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.

Who was Abraham Kuyper?

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)

Upcoming events

Abraham Kuyper was a fighter for democracy, whose name and actions are known even in the United States. On the eve of the American elections, presenter Marcia Luyten will be welcoming two special guests to VU Amsterdam. He will be joined by Minister Sigrid Kaag in conversation with honorary doctor Anne-Marie Slaughter, who will be beamed live from the United States. Their discussion will include the issue of how a mature democracy deals with the political pressure of a populist. According to Slaughter, the resilience of a democracy is determined by informal and formal networks. Politics can only be effective if contact has been made with the public. What is happening in Europe, where the rule of law is also under pressure in such countries as Hungary and Poland? Sigrid Kaag puts Anne-Marie Slaughter’s analysis in a European perspective. Read more and register at

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. This year’s Dies Natalis Lecture will be given by a very special speaker: Her Majesty Queen Máxima. She will discuss promoting entrepreneurship. 

Entrepreneurship is the very foundation of our prosperity and employment market; it is what gives our society its resilience and optimism about the future. Now that large sections of the business community are being badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic, particularly in the SME sector, we face a double challenge. Not only do we need to ensure that healthy businesses can survive the crisis, but we also need to maximize our capacity for growth in the longer term. As a member of the Netherlands Entrepreneurship Committee, this is a subject that Her Majesty Queen Máxima is particularly committed to. How can we ensure we have a dynamic business sector, both now and in the future? How can we finance the investment that is necessary for education, innovation and growth? Which management style and forms of business have the most potential? And how can we as (future) entrepreneurs and employees continue to get the best out of ourselves and continue to take pleasure in our work? Queen Máxima will share her perspective with us.

At this celebratory gathering, honorary doctorates will also be awarded to three individuals who have made their mark in the public domain at home and abroad in recent years: Khadija Arib, Ernst Fehr and Anne-Marie Slaughter. The actor and speaker Bright Richards (New Dutch Connections) will perform, and our Writer in Residence Maxim Februari will also share his thoughts with us in the form of a spoken column.

Read more and register at

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

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. See for more information.

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.

The online exhibition ‘VU Amsterdam objects and their stories’ presents a remarkable object from the VU Amsterdam heritage collection for every five years of university history. Past and present students, lecturers, researchers as well as employees will recount the tales that these objects can tell.

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.

What does Kuyper's legacy in 2020 mean and how can he still inspire us? Artists can examine the current significance of historical sources like no other. On the occasion of the Kuyper Year, artist Wafae Ahalouch (1987, Tangier, Morocco) has been commissioned to create a work of art inspired by the legacy of Abraham Kuyper. The vernissage will take place at the beginning of November 2020.

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.

Read more and watch again

On the occasion of the Kuyper year, the biography of entrepreneur Willem Hovy will be published in early November. In addition to his friend Abraham Kuyper, Hovy was one of the founders of VU Amsterdam as the first president of the university. Although he often stood in the shadow of the great Kuyper, Hovy was exceptionally active in many other areas: This is why he is referred to in literature as the "precursor of civil society". In the Dutch book "Brouwer naast God. Willem Hovy (1840-1915), ondernemer en filantroop" (English: Brewer next to God, Willem Hovy (1840-1915), entrepreneur and philanthropist), author Dr. Rolf van der Woude paints a multifaceted picture of the remarkable role that Hovy played in his time.

During the Opening of the Academic Year on Monday 31 August, the Kuyper Year, with a special focus on social entrepreneurship, has officially commenced. 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. During the OAY Mirjam van Praag, President of the Executive Board, discussed inspirational VU examples with top executive Marry de Gaay Fortman and management guru Ben Tiggelaar and Van Praag introduced the new Kuyper Challenge; a competition for VU Amsterdam students and recent graduates with entrepreneurial ideas to propel our society forward. Watch the OAY on


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.”


If you have questions about the Kuyper Year of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, please contact [email protected].

The Kuyper Year is financed by

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