Christian Witness and Religious Martyrdom

Both early Christian martyrology (from Gr. martys, ‘witness’) and early Christian mystagogy help to understand how minorities in the face of suppression construct their own identities. In early Christian martyrology exemplary stories and ‘pictures’ of heroic saints are handed down for communal identification. In early Christian mystagogy the notion of spiritual formation goes hand in hand with catechesis and the awareness of being grafted into the community and the taking upon oneself of shared identity, either in the of so-called beginners or in the group of advanced followers of Jesus.

Research Program: Research Group Religious Martyrdom in Dialoguelogo vu

Source-based research as to how the concept of ‘martyrdom’ (and the mystagogy of martyrdom) develops into identity constructing narrative, and how it is being used in present debate, has high societal relevance. The VU interreligious research group Religious Martyrdom in Dialogue (RMiD), presided by Henk Bakker and Bert-Jan Lietaert Peerbolte, carefully listens to each other’s religious understanding of martyrdom and looks for heuristic hypotheses not only based monotheistic-Abrahamic premises, but on comparative cultural observations as well. The indicator ‘martyrdom’ develops from Abrahamic to non-Abrahamic religions, and for that matter the perspective of the projected books (and conferences) on religious martyrdom runs from Abrahamic to non-Abrahamic sources, as each one of them, somehow, presents itself in conjunction to the working definition.
RMiD research specifically aims at a three-folded outcome: (1) critical study of religious texts on martyrdom; (2) analysis as to how these texts function in contemporary debate on martyrdom; (3) furthering dialogue and understanding between different religious strands on matters of suffering for ones faith.

As regards (1), the authoritative texts are taken from five major religious traditions: Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist. As regards (2),
the research reflects on recent debates as to how, and why by some of these texts recent martyrdom, violent and/or non-violent martyrdom, is being supported, explained or corroborated. As regards (3), the products of (1) and (2) will be published in Dutch, and in an English in academic series of high ranking, and the outcome will also be discussed on conferences, lectures, and a variety of academic and social platforms. Based on our findings we focus on societal relevancies and urgencies, and point into new directions for a national debate.
We opt for publishing a Dutch volume, a compilation of chapters by different authors, with Amsterdam University Press. At the launching of the Dutch volume on this topic VU organizes a conference ‘Religious Martyrdom in Multiple Perspective’ with keynote speakers. We will also invite specialists from other faculties, journalists and politicians for this occasion.
The members of the Study Group are:
  • Dr. Marzouk Aulad Abdellah, Associate Professor Islamic Jurisprudence/Fiqh and Sources of Law/Usul al-Fiqh at the Centre for Islamic Theology, Faculty of Religion & Theology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • Prof. Dr. Henk Bakker, Chairholder of the James Wm. McClendon Chair for Baptistic and Evangelical Theologies, Faculty of Religion & Theology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • Dr. Victor van Bijlert, Associate Professor Indian Religions and Sanskrit, Faculty of Religion & Theology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • Dr. Henk Blezer, Associate Professor Buddhism, Faculty of Religion & Theology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and Associate Professor Asia-Studies and Buddhism, International Studies at Leiden University
  • Dr. Pieter Coppens, Researcher at Faculty of Religion & Theology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, member of NISIS (Netherlands Interuniversity School for Islamic Studies)
  • Rabbi Chaim Eisen, Dean of Yeshivath Sharashim, Jerusalem
  • Dr. Yaser Ellethy, Associate Professor and Director of Centre for Islamic Theology, Faculty of Religion & Theology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • Prof. Dr. Jan Willem van Henten, Professor of Religion and Program Director Religious Studies, Universiteit van Amsterdam
  • Prof. Dr. Bert Jan Lietaert Peerbolte, Professor of New Testament and Director of Research, Faculty of Religion & Theology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

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