Different, and then?

Symposium at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, 29 November 2018

What is the meaning of compassion in a time of increasing polarization? At the symposium Different, and then? we explored this question in detail. How can compassion help us to transform differences in background, orientation and belief into a source of inspiration? 

The keynote speaker was Karen Armstrong, holder of a VU Amsterdam honorary doctorate. At the symposium, she presented the 2018 Compassion Award. 

This is an event linked to the VU Amsterdam profile theme of ‘Connected World’.

Muziektheatergezelschap Julius Leeft

Musical opening by music theater company Julius Leeft

Karen Armstrong

Lecture ‘Compassion inside and outside the university’ by Karen Armstrong, holder of a VU Amsterdam honorary doctorate.

Domenica Ghidei

Response from VU alumna Domenica Ghidei, member of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI).


Talk show, moderated by Aldith Hunkar, on VU Amsterdam’s initiatives for more compassion: The Refugee Academy (with Halleh Ghorashi), Inside-out Prison Exchange Program (with Anne-Marie Slotboom and Elanie Rodermond), Nieuw Wij (with Manuela Kalsky), Genderteam Amsterdam UMC, VU University Medical Center Amsterdam (with Muhammed al-Tamimi), Martin Luther King Lezing (with Dave Ensberg-Kleijkers).


Presentation of Compassion prize 2018 to the teacher Karim Amghar from Leiden.

Carel Kraayenhof

Musical conclusion by Bandonéonsolist Carel Kraayenhof.

Different but the same

Cartoon by: Sjoerd Kaandorp

Photos: Peter Valckx

Venue: Aula, Main Building, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

14:30Welcome by Vinod Subramaniam, Rector Magnificus, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Opening by the chairperson Aldith Hunkar and Muziektheatergezelschap Julius Leeft.

Lecture ‘Compassion inside and outside the university’ by Karen Armstrong, holder of a VU Amsterdam honorary doctorate.

Speech Compassion and Human rights Domenica Ghidei, Member of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI).

Interview of the lecturer and the speech-giver.

Talk show, moderated by Aldith Hunkar, on VU Amsterdam’s initiatives for more compassion: The Refugee Academy (with Halleh Ghorashi), Inside-out Prison Exchange Program (with Anne-Marie Slotboom and Elanie Rodermond), Nieuw Wij (with Manuela Kalsky), Genderteam Amsterdam UMC, VU University Medical Center Amsterdam (with Muhammed al-Tamimi), Martin Luther King Lezing (with Dave Ensberg-Kleijkers).

Prize-giving ceremony by Karen Armstrong, pitches of the nominees.

Musical reflection by Carel Kraayenhof, bandoneon.
16:30 Opportunity for networking and drinks.

NB: Most of the programme will be in English.

This symposium was made possible by the cooperation of Nieuw Wij, Charter for Compassion and Church and World.

Karen Armstrong 
Compassion is the main focus of the work of British author and religious scientist Karen Armstrong. She highlights the common core in religious traditions and has made an important contribution to the discussion on the role of different religions in society. Because her work and achievements closely embody the contribution that VU Amsterdam aims to make to the dialogue between different religions and ideas about their role in society, Armstrong was awarded an honorary doctorate in Theology and Religious Studies in 2017. Tedtalk Armstrong

Domenica Ghidei
Domenica Ghidei   
Domenica Ghidei came to the Netherlands from Eritrea at the age of 17. Eventually, she succeeded in gaining a place at university, studying Law at VU Amsterdam. Ghidei is a member of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) and has many management positions in addition. Linkedin.

Aldith Hunkar
Aldith Hunkar    
Aldith Hunkar is known from Dutch television, where she presented the children’s TV news. She then went on to set up her own company Hunk-arT. With her open mind and stubbornly journalistic approach, she adds sparkle and depth to everything she does: moderating, filming and writing. Thanks to her extensive media experience, she also organizes workshops.

halleh Ghorashi
Halleh Ghorashi   
Halleh Ghorashi is the initiator of The Refugee Academy. She is professor of Diversity and Integration in the Sociology department at VU Amsterdam. The Refugee Academy connects research and practice around the theme of refugees. This is necessary in order to enable refugees to integrate fully in the Netherlands, but also to understand what is required to prevent the escalation of negative feelings against refugees and enable unorthodox connections to be established. 

Elanie Rodermond 
Anne-Marie Slotboom
Elanie Rodermond en Anne-Marie Slotboom    
Elanie Rodermond and Anne-Marie Slotboom are employed in the department Criminal Law & Criminology. Slotboom’s is associate professor and her teaching focuses on life-course criminology and the role and significance of gender. Rodermond specializes in the life course of individual criminals and conducts research into reintegration and terrorism. At VU Amsterdam, they organize the Inside-Out programme, which is all about dialogue and communication. Students and prisoners (who are also students here) engage in joint activities, on equal terms, and can learn a lot from each other as a result. 

Manuela Kalsky
Manuela Kalsky    
Manuela Kalsky is professor in an endowed chair for Theology and Society in the Faculty of Religion and Theology. She coordinates the multimedia project Nieuw Wij (New Us, www.nieuwwij.nl), which aims to strengthen social connections in society between people from different backgrounds. She leads the research programme ‘the good life for all, based on a transreligious perspective’ and is a member of the International Advisory Board for the research project ‘Religion and Dialogue in Modern Society’. All of her work focuses on bridging oppositions between us and them in society.

Muhamed Al-Tamimi
Muhamed Al-Tamimi
Al-Tamimi conducts research into gender dysphoria, an unusual subject that can be difficult to discuss, especially in non-Western cultures. Transgender surgery is still in its early stages, which means a lot of research is required. Al-Tamimi also teaches in Amsterdam primary schools on the subject of sexual development and relationships. His themes include puberty, resilience, relationships, falling in love and basic knowledge of sexuality. 

Dave Ensberg-Kleijkers
Dave Ensberg-Kleijkers   
Dave Ensberg-Kleijkers is an active member of the Martin Luther King Lecture Foundation. In it, VU Amsterdam and human rights organization Justice & Peace work together to give the ideas of Martin Luther King a voice in the polarized debate about discrimination. VU Amsterdam pays tribute to its honorary doctor King in the form of a lecture and programme for school students. Ensberg-Kleijkers chairs the board of Biezonderwijs, a group of seven special schools. His vision of education is inspired by King’s ideas.

The Dutch Compassion Award was first presented in 2011. Every year, the Netherlands Manifesto for Compassion Foundation (HvCNL) organizes the award-ceremony based around a different theme. The award is intended for people who ‘warm hearts, connect people and promote well-being’. In 2018, the award ceremony is being organized in alliance with Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.


The Julius Leeft!  Foundation will be contributing to the symposium with scenes from the musical theatre play ‘We have a dream’ about Martin Luther King. King was Karen Armstrong’s predecessor as honorary doctor at VU Amsterdam in 1965. Actors in the main roles include Gershwin Bonevacia. Harto Soemodihardjo will provide the music. 


At the end of the symposium Bandonéonsolist Carel Kraayenhof will perform. Kraayenhof is the tango phenomenon of the Netherlands since the royal wedding in 2002.

Carel Kraayenhof