A Conference on "Civil Society and Sphere Sovereignty"
Princeton, New Jersey
17th-19th April 2008

Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) was the greatest and most controversial figure in the Calvinist renaissance that took place at the conclusion of the nineteenth century and the opening of the twentieth in The Netherlands. He established a Christian newspaper, was elected Member of Parliament in 1874 and was instrumental in the organization of a Christian political party. In 1880 he helped to found the Free University of Amsterdam and regularly served as a professor of theology there. In 1886 he took the leading role in forming what subsequently became the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland and in 1901 he became Minister-President of The Netherlands.

Kuyper visited Princeton in 1898 and delivered the Stone Lectures that year, his famous Lectures on Calvinism. Kuyper's worldview, as presented in his hundreds of articles, pamphlets, and books, profoundly affected the development of Reformed theology especially in The Netherlands, the United States, Canada, South Africa, and Korea.

The Abraham Kuyper Center for Public Theology was established at Princeton Theological Seminary in 2002. It sponsors publications, lectures and conferences on the relation of theology to the other "spheres" of life. The purpose of this conference is to explore the resources and ideas characteristic of neo-Calvinist political thought with the aim of critically examining their relevance to contemporary debates about religion and politics in a secular society.

NB: All linked manuscripts are drafts and notes.  


17th-19th April 2008  

Conference Program

Thursday 17th

7pm Miller Chapel

Kuyper Prize Lecture

President Torrance

Oliver O'Donovan, Professor of Practical Theology, University of Edinburgh

Friday 18th

9am Mackay Center Main Lounge  

Opening Lecture
"Kuyper and Contemporary Political Philosophy"

Gordon Graham,
Henry Luce III Professor of Philosophy and the Arts, Princeton Theological Seminary

10.15 Coffee break

10.30 – 12 Concurrent Sessions I: "Education and Community"

Group 1
"Sphere Sovereignty, Education and Healthcare"
- Gregory Baus, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam  

"Kuyper, Sphere Sovereignty and the Possibility of Political Friendship"
- Michael DeMoor Institute for Christian Studies, Toronto

Group 2 
 "A Modern Christian University"
- Jules van Schaijik, The Personalist Project, Pennsylvania

"Kuyper and the Structure of Social Revolutions"
- Wendy Naylor

12-1 Lunch

1 -2.30 Concurrent Sessions II : "Economics and Law"

Group 1
"Civil Society and the Sovereignty of the Economic Sphere"
- G.J. Bujis, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

"Please, not too much Sovereignty for Economics"
- Kent Van Til, Hope College  

Group 2
"Neo-Calvinism and the Welfare State"
- George Harinck, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam  

"Natural Law, the State of Nature and Sphere Sovereignty"
- Jay Bruce, Baylor University  

2.45-4.15 Concurrent Sessions III: "Politics and Religion"

Group 1 
"The Concept of 'Civil Society' and Christian Social Pluralism"
- Jonathan Chaplin, Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, Cambridge

"Should a nation be Christian?"
- A.L. Th de Bruijne, Theological University of the Reformed Churches, Kampen

Group 2
"Political Theory, Political Pragmatism and Charisma in Kuyper"
- James Bratt, Calvin College  

"Reforming the Church-Sphere: Abraham Kuyper's Covenant Theology"
- John Halsey Wood, St. Louis University  

4.30 - 5.30 Mackay Center Main Lounge

Joint Colloquium with the James Madison Program, Princeton University

"Neo-Calvinism and American Political Thought"



J. Daryl Charles

William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University; associate professor of religion at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee; author of Retrieving the Natural Law: A Return to Moral First Things (forthcoming, Eerdmans); translator (German to English) of Claus Westermann, The Roots of Wisdom (Westminster/ John Knox Press).



Robert Lowry Clinton

William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University; Professor and Chair of Political Science, Southern Illinois University Carbondale; author of Marbury v. Madison and Judicial Review (Kansas, 1989, 1991) and God and Man in the Law (Kansas, 1997).


Keith Pavlischek

Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington DC and the Director of the Program to Protect America's Freedom; author of John Courtney Murray and the Dilemma of Religious Toleration (Thomas Jefferson University Press, 1994.


James Skillen

Executive Director of the Center for Public Justice in Annapolis, MD ; author of With or Against the World? America's Role Among the Nations (Rowman and Littlefield, 2005); editor of the biweekly Capital Commentary.

6pm-7pm Center of Theological Inquiry, 50 Stockton Street.  

Conference Reception
to which all participants are cordially invited


During the reception Emeritus Professor Max Stackhouse, founding De Vries Professor of Reformed Theology and Public Life will be signing copies of his new book Globalization and Grace, volume 4 of the CTI sponsored series 'God and Globalization'


Saturday 20th

Saturday morning

9.10-30 Concurrent Sessions IV: "Individuals and the State"

Group 1
"Sphere Sovereignty as the Reluctant Friend of Civil Unions"
- James J.S. Foster, Princeton Theological Seminary  

"Church, Society and the Individual: the distribution and limitation of human power"
- Sean Roberts, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia  

Group 2
"A Rebel's Catechism: Kuyper, Calvinism and Civil Disobedience"
- Chris Miller, Institute for Christian Studies , Toronto  

"Putting the Church to Work; an Augustinian Critique of the Kuyperian Concept of Vocation"
- Branson Parler, Calvin Theological Seminary  

10.45-12 noon Mackay Center Main Lounge

Closing Lecture
"'Here the Shoe Pinches': Kuyper, Tolerance and the Virtues"

John R Bowlin,
Ruth and Rimmer DeVries Associate Professor of Reformed Theology and Public Life