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Feb 8, 2018

Out of seven excellent doctoral dissertations the award committee selected Stefan Binder’s dissertation, titled 'Total Atheism: Making mental revolutions in South India' as the most original and innovative. In addition, the dissertation was also considered to contribute the most to religious studies as an academic discipline, balancing carefully between ethnographic data and theoretical debates.


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The NGG is one of the oldest national organizations for the study of religion worldwide. It was founded in 1947 on the initiative of Gerardus van der Leeuw (1890-1950), professor of Phenomenology of Religions at the University of Groningen (a public university, or Rijksuniversiteit) as of 1918. In 1945, van der Leeuw became Minister of Education, Arts and Sciences (“Onderwijs, Kunsten en Wetenschappen”) under the first Dutch government after World War II, and he was instrumental in the reorganization of higher education in the postwar era. Documents that are preserved in the archives of van der Leeuw at the University Library in Groningen make it clear that he saw the foundation of the NGG as a necessary step to provide a solid institutional basis for scholars of religion to engage in interdisciplinary conversation. In the beginning, the acronym NGG stood for Nederlands Genootschap voor Godsdienstgeschiedenis (“Dutch Association for the History of Religion”), but later the name was changed to its current form to express the interdisciplinary character of the study of religion.


The academic study of religion 

Gerardus van der Leeuw was part of a tradition, usually referred to as the ‘phenomenology of religions.’ Since the end of the nineteenth century, chairs for History of Religions or Comparative Religion have been established at the public Universities of Leiden, Amsterdam, Groningen, and Utrecht. The discipline developed into an academic field that was distinct from Christian theology. The academic study of religion analyzes the history and the contemporary forms of religion from a non-confessional and critical perspective. In its present form, the academic study of religion is firmly established as a discipline within cultural studies and it collaborates closely with the social sciences, anthropology, and historiography.