Gepubliceerd op 10-04-2017

Essay Competition Teyler’s Theological Society 2017 (Deadline May, 1 2020)

The Directors of Teyler’s Foundation, and the Members of Teyler’s Theological Society announce an Essay Competition to be answered before 1 May 2020, on the subject of: “The influence of Spinoza’s ideas on the religious crises experienced by scholars in his immediate circle”.

Recently, the work of the philosopher Benedictus Spinoza has gained new attention. For a long time his work was mostly studied from a philosophical perspective. Recently, however, the religious implications of his work are being reconsidered, both within the academic world and in the public debate. Partly as a result of Jonathan Israel’s Radical Enlightenment (2001) Spinoza’s influence on current topics such as religious tolerance has been studied and the intellectual and social world in which the philosopher lived has become a subject of renewed research, often based on primary sources.

This approach is in the tradition of the seminal work by K.O. Meinsma, Spinoza en zijn kring (1896), which, on the basis of extensive archival research, reconstructed the intellectual world around Spinoza, and pointed at the importance of scholars such as Adriaan Koerbagh, Lodewijk Meijer and Niels Stensen (Steno). Remarkably, many of these men were students of the medical faculty of Leiden University. Since the discovery and publication of the Vatican manuscript of Spinoza’s Ethica (2012) and of the accompanying letter that Steno sent to the Holy Office in 1677, we know that Spinoza frequently witnessed anatomical dissections in Leiden during 1661-1662. In 1666, after a crisis of faith, Steno left the Lutheran Church and converted to the Catholicism. He had known Spinoza personally, and now considered it as his moral obligation to warn the Holy Office of the impending danger posed by the publication of Spinoza’s Opera Posthuma.

The basic assumption of this essay competition is the fact that not only Steno, but many other well- or lesser-known students of the Leiden medical faculty experienced a crisis of faith in the 1660’s-1670’s. Some of them – besides Steno also Albert Burgh and Theodor Kerckring – converted to the Catholic Church. Others started openly to express radical ideas – Adriaan Koerbagh being the most notorious example. Yet others, such as Johannes Swammerdam, Justus Schrader and Stephan Blankaart, began to live a more independent spiritual life and adhered to the idea of an ‘invisible church’ of true Christians. Some of these converted to religious sects such as that around Antoinette Bourignon. Many of these Leiden students who experienced a crisis of faith were in fact closely linked to Spinoza.

Scholarship had paid ample attention to some of these students – Steno and Swammerdam for example – but this has mostly been from an individual, biographical perspective. Others – for example Burgh and Kerckring – are less studied, although there are indications that relevant primary sources do exist. Evidently, Spinoza’s ideas – for example his monism or his ideas about Christ – made a deep impression and perhaps caused religious trepidation in this circle. On a more general level, it appears that the question of where to find salvation in a world governed by the immutable laws of nature increasingly became a major concern in intellectual circles.

What is required here is an historical and analytical essay exploring the question of whether there is a broader relationship between these individual crises of faith, as experienced by scholars operating in Spinoza’s world. A comparative approach, based on the study of primary source material, might clarify this issue, and might offer new perspectives and questions for research.

Entries should consist of either one extended study, in the form of a text prepared for publication, or of several publications, most of which should have appeared in the three years prior to May 1, 2020.

In the latter case entrants should also submit a hitherto unpublished text, written especially for the competition, in which the earlier publications are placed in a broader academic context.

General Information

Pieter Teyler van der Hulst (Haarlem, 1702-1778) was a Dutch merchant. In his will he stipulated the founding of an important museum together with Teylers Stichting (Teyler’s Foundation). Part of this Foundation are two learned societies, each of which presents a yearly essay competition. Teylers Godgeleerd Genootschap (Teyler’s Theological Society) is one of these learned societies. It organizes essay competitions in the field of theology, philosophy of religion and religious studies.


  • In order to qualify for the competition, candidates should submit four copies of their entry to the Directors of Teylers Stichting, Spaarne 16, 2011 CH Haarlem, Netherlands, before May 1, 2020. Entries received after that date will not be taken into consideration.
  • The essays must be in English, French, German or Dutch. Because of the stipulations of Pieter Teyler’s will, the essays may not mention the author’s name but should be identified only by a motto. The entry should be accompanied by a sealed envelope containing the author’s name and address, with the motto on the outside.
  • To avoid a long wait before hearing the result of the evaluation, in case an award has not been made, authors are required to send together with the sealed envelope an open envelope containing the name and full address of a person with whom Directors of Teylers Stichting may enter into correspondence confidentially.


  • The evaluation will be carried out by the members of Teylers Godgeleerd Genootschap (Prof. Dr. M. Barnard, Prof. Dr. H.L. Beck, Prof.Dr. E. Jorink, prof. Dr. M.Popović, Prof. Dr. E.G.E. van der Wall).
  • The evaluation will be communicated within seven months from the final date of submission in the form of a recommendation to the Directors of Teylers Stichting, who will decide within one month whether or not to give an award.
  • This decision is final.
  • All candidates will be notified by the Directors as soon as a decision has been made.


  • The award consists of a gold medal struck from the seal of the Godgeleerd Genootschap.
  • In addition, a foundation that does not wish to be publicly identified will grant the sum of € 4500 to the author or authors of the winning entries to use as they see fit.
  • The medal will be awarded to the winner(s) at a special ceremony in the Teylers Museum at Haarlem.
  • Professional journals and the press as well as other interested persons and institutions will receive ample advance notice of the award ceremony.


The authors themselves will arrange for publication of their work, mentioning that it has received an award from Teylers Stichting. If desired, Teylers Stichting and its theological society may consider lending assistance.

Editors of websites, scientific journals as well as other bodies wishing to draw the attention of their readers to the essay competition, are urged to advise interested candidates to consult the program for full details.

The programme of Teylers Godgeleerd Genootschap is available free of charge on request from Directors of Teylers Stichting, Spaarne 16, 2011 CH Haarlem, Netherlands, or can be consulted on: www.teylersmuseum.nl

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