Abraham Kuyper Lecture with Arnon Grunberg

14 May - 20:00 - broadcast via videostream

Watch the video stream (English subtitles)  

VU for thought 
Not done with this topic yet and want more food for thought? Watch the three videos by Arnon Grunberg, Christine Otten and Jacqueline Bel.

Abraham Kuyper Lecture 2020: different than usual
Social distancing - On the evening of Thursday 14 May, the Abraham Kuyper Lecture 2020 was broadcast via livestream. The outbreak of the Covid-19 virus meant that it was not possible to hold the Abraham Kuyper Lecture in the Westerkerk this year. The programme was held in the Aula of the Main Building at VU Amsterdam, without an audience present. The participants gathered in the empty foyer of the Main Building, standing a metre and a half from one another.

AKL 2020 1,5 meter afstand

For the guest speakers, addressing an empty Aula took some getting used to. Every speaker hopes that people are listening to them, just as any writer hopes that people will read what they have written.

AKL 2020 lege zaal Grunberg spreekt

At the Abraham Kuyper Lecture 2020, the author Arnon Grunberg gave his address, entitled Blind Obedience. This year's Writer Writer in Residence juxtaposed the concepts of hope and trust using the story of Abraham, who was asked by God to sacrifice his son. Is Abraham someone who hopes and trusts that God will intervene if he accepts this command, or is he an immoral person who is too timid to disobey God and use his own judgment? The author and former Writer in Residence Christine Otten hosted the lecture and invited Grunberg to deliver his lecture.

AKL 2020 Grunberg houdt lezing

And why is this ancient story, which is shared by Christianity, Judaism and Islam, so important? When we are asked to make sacrifices, such as sacrificing our freedom for the sake of public health, this is something that shapes the way we think, argues Grunberg. Such sacrifices form the basis of our culture, they can blind us, they can make us happy - and yet there is a lot more to them than this. 
We are currently making enormous sacrifices in the face of a virus that poses a significant risk to older people, and yet we do not give the same priority to those suffering from severe mental health issues and those who are suicidal. We send soldiers into war zones, and yet their lives are regularly torn apart by post-traumatic stress disorder. 
We ask people to make sacrifices, but it seems that we do not always acknowledge those sacrifices, or even want to acknowledge them. 

AKL 2020 discussie met Victor Kal 

Grunberg sees Abraham as a murderer who will do anything to keep God happy. But the philosopher Victor Kal of the University of Amsterdam disputes this vehemently: Abraham does not sacrifice his son, but gives him up in the hope of a future for his son.

AKL 2020 Victor Kal

AKL 2020 Jacqueline Bel

Professor Jacqueline Bel of VU Amsterdam, holder of the Multatuli chair for modern Dutch literature, compares Grunberg to Multatuli, who also fought for greater justice in society. Multatuli fought for the more humane treatment of workers, women and those living in the Dutch colonies.

AKL 2020 Charlotte Bouwman

Young writer and journalist Charlotte Bouwman is best-known for her months-long protest at the Binnenhof - the very heart of Dutch democracy in The Hague. She was protesting against the long waiting lists for mental health services. Since the outbreak of the corona crisis, she has continued to protest from her home.

AKL 2002 Charlotte Bouwman close up

As a journalist, Bouwman would also like to write about her experiences with the healthcare system, but because of her protests she doubts whether the press would give her the opportunity to do this.

AKL 2020 Bastiaan Everink soldaten

Before becoming a world-famous opera singer, Bastiaan Everink served as a marine during the First Gulf War. He says that even in situations where orders have to be carried out without questioning, you can always form your own judgements.

AKL 2020 Bastiaan Everink handen

Everink made a remarkable career switch, from marine to opera singer. But he still sees himself as a fighter, only now he fights using his voice. Then we listened to an aria from Hercules, an opera about Everink's life.

