Institute for the Study of Freedom of Religion or Belief

ETF Leuven’s Institute for the Study of Freedom of Religion or Belief (ISFORB) focuses its research on the interplay of societal developments, human rights discourses and religion/faith on local and global levels, with attention for religious persecution. As a multidisciplinary research group, ISFORB gives attention to religious freedom and the broader field of religion-state relations from a variety of angles.

ISFORB is a vibrant research community in which doctoral students, faculty members and visiting researchers sharpen and enrich each other. By combining our expertise, we are well equipped to engage in contemporary academic discussions on the place of religion in secular society. Research and publishing are at the heart of our activities. ISFORB purposefully seeks interaction with other research centers on related topics in Europe and beyond. Both at ETF Leuven and in other academic contexts, ISFORB organizes and participates in research projects, conferences, symposia, expert meetings, etc.

General coordination of ISFORB is performed by Dr. Jelle Creemers and Dr. Tatiana Kopaleishvili. You can reach ISFORB via .


Senior researchers

Dr. Jelle Creemers Religious Studies Church/state relations, Evangelicalism, Belgium
Dr. Tatiana Kopaleishvili History Church/state relations, Soviet, history, Georgia
Dr. Bosco Bangura Missiology Pentecostal Missions, African Migration, Intercultural Theology
Dr. Georgia Du Plessis Law Law and Religion, esp. religious freedom rights
Prof. Dr. Christof Sauer Missiology Freedom of Religion and Religious Persecution, global perspectives
Prof. Dr. Christine Schirrmacher Islamic Studies Islam in the West, Islam and Human Rights

Junior researchers

James Bultema, MA Missiology PhD Thesis: The History of the Turkish Protestant Church in Context
Joel Hartmann Missiology PhD Thesis: Models of Ecclesiological Structures for Convert Communities
Anne-Cathérine Pardon, MA Holocaust studies PhD Thesis: “Gerhard Kittel, Lutheran Theologian of the Third Reich, An evaluation of His Thought through Critical Discourse Analysis”
Samuel Velinga, MSc Pedagogy Project EDUC8: Educate to Build Resilience

Current and recent research projects

  • Multi-partner project ISFP-2018-AG-CT “EDUC8: Educate to Build Resilience” (2020-2021, Jelle Creemers & Samuel Velinga, sponsored by the European Commission)
  • “A socio-historical investigation into the internal dynamics and self-understanding of Protestant Evangelicalism in Georgia and its relation to past and present public management of religion.” (2019-2020, Tatiana Kopaleishvili, sponsored by Langham Fellowship)
  • “We All Share the Same Secular Values – Right? An Investigation into the Employment of Human Rights and Citizenship Discourses in the Belgian Public Management of Religion and the Effects on the Protestant Minority.” (2018-2021, Jelle Creemers, sponsored by the Flemish Research Foundation, 12O2719N)
  • “Freedom is Priceless? The Impact of the Inclusion of Evangelical Free Churches in the Belgian ‘Administrative Council for the Protestant and Evangelical Religion’ on their Internal Relations and their Perspectives on the State and Society” (2015-2018, Jelle Creemers, sponsored by the Flemish Research Foundation, 12O2716N)
  • “The History of the Turkish Protestant Church in Context” (James Bultema, supervised by Christof Sauer)
  • “Gerhard Kittel, Lutheran Theologian of the Third Reich, An evaluation of His Thought through Critical Discourse Analysis” (2019-2022, Anne-Cathérine Pardon, joint PhD project ETF Leuven/VUB, financed by the Flemish Research Foundation)

Selected publications

  • Creemers, Jelle, and Hans Geybels, eds. Religion and State in Secular Europe Today. Theoretical Perspectives and Case Studies. Annua Nuntia Lovaniensia 79. Leuven: Peeters, 2019.
  • Creemers, Jelle. ‘Protestanten verenigd voor of door de Staat? Onderhandelingen over de afbakening van een erkende eredienst in België (1999-2002)’. Tijdschrift voor Religie, Recht en Beleid 2 (2018): 5–18.
  • Creemers, Jelle. ‘We Are (Kind of) Protestants Too! Self-Categorization of Free Church Evangelicals in Communications with the Belgian Authorities (1992-1997)’. Journal of Church and State 61, no. 1 (2018): 41–58.
  • Sauer, Christof. ‘Kann man Märtyrer zählen und wenn ja, wie? – Gegensätzliche Ansätze.’ In: Spohn, Elmar (Hg.): Gottes Handeln in der Geschichte: Einschätzungen – Ergebnisse – Diskussionen. Festschrift für Klaus Wetzel zum 65. Geburtstag. Korntaler Reihe Bd. 13, Nürnberg: Verlag für Theologie und Religionswissenschaft 2017, 78-106.
  • Sauer, Christof. ‘Contemporary Thinking on Conversion and Persecution: A Survey of Recent Missiological Compendia’. Mission Studies 34, no. 3 (2017): 295–308.

Other research activities (selected)

  • Co-organizer of third ReSIS meeting (Religion and Secularity Inter University Seminar) on “Secular Violence” (Iman Lechkar [VUB] and Jelle Creemers), Vrije Universiteit Brussel, 20 February 2020.
  • Organizer of plenary session “Religious Freedom in Missions ad Vulnera“ at “Locating European Missions in a Wounded World in deep Transformation”, IAMS Europe Conference, St. Augustin, Germany, 23-27 August 2019.
  • Co-organizer of open session ‘Redefining “secularism”: European states and the regulation of (minority) religions’ (Jelle Creemers and Nadia Fadil [KU Leuven]) at International Society for the Sociology of Religion conference, Barcelona, 9-12 July 2019.
  • Co-organizer and co-chair of ‘Exploring responses to religious discrimination and persecution’ (Christof Sauer e.a.) 2nd International Researchers Consultation on Freedom of Religion or Belief & 7th Brazilian Symposium on Law and Religion & International Consultation on Mission and Theology in the Context of Persecution; at Mackenzie Presbyterian University, Sao Paulo, 17-18 September 2018.
  • Co-organizer of two open sessions ‘Secular Sensibilities and Minority Religious Subjects’ (Jelle Creemers and Nella van den Brandt [Utrecht University]) at European Association for the Study of Religion conference in Bern, 17-21 June 2018.


  • BA: “Seminarie Godsdienstwetenschappen & Missiologie” (SEMGM)
  • MA: “Religious Freedom & Persecution” (OU SC)
  • BA/MA thesis projects, including:
    • “Discussing Persecution and Hope: Perspectives of Christian Faith- Based Organizations Supporting Persecuted Christians and Leaders of Persecuted Communities.” Petra Lianne Laagland Winder (MA thesis), ETF Leuven, 2018, supervised by Jack Barentsen and Christof Sauer.
    • “Inhoud en impact van het sektenrapport (’97) voor de VVP: een kritische analyse.” Femke Rienstra (BA thesis), ETF Leuven, 2017, supervised by Jelle Creemers.

News and upcoming events

Selected ISFORB partners

Professors Vleugels and Koorevaar Give Farewell Lectures

Professors Vleugels and Koorevaar...

Both biblical scholars with long track records at ETF Leuven will hold their farewell lectures during the annual doctoral week.

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Resisting the Divide - A Theological Contribution to Economic and Social Policy

Resisting the Divide - A Theological...

A Theological Contribution to Economic and Social Policy

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