Bijbel met evangelie
Bijbel met evangelie

'The evangelical' does not exist

What can we learn about religion from 1100 evangelicals?

Is it true when we say that religion is conservative and not compatible with gender equality and the LGBTQ+ community? Does religion necessarily cause political polarisation in discussions about terrorism or extremism? Religion is often viewed in a black-and-white manner, resulting in prejudices. Are you Christian? Then, you are probably against abortion. Are you a Muslim? Then, you probably don't think so much about women's rights. Radboud sociologist Saskia Glas suggests that if we want to avoid these prejudices, we should stop talking about 'Christianity' or 'Islam'. She explains that religion consists of several puzzle pieces people can use to assemble their puzzle. To illustrate this, she and Radboud researcher Paul Vermeer researched evangelism in the Netherlands. A survey was conducted on 1,100 individuals identifying as evangelicals to understand their religious beliefs. What emerged? Evangelism, too, is not just very orthodox and conservative!  

What is our image of religion?

Glas studies how religions are portrayed in public debates, by politicians or journalists. She explains: 'Undoubtedly the preconception of evangelicals is that they come from the Bible belt, read the Bible strictly, are orthodox and conservative, live secluded from society and often go to church (with Bible in hand). 'But,' she continues, 'you can read and interpret the Bible differently. And people go to church for different reasons. Moreover, people are also religious for various reasons. So it's not so black-and-white at all. As a researcher, Glas dives into religions to show that religiosity consists of several building blocks. In this way, she contributes to a more nuanced picture of religious practice.

She continues: 'Paul Vermeer and I were curious whether evangelicals also have building blocks. Can we observe contradictions, such as individuals who frequently attend church but do not otherwise value religion, and vice versa?'.

Good news 

'Evangelism' derives from the Greek word euangélion, meaning 'good news'. Evangelism is a Protestant Christian faith where people try to tell stories about Jesus Christ and his message. It is all about sharing the 'good news' of the Bible to bring people closer to 'God'.

Five forms of evangelism

Thanks to this research, Glas and Vermeer identified five different forms of evangelical faith practice. How did they do this? Glas and Vermeer conducted quantitative research; 1,100 evangelicals in the Netherlands received a questionnaire, which included questions such as 'To what extent do you see yourself as evangelical?' but also: 'To what extent do you think women also make good political leaders'. They process these results with unique models and combine them with knowledge from existing qualitative research.

The five different forms are: 

  1. Proclaiming Orthodox people are very orthodox in every area, firmly focused on evangelising (spreading the word). These are primarily men and lower-income people. 
  2. Engaged Orthodox is a group that is also quite orthodox but primarily focused on civic engagement, rather than "spreading the word. These are mostly elderly and lower-income people.
  3. Spiritual Orthodox is an average orthodox group that is mostly very spiritual and believes, for example, that somebody can heal you of something by appealing to the Holy Spirit 
  4. Seeking Orthodox is a less orthodox group that doubts what "religion" is and should be but simultaneously is extrinsically motivated. For example, they believe a Christian life results in money and health. This group is relatively young.
  5. Questing Liberals are the least orthodox group that has many doubts about what "religion" is and should be and wants, above all, to do social good. This group is very young, has a high income, and is often university-educated.

'Awareness of the five different forms of evangelism is important to counter prejudices and develop a more nuanced view of faith practice,' says Glas. 'So you are not just evangelist or not'. 'Moreover, Glas continues, 'these are just the puzzle pieces. It gets fascinating seeing how people start actively putting the puzzle together.'

Being religious is like laying a puzzle

To understand how evangelicals approach this puzzle, it's essential to consider factors such as age, gender, education level, income, etc. Glas explains: 'For example, are there young women who are very religious but may not go to church very often? Are there people who are more practically educated, less critical of what the Bible says, and more strict in their faith? For example, the evangelical group in the Bible Belt in the Netherlands is wealthy and highly educated. How do these characteristics relate to how people live their religion? Through sociological research, we can identify these so-called demographic differences and thus really contribute to a better, more nuanced picture of religious experience'. She concludes, 'We should avoid labelling people too quickly, as it can cause polarisation and misunderstandings."

Towards greater understanding and diversity

In short, religion is not one-dimensional but a complex set of different building blocks. Recognising diversity within religious communities, such as evangelicals, can help reduce prejudice and polarisation. Understanding the unique demographic differences within religious groups can inspire us to appreciate the diverse perspectives and beliefs that exist in society.

Literature reference

Lees het volledige wetenschappelijke artikel van Paul Vermeer en Saskia Glas hier. 

Contact information

Diversity, Religion, Society, Science