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Oral History and the strange dying of Dutch Christianity

Bijdragen en Mededelingen betreffende de Geschiedenis der Nederlanden. Deel 119 | 4
(2004), pg 625-653




Forty-three semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with older people for this study. The questions focused on the role of religion in the respondents’ childhood and changes in their religious behaviour during their lifetime, with a large implicit emphasis on issues around gender. The interviews generally lasted about two hours. The respondents were randomly selected. They represent a reasonable, but not purely representative, reflection of the Dutch population. Geographically, there is a good spread, with respondents from all provinces except Overijssel, albeit with an overrepresentation of people from Amsterdam and North Holland above the IJ. Many more women (31) than men (12) were interviewed. There were too many respondents from Catholic families (23 instead of 17), too few from Protestant (13 instead of 19), compared with the religious proportions in the Netherlands before 1960, as revealed in the censuses, but just the right number of people who grew up in an unchurch family (7). Although too many respondents came from the lower middle class (23), the study nevertheless includes 15 interviews with people whose parents were labourers, in addition to three children of farmers and two interviewees who came from the upper middle class. Six respondents were born in the 1910s, 13 in the 1920s, 16 in the 1930s, eight in the first half of the 1940s.


Thus, the whole relies on a reasonable number of interviews. Similarities and recurring motifs in the interviews proved sufficient to paint a picture of what religion was like in the Netherlands before the 1960s. It was not easy to make distinctions within them, for example between Catholics, Reformed and Reformed, or between different decades and generations. For example, some interviews give the impression that the 1950s were more ‘religious’ and ‘ecclesiastical’ than the 1930s, but this could easily be based on a bias. Further research would be needed to answer such questions.