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 Prof. Dr. Jelle Creemers and Dr. Tatiana Kopaleishