VU celebrates 140th birthday

Kuyper Year at VU Amsterdam

It has now been 140 years since Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) founded Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. The university will be celebrating this anniversary throughout the 2020/2021 academic year with a host of activities inspired by Kuyper’s extraordinary legacy. 

Kuyper was a social entrepreneur, a champion of diversity and a fighter for democracy. These three themes will therefore be at the heart of all the activities taking place. Kuyper’s seemingly tireless activism in reshaping society through politics, education, the church, academic endeavour and the press remains a source of inspiration to this day. Not only within VU Amsterdam but also far beyond.

“Politicians need to avoid developing a bookkeeper’s mentality. I agree with the democrat Kuyper when he says: governance and administration are two separate things.”
- Kathleen Ferrier (chairperson National UNESCO committee and member steering committee Kuyper Year)
“If Abraham Kuyper were to walk in here suddenly, I would tell him that he founded a fantastic university and that I am proud to follow in his footsteps 140 years later.”
- Vinod Subramaniam (Rector Magnificus VU Amsterdam)

Official start of the Kuyper Year

OAJ start Kuyperjaar

During the Opening of the Academic Year on Monday 31 August, the Kuyper Year, with a special focus on social entrepreneurship, will officially commence. Abraham Kuyper founded VU Amsterdam with funds from brewer Willem Hovy; a type of social entrepreneurship before it was officially invented. During economic downturns, the VU community is always bursting with innovative ideas that deserve an entrepreneurial approach. This entrepreneurial approach to ideas will be making a vital difference. More than ever before, VU Amsterdam wants to be an incubator for start-ups. Mirjam van Praag, President of the Executive Board, has scheduled talks with top executive Marry de Gaay Fortman and management guru Ben Tiggelaar to discuss inspirational VU examples and to introduce the new Kuyper Challenge; a competition for VU Amsterdam students and recent graduates with entrepreneurial ideas to propel our society forward. The OAY can also be viewed online on 31 August. Read more on

More events

Abraham Kuyper was a fighter for democracy, whose name and actions are known even in the United States. On the day of the US presidential elections this November Anne-Marie Slaughter will be interviewed. Later that same week, during the VU Amsterdam Foundation Day celebrations, she will be awarded an honorary doctorate. Slaughter was in charge of a think tank for Hilary Clinton’s foreign policy and responsible for researching the role of social networks in societal reform compared to the role of political leaders. What does her research tell us about the Trump presidency?

Dies Natalis is the day on which VU Amsterdam was founded, in other words, the university’s birthday. Although VU Amsterdam’s actual birthday is 20 October, the celebrations have been moved to Friday 6 November this year to be closer to the 100th anniversary of Kuyper’s death (8 November), in honour of his status as a figure who continues to inspire us today.

Abraham Kuyper’s talents included activating many networks to promote societal reform. During the Foundation Day celebrations, the role of active networks in societal improvement is an important point of focus and a very well-known and important guest lecturer will take the stage.

VU Amsterdam will also be awarding honorary doctorates to three individuals who have made exceptional contributions to science or society, including Anne-Marie Slaughter. Anne-Marie Slaughter will receive an honorary doctorate for her pioneering research into the network-based nature of the international order and transatlantic relations, and for the way in which she establishes links between the university and political practice, between the Social Sciences and Law, and between an academic career and female emancipation.

During the VU Amsterdam New Year’s Gala, awards are presented to lecturers and students in a festive setting. In the upcoming year, the gala will be somewhat Kuyper-themed, because the nominees for The Kuyper Challenge award will also be announced.

The societal debate on Article 23 and the freedom of education is currently in full swing. For this reason three seminars have been scheduled for the Spring of 2021 at three educational institutions, for the purpose of engaging in discussions about this freedom. During these meetings, 23 recommendations for good education will be collected. The collection will be offered to a guest of honour during a closing ceremony at VU Amsterdam in April next year.

The VU Amsterdam Kuyper Year will be concluded with what has been dubbed the Kuyper Night. A festive evening when the university will be open until late and host a number of special events on campus. During the Kuyper Night, the Abraham Kuyper Lecture will be given by Writer in Residence Maxim Februari, on the role of truth and criticism in our society. The lecture will also include the conclusion of the Kuyper Challenge. Another addition at VU Amsterdam is the Diversity Maze ‘Uit je hokje’ (break out of your box) by Circus Engelbregt, intended to spark visitors’ interest in various diversity issues.

More activities

The Historic Documentation Centre is closely involved in activities that honour Kuypers’ legacy during Kuyper Year. The HDC’s aims include the digitization of its archives to the extent possible, making them easily accessible. Kuyper will also be commemorated during various activities with the moniker Ten Times Kuyper.

Abraham Kuyper was a social entrepreneur. This is why the Kuyper Challenge will be launched during the VU Amsterdam Opening of the Academic Year on 31 August. A competition open to all VU Amsterdam students and recent graduates with entrepreneurial ideas to help propel our society forward. Up for grabs is the Kuyper Award, which will consist of financial support and substantive assistance in the form of coaching sessions with top executives from the VU Amsterdam network. More information will be provided in due course.

An exhibition about the life of Abraham Kuyper is scheduled to take place in November of this year, both on campus and online. The life of Abraham Kuyper is illustrated using a variety of objects. The exhibition takes you on a journey through Kuyper’s travels, his bouts of depression and the many cartoons made of the man.

Kuyper Year coincides with VU Amsterdam’s 140th birthday. A collection of 28 objects guides you through the history of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. These include a collection box and a historic gown.

In cooperation with Writer in Residence Maxim Februari, an essay competition will be launched. More information will be provided in due course.

Using a podcast, enthusiasts can go on a walk past prominent historical spots in Amsterdam from Kuyper’s day and age. The podcast provides information as you walk the route past various historical locations.


The VU Amsterdam Kuyper Year preparations are supervised by Kathleen Ferrier (Chairperson of the National UNESCO Committee), Vinod Subramaniam (Rector Magnificus of VU Amsterdam), Don Ceder (lawyer and party leader of ChristenUnie Amsterdam), George Harinck (VU Professor of the History of Neo-Calvinism), Renée van Schoonhoven (VU Professor of Education law), Anne Dijk (Director of Fahm institute), Megan Terpstra (member of the VU University Student Council), Hilde van Wijngaarden (Director of VU University Library), Kees van der Kooi (Director of the Center for Evangelical and Reformation Theology), René van Woudenberg (Director of the Abraham Kuyper Centre) en Ab Flipse (University Historian VU Amsterdam).

Statement Abraham Kuyper
“In the year of Abraham Kuyper, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam commemorates the entrepreneurship, democratic spirit and preference for diversity of its iconic founder. But there are also statements and ideas he has made that we, the organizers of the Kuyper Year, disagree with. For example his negative views on African cultures. These statements show a lack of empathy and are clearly consistent with European colonialism at the time. Those that continue to hold ideological views of apartheid have attempted to explain his sphere of sovereignty ideas as racist views. In the church, Kuyper himself opposed any form of race segregation.

First and foremost we view Abraham Kuyper as the founder of our university, whose actions and ideas still inspire and unite us and focus our discussions after 140 years. Particularly at a university, we do this by thinking critically about ideas prevalent in times gone by and by making sure we are aware of how these views could still have a negative impact to this very day.”

The Kuyper Year is financed by
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam  VUvereniging  Dr. Abraham Kuyperfonds