Michael Douma on Van Raalte and Dutch Religious History
Date: January 28th, 2018

Not very many folks outside of the confines of religious scholars in western Michigan have heard of Rev. Albertus Van Raalte, but this Dutch preacher from the 19th century had a profound impact on the Dutch Reformed movement both in the Netherlands and the United States.  Prof. Michael Douma, an assistant professor and director of the Institute for the Study of Market & Ethics at Georgetown University, reviews the life and thought of Van Raalte, explaining how his special blend of history and theology.  We begin the conversation with an overview of how Dr. Douma became interested in the topic of Dutch religious history, one of his many interests.  He recounts his interest in the Dutch language , his work at the Van Raalte Institute at Hope College, and how this took him to graduate school at Florida State University to study the history of Dutch-American immigration.   He then reveals how he discovered a manuscript of Van Raalte’s teaching notes that he calls the Kampen Manuscript (and which Tony incorrectly calls the Krampen manuscript, thinking of Krampus).

We briefly review the history of Dutch immigration into the United States with Michael pointing out that there were two waves, an early migration during the first half of the 17th century and then another wave after about a 180 year respite.  This latter migration wave, beginning in earnest in 1846, was partially motivated by religious divisions that were heating up within the Dutch Reformed Church in the Netherlands during the 1830s.  At that time, the Reformed Church was experiencing a pattern of theological liberalization that was increasingly critiqued by a set of rural-based Pietists with a more fundamentalist reading of Christian theology and history.  A schism (Afscheiding) resulted in 1834 and a series of other events eventually prompted an exodus of these reformers a decade later.  It was during this twelve year period that Albertus Van Raalte begins to make a name for himself in theological circles.  Initially starting out as a medical student, he quickly becomes involved in various Pietist circles and Bible reading groups that prompts him to take up theology as a life’s calling.  We discuss some of the conflicts he had with various other religious figures at the time and his brief teaching career at the University of Leiden, where the theology that he writes down in the Kampen Manuscript takes shape.

Prof. Douma argues that Van Raalte’s theological developments were influenced heavily by a teleological and “stage-based” historical reading of Christianity, wherein the Netherlands played an important role with the northward shifting of Christian dynamism following the Reformation.  We review Van Raalte’s critiques of Catholicism and his preference for decentralized church governance.  Despite Van Raalte’s critiques of the contemporary developments within Protestantism, he nonetheless viewed himself as somebody who tried to bring various factions of the Reformed Church together.  Alas, greener pastures called across the Atlantic and Van Raalte took his mission to the United States with an initial design on settling in Iowa only to be diverted to western Michigan at the urging of various Detroit political leaders.  Michael talks about how Van Raalte related to the ancestors of the first wave immigrants, his efforts to keep the Dutch Reformed Church unified, and how a schism nonetheless developed between the Reformed Church of America and the Christian Reformed Church.  Following Van Raalte’s death in 1876, he becomes increasingly famous for his theological innovations with subsequent writers such as Arnold Mulder giving him credit for the rise of farmer-theologians.  We finish off with Prof. Douma’s reflections on the importance of Van Raalte’s history for contemporary times and the various things Michael has learned along the course of his scholarship.  Recorded: January 26, 2018.



Prof. Michael Douma’s bio at The Institute for the Study of Markets and Ethics at Georgetown University.

Prof. Michael Douma’s personal website.

Veneklasen Brick: A Family, an Industry, and a Unique 19th Century Dutch Architectural Movement in Michigan, by Michael Douma.

How Dutch Americans Stayed Dutch: An Historical Perspective on Ethnic Change, by Michael Douma.

What Is Classical Liberal History?, co-edited by Michael Douma and Phil Magness (forthcoming 2018).

Creative Historical Thinking, by Michael Douma (forthcoming 2018).

The Dominie of Harlem, by Arnold Mulder (mentioned in podcast and available in pdf format).

Van Raalte Institute at Hope College.

Christian Reformed Church (CRC).

Reformed Church in America (RCA).


Evan Haefeli on the Dutch Origins of Religious Liberty

Oliver Crisp on Calvin and Reformed Theology

One Response to “Michael Douma on Van Raalte and Dutch Religious History”

  1. […] Michael Douma on Van Raalte and Dutch Religious History. […]

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