application 2021 (candidate in final round)
      • NWA pre-application (under review)
      • NWO ‘open competitie’ application is being planned
      • Privately funded PhD position (biblical interpretation/racism), under way
      • Reapplication for funding Bridging Gaps program
    • Establishment of a (regular) research fellowship, 2021: Prof. Dr. Jeremy Punt (Stellenbosch), funded through CLUE+
    • Attached to the research group are about 15 ongoing PhD projects, which can be listed individually, but are listed as a group for now.
  • Team

  • Disciplines

    Hermeneutics; Systematic Theology; Church History; New Testament Studies; Old Testament Studies; Ecumenical Theology; Gender Studies; Postcolonial studies; Sustainability studies.

  • Possible PhD Topics

    Students in the BA and MA and prospective PhD students programmes at the Faculty of Religion and Theology and/or the Protestant Theological University can approach the above mentioned team members to discuss possible thesis topics, in accordance with their own areas of interest and the expertise offered by the members of the centre.

  • Connection with education

    Relationship with teaching activities

  • Academic relevance and societal urgency


    • Close cooperation with the partners of the Bridging Gaps program (Kerk in Actie, VU Vereniging, Remonstrant and Baptist Seminaries, Sormani Foundation, and others).
    • Frequent cooperation with the Nederlands Bijbelgenootschap (BA minor, theses, internships)
    • Annual Dom Hélder Câmara Lecture in cooperation with Kerk in Actie and the Dutch Missionary Council
    • Cooperation with Amsterdam churches (both ‘mainstream’ and ‘international/migrant’) in research and permanent education
    • Cooperation with the ‘Stichting Contextuele Bijbelinterpretatie Nederland’ and the Arminius Institute in developing outreach activities from the fall of 2021 onwards
  • Connection with centers/institutes

    The research’s group work is closely connected with the Centre for Contextual Biblical Interpretation at the Protestant Theological University and the Faculty of Religion and Theology of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. The centre organizes a regular research colloquium, participation in which can be facilitated by emailing Prof. Peter-Ben Smit (

  • Research Agenda

    Research into the dynamic relationship between text and context is at the heart of the research in the group “Contextual Biblical Interpretation and Theologies.” Contextuality is understood as a key catalyst for both the production and interpretation of texts in settings past and present. In the research group’s projects particular attention is given to (voices from) marginalized communities, traditions and contexts for reasons both ethical and epistemological, as innovation is likely to come from the margins and silenced voices deserve to be heard. In doing so, the group contributes to the development of new and innovative kinds of biblical interpretation, as part of the broader discourse on theological innovation. The group maintains strong relationships with relevant academic networks and with partners in society. Particular attention is given to life-giving forms of interpretation, often in a manner that resonates with the Sustainable Development Goals.


    Taking their point of departure in the group’s overarching and unifying question “how and with what consequences do context and text relate to each other?”, the group pursues a number of more specific research questions, each of which highlights a dimension of the encompassing inquiry just mentioned:


    • How can context and text be understood conceptually? Where does ‘text’ and ‘context’ begin, how do textual and non-textual media of communication relate to each other? What dimensions of context do (not) matter?
    • How does ‘contextual biblical interpretation’ relate to ‘mainstream’ forms of biblical interpretation and theology? Can the worlds of ‘contextual’ and ‘historical’ biblical interpretation be brought into dialogue? What is the contextuality of biblical studies and theology as such?
    • How can specific social developments and social groups within and beyond the Netherlands contribute new or overlooked perspectives to biblical interpretation and theology? How can the voice of marginalized traditions, such as migrant/international and minority churches, and marginalized voices such as those of women, children, the LGBTIQ+ community, the (mentally and/or physically) ‘disabled,’ (descendants of) enslaved people, other disempowered or abused groups, such as trafficked and/or sexually exploited people, or also the non-human world, be heard?
    • How are biblical interpretation and theology challenged by voices from outside of the own ‘bubble’, how can intercultural research be designed and executed in order to investigate this?
    • How does contextuality play a role in the (re)production of Bibles, in particular in the praxis of Bible translation? How can Bible translation interact with and integrate marginalized voices and perspectives?
    • What can be learned from concrete instance of biblical interpretation, both historical and contemporary, both Dutch and foreign? One may think cases as diverse as early Jewish receptions of Scripture, contemporary online worship, women’s groups in the Andes, or children’s theology.

    Disciplines that are joined within the research group are those of philosophical and theological hermeneutics, empirical hermeneutics, reception history, biblical exegesis (OT/HB & NT), biblical theology, contextual biblical interpretation, intercultural theology, systematic theology, ecumenical theology and gender studies.


    The group is open to people with a research appointment and a relevant research interest at FRT VU, PThU, the Luxemburg School of Religion and Society, and affiliated institutions, as well as external, PhD and doctoral researchers. Those interested in pursuing research in relation to this group and the aforementioned questions can contact the group’s leader, prof. dr. Peter-Ben Smit, with an inquiry.


    For researchers and the projects they are involved in, please consult the list of participants in the group above.