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prof. dr. Katya Tolstoj

Full Professor, Faculty of Religion and Theology, Beliefs and Practices

Full Professor, CLUE+

Personal information

Katya Tolstaya is Chair of ‘Theology and Religion in Post- Trauma Societies’, Vice-Dean and Dean of Research, and Founding Director of the Institute for the Academic Study of Eastern-European Christianity (INaSEC) at Vrije Universiteit, as well as Founding President of the International Association for Post-Soviet Theology and Study of Religion (PAST). Her main research and valorisation interest is to establish a totally new field of interdisciplinary and interreligious post-Soviet theology, within the interdisciplinary landscape/scope of post-traumatic, post-totalitarian and post-genocidal studies. Theology after Gulag, Bucha and Beyond is the first phase of this project.


Tolstaya obtained her MA (cum laude, 2000), and her PhD (cum laude, 2006), both at the Protestant Theological University (PThU), Kampen, The Netherlands. Tolstaya has also demonstrated success in fundraising. She has been able to secure funding for her research projects and initiatives, and was, for example, laureate of a prestigious NWO VENI Talent Scheme Innovational Research Incentives Humanities (2009-2012). As a Visiting Professor she teaches in different post-Soviet countries, e.g. at Lev N. Gumilyov Eurasian National University, Astana, Kazakhstan, and at the Ukrainian Catholic University, Lviv, Ukraine. She was Visiting Researcher at the Karl Barth-Archiv, Basel (2009) and Visiting Fellow at Aleksanteri Institute, Finnish Centre of Excellence in Russian Studies, University of Helsinki (May-July 2017). In 2022-2023 Tolstaya has been granted the title “Theologian of the Fatherland’.


Tolstaya’s initial research focused particularly on Karl Barth and early dialectical theology, and on literary studies, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Mikhail Bakhtin. She served as the editor of Karl Barth's Römerbrief II for the Gesammtausgabe and the correspondence between Barth and Eduard Thurneysen during Barth's work on Romans II. However, for the past decade, Tolstaya has shifted her research focus to the post-Soviet religious revival, exploring the role of theology in public and societal engagement with the past, conflation of religion and ideology and the impact of the unprosessed past in current developments (culminating in the war in Ukraine). Furthermore, she examines the phenomenon of extreme dehumanization, as known from the Muselmänner of Auschwitz and dokhodyagi of the Gulag, and its implications for (theological) anthropology. Tolstaya strives to bring together three distinct fields of research: Christian systematic theology, post-trauma studies, and post-Soviet studies.

Tolstaya is deeply committed to exploring the place of academic theology within the university and fostering interdisciplinary collaboration and cross-fertilization between disciplines. She values the potential for academic theology to contribute to broader conversations and insights across various fields of study. Tolstaya is an accomplished author, having written several monographs and numerous peer-reviewed articles in her areas of expertise.


Tolstaya has created a global network to support her in this ambition, including the 'Orthodox Kaleidoscope' network funded by NWO, the 'Religion and Politics in Post-Soviet Countries' initiative funded by NWA, and working groups on negotiating the Soviet past, legacies of dehumanization, and post-Auschwitz and post-Gulag legacies. She has organized numerous conferences, seminars, and panels internationally. Her scholarly contributions have made her a sought-after (keynote) speaker at international conferences, and forums worldwide. Additionally, Tolstaya's expertise has led to her involvement in advisory committees to governments and ministries and to invitations to contribute to policy discussions and decision-making processes.

Together with her team at INaSEC, Tolstaya is actively engaged in a comprehensive valorization program that encompasses a range of activities. This includes organizing international conferences, delivering public lectures, and curating exhibitions to promote and disseminate research findings. she has been increasingly sought after for her insights and opinions on national and international radio and television platforms. Her work extends beyond academia, reaching a broader audience and contributing to public discourse.


Tolstaya’s teaching covers post-traumatic and post-genocide theology, Christian systematic theology, methodology in the study of religion, research skills, reading Classics in Theology and Religion, and religious topics in literature. Tolstaya possesses a strong passion for teaching and commitment to promoting talent in research and teaching is evident in her role as supervisor for many PhD students, (research) masters students, postdocs, and senior researchers. As Dean of Research, Katya Tolstaya is deeply committed to the ongoing development and implementation of the integral Talent Policy at the VU Faculty of Religion and Theology. This policy aims to identify, nurture, and actively guide talented individuals from the early stages of their academic journey of talented individuals within the faculty.

Ancillary activities
  • Netherlands Institute in St Petersburg (NIP) | St Petersburg | Bestuurder | 2020-12-10 - present

Ancillary activities are updated daily

prof. dr. Katya Tolstoj