AKL 2020 rector geeft publicatie

Rector Vinod Subramaniam thanked Arnon Grunberg for all his work as Writer in Residence over the past year, despite all the issues caused by the outbreak of the coronavirus. He also reflected on Grunberg’s project with students regarding the scope of Article 1 of the Constitution. A video was shown in which students asked the questions that they considered as part of this project: why, for example, does equality for all living beings on Dutch territory not extend to animals? Who decides who is entitled to fertility treatment and which children can be born? The rector emphasized that it is very important for a university whose theme is ‘Governance for Society’ to continue asking these kinds of questions. He then presented Grunberg with the very first copy of Blind Obedience.

AKL 2020 Grunberg neemt publicatie aan

Grunberg accepted the publication from an appropriate distance. His Abraham Kuyper Lecture was an abbreviated version of this new publication (see below for information on how to order a copy of the publication). 

AKL 2020 rector maakt nieuwe Vrije Schrijver bekend

The rector then announced VU Amsterdam’s new Writer in Residence, Maxim Februari, who will take up his position on 1 June.

AKL 2020 rector maakt nieuwe Vrije Schrijver bekend

AKL 2020 zaal met controlekamer

Christine Otten, who was the university’s third Writer in Residence, thanked Arnon Grunberg, the thirteenth Writer in Residence, for his fascinating lecture. This year, it is not necessary to wish the audience a safe trip home.

Blind Obedience: the publication
Arnon Grunberg wrote his essay ‘Blind Obedience’ specifically in his role as VU Amsterdam’s Writer in Residence. His Abraham Kuyper Lecture was an abbreviated version of this new publication.
The publication can no longer be ordered.

Digital bookstore
Are you interested in other books by Arnon Grunberg and previous Writers in Residence such as Christina Otten, Nina Weijers, Bas Heijne, Ernest van der Kwast or Annelies Verbeke? The VU University Bookshop has created a collection for you in its digital bookstore which you can view at https://www.vuuniversitypress.com/vrije-schrijver/

Photography: Peter Valckx
20:00 video stream availableOpening by host Christine Otten.
Abraham Kuyper  
Abraham Kuyper Lecture entitled Blind Obedience, given by Writer in Residence Arnon Grunberg.
Responce to the lecture

Philosopher Victor Kal and Professor of Modern Dutch Literature Jacqueline Bel will respond to the lecture.

Conversation with Charlotte BouwmanGrunberg will engage in conversation with Charlotte Bouwman, a young writer and journalist known for her months of protest against the lengthy waiting lists for mental health services.
Student projectChristine Otten and Arnon Grunberg discuss the Writer in Residence student project. Students tried to formulate a preamble - a kind of introduction to the constitution containing ideals, underlying philosophy and context.
Interview and music


Bastiaan Everink talks about his life as a marine and opera singer. Then we listen to a recording of an aria from the opera 'Hercules’ about the life of Bastiaan Everink.

Blind ObedienceFirst copy of the essay Blind Obedience presented to Arnon Grunberg by Rector Magnificus Vinod Subramaniam.
End of the Abraham Kuyper Lecture.

This year's Writer in Residence Arnon Grunberg (1971) reflects on the theme Governance for Society, on the resilience of democracy. 

More about the Writer in Residence: Vrije Schrijver (information in Dutch)

Arnon Grunberg
Arnon Grunberg

With the annual Abraham Kuyper Lecture by the Writer in Residence of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam honours its unique founder. The Abraham Kuyper Lecture is organised in collaboration with VUvereniging, the Faculty of Humanities, and VU University Press.

Kuyper Year
It is now 140 years since Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) founded Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. In 2020, one century after his death, Kuyper’s initiatives continue to spark ideas and actions aimed at furthering the goals of democracy, diversity and social enterprise. Throughout this anniversary year, the university will be shining a light on the inspiring legacy of this ground-breaking social innovator. Keep up to date with all the activities on vu.nl/kuyperyear (from May 2020)