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Research themes

The research group Dutch ethnology can be divided into four thematic sections or research areas. These fields – Feast and Ritual, Religious Culture, Material Culture and Oral Culture – emanated from the traditional folklore of the past century. At present, ethnology focuses on questions playing a part in nowaday’s society with all its cultural layers.

Feast and Ritual

Most people celebrate the special moments in their lives. Birthdays, weddings, jubilees and funerals are events of great emotional significance. Apart from rituals marking the individual course of life, there are also celebrations with a national, regional or local character (like the Remembrance of the Dead (4th May), the Frisian New Year’s Eve celebrations, the celebrations of ‘Oude Sunderklaas’ on the islands of Texel and Ameland (12th December)) and celebrations of migrant groups (like the Kwaku Summer Festival (held in Amsterdam every Saturday and Sunday in the months July and August) or the Muslim Feast of the Breaking of the Fast (Eid ul-Fitr)). In the research within this area, feasts and rituals are primarily considered as forms of (public) action in which a person, or a social, religious, ethnic or place-bound group experiences, shapes, embodies and propagates his, her or its identity.

Religious Culture

The research in this area concentrates on forms of religiosity that can be considered as typical of present-day Dutch society. These forms are being studied from a historical perspective with special attention for processes of individualisation, psychologization, secularization, multiculturalization, and ethnicization. On the one hand, the research focuses on contemporary forms of religiosity within institutionalized religions, like the Christian religions, the Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. On the other hand, the research concentrates on new religious movements (like the Charismatic Movement, Transcendental Meditation, Wiccan Movement) and non-institutionalized forms of alternative spirituality (‘New Age’, alternative medicine).

Material Culture

This area includes research into the numerous ways in which people deal with objects and how these dealings are interweaved with processes of group formation. The starting point is the idea that clothes, household goods and other everyday objects play an important part in the structuring of the interaction between people, both because of their physical manifestation and because of the meanings that people constantly attribute to objects during their daily actions and practices. In addition, we can also speak of interaction between people and objects.

Oral Culture

The research area referred to as Oral Culture investigates the oral tradition of songs and folk tales in the Netherlands, both in the past and in the present, as well as the written tradition connected with this. The basic material includes the entire oral repertoire from ballads to corny songs, from nursery rhymes to dialect pop songs, from fairy tales to jokes and from traditional legends to urban legends. The social interest in these genres is still growing, as we can for instance conclude from the popularity of tearjerker festivals, legend safaris, sea-shanty choirs, ‘bal folks’, and storytelling circles.