Skip to website navigation Skip to article navigation Skip to content
Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies

Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies

Léon de Bruin, vice dean 

“Our strength is in tackling a specific kind of problem”

That a Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies strives to have an impact on society should really go without saying. Vice dean Léon de Bruin is thus keen to highlight examples that demonstrate this. “We seek to interact with social issues from various angles. Philosophers and theologians from our faculty make their contributions, and we collaborate with people from psychiatry. For example, Professor Tamar Sharon, along with her colleagues at iHub, won the Ammodo Science Award for their studies on the impact of digitalisation on public values. Professor Thomas Quartier was Theologian Laureate until last year, and Emeritus Professor Paul van Tongeren was recently appointed the new Philosopher Laureate.”

The COVID-19 pandemic was a social issue that also affected the faculty itself. De Bruin acknowledges that the effects are long-lasting: “We’re still dealing with the aftermath now. You can sense that something has fundamentally changed. The lockdowns themselves were easier for some colleagues than others. A few were actually quite productive; for them, the calm was a blessing. For others, it was tough; they missed the contact with colleagues and students. The impact was mostly mental: ‘here we go again’. It was enough to make you despondent. It was also tough that some students dropped out of sight. How do you reach them if they no longer appear behind their screens? During regular lectures, you can approach them in person.”

Such students require more guidance and support, De Bruin says. “What can we do as a faculty to reduce mental pressure? Is that a task for the study advisor? There is a cross-faculty initiative that monitors student wellbeing, but it’s also high on the agenda at our faculty. What kind of students are we trying to produce? There are more students who have ‘baggage’; is mental health something the university has a responsibility to address? And how far does that responsibility go?”

“For community building, it would be nice if everyone came back to the faculty”

The new normal

The end of the lockdowns did not mean the end of all the changes, says De Bruin. “We went ‘back to normal’ pretty quickly, only now we find that it’s not so ‘normal’ anymore. There’s also a question there for us. People are working from home a lot more now. Of course, there are advantages to being able to do some things online. For meetings that used to take place on campus, it’s now sometimes logistically more convenient to hold them online. But for the sense of community building, it would be nice if everyone came back to the faculty.”

The drive to bring students back to campus is also in line with the Executive Board’s guiding principle. “That is the guideline”, De Bruin confirms. “But we are finding that there is nevertheless some agitation among students. Many students really like the fact that they can be here again, but attendance at lectures is systematically lower, and not only at our faculty. In addition, students like being able to replay recorded lectures later; they wonder why this is no longer offered. There is pressure to make education more flexible. So we are looking at that, because maybe this is just the new reality.”

The question is whether things need to change, and what those changes should look like. “After all, you do want students on campus, and you will have to motivate colleagues. There should be unambiguous policies about this. It shouldn’t be the case that one lecturer records lectures and another does not.”


Changes can also be seen in education, according to De Bruin. “In terms of defining the relationship between student and lecturer, we have come a long way since the social safety project. The university has drawn up a code of conduct, but as a faculty we have also started our own separate project. In it, we examine how exactly we want to shape the pedagogical relationship between student and lecturer, and what we expect from lecturers and students in this respect. For example, discussions with and between students during lectures are sometimes quite hostile. It’s important to steer these in the right direction, and lecturers need to be trained to do this. It should be explicitly addressed in the UTQ (University Teaching Qualification) track.”

Diversity is another big theme for the Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies. “Students wanted a more diverse curriculum, so we are developing that now. Philosophy has traditionally been the domain of old white men, but that is about to change. We have also appointed someone to structurally embed diversity in the curriculum; a kind of booster.” Work is also being done in other areas: “We are moving towards a new building, and we are currently taking stock of what is needed for a good lecture and work environment.”

The intake figures for the Bachelor’s degree programmes look good, De Bruin notes. “The numbers for the Master’s programme are a bit disappointing this year. But the figures are difficult to interpret because we are dealing with the impact of the pandemic, the return of financial aid next year and the housing shortage. However, our Master’s programme in mental health care is going extremely well.”

“Philosophy has traditionally been the domain of old white men, but that is about to change”


De Bruin summarises the topics at the heart of future research themes: “Creating a just and inclusive society; the relationship between mental and physical health, wellbeing and spiritual care; the influence of customs, traditions, prejudices and beliefs on people’s thinking and communication; the role of heritage (religious and non-religious and/or material) in discussions around identity; the increasing role of AI in our daily lives; and sustainability and climate justice. The faculty works on these themes with 120 FTEs and six research centres.”

“'The solution to the climate issue is interdisciplinary and complex. These are precisely the kind of problems we are good at tackling”

The availability of sector funds has had an impact. “One theme that is becoming more obvious for our faculty is humane AI. For example, we are researching what ethical AI looks like, what intelligence is, and the difference between artificial and human intelligence. In that area, we collaborate, among others, with the Donders Institute and iHub.”

As far as De Bruin is concerned, the faculty continues to reflect on what it can contribute. “Our strength is in tackling a specific kind of problem. These problems are interdisciplinary and complex, and there are all kinds of assumptions, beliefs and constructs underlying them. They still seem far in the future, even though they present themselves now, and we often lack the vocabulary to interpret them properly. Think of the climate issue, for example. AI is another such topic. These are precisely the kind of problems we are good at tackling.”