The Reformation of Economic Thought

Research program

Erasmus University Rotterdam, VU University Amsterdam and Theological University Kampen|Utrecht are conducting a joint research entitled 'The Reformation of Economic Thought'. This project looks at the history of economic thought and action and in particular the contribution of the Reformed tradition to this tradition. For example, old principles such as stewardship, responsibility, justice and sovereignty are more relevant than ever.

These themes are provided with a new layer of meaning in this broad-based interdisciplinary research that directly touches the foundations, design and operating principles of a humane and sustainable economy. Policy that is aimed at change requires vision, strategy, goals and thus choices, which in turn require a practical and moral framework. This research can provide new insights into the foundations on which the house of the future can be built.

The research program consists of four different projects, which are explained in more detail below.

Research projects

From a chronological perspective, the first major focus of this research program is the development of ethical-economic thinking from the Reformation (e.g. Calvin, Althusius) and the Further Reformation. In the broader economic thinking of that era, there is initially a normative approach (where virtues and commandments are embedded in the larger narrative) and later an economic science emerges that gradually develops into a positive science (stripped of ethical, legal and religious norms and considerations).

Based on this development, we want to examine whose the important voices from the Reformed tradition have been and what place normativity occupied in the use and adoption of economic scientific insights.

Dr. J.W. Hengstmengel

From a chronological perspective, a second focus of the research is the period of Réveil and Neo-Calvinism, 1850-1950. From the point of view of economic theory, economics, theology and moral philosophy diverge even further, but both from the Protestant side in Réveil and Neo-Calvinism and also from the Roman Catholic side (Rerum Novarum, 1891 and Quadragesimo Anno, 1931) voices of normativity are more strongly heard.

The main researcher of this project is Dr. Joost Hengstmengel, assistant professor at the VU.

In addition to this chronological approach, we pay particular attention to the concept of stewardship. Today, there are converging forces that allow the three lines of economics, theology and moral philosophy to move towards each other. For example, in economic and social practice today people talk about corporate social responsibility. Stewardship has been discussed in political circles before. Nowadays, stewardship theory is used in economic and management literature, which is contrasted with principal-agent theory, in which the economic actor acts in his own interest (homo economicus). A Dutch economist from the neo-Calvinist tradition, Bob Goudzwaard, emphatically thematized this theme and found international resonance with economics, theology and moral philosophy – even besides his own tradition.

From Goudzwaard's perspective on stewardship, we want to connect the two chronological parts of the research and investigate whether Goudszwaard's stewardship can be traced back to the Reformed tradition and how relevant the concept is for contemporary management and organizational issues.

The main researcher in this project is Anke Teeuw MSc, PhD student at EETI. 

The fourth focus of this research project wants to bring concepts such as justice, stewardship and the anthropology that emerge from the Reformed tradition into contact with economic ethics as we know it today. Can one make a constructive contribution from that position in a world in which climate change and the gap between rich and poor is increasing? In this part of the study, we also pay attention to the declining role of institutions in society and the resulting issue of responsibility.

The main researcher in this project is Dr. Wilco de Vries, assistant professor at the Theological University of Kampen | Utrecht.

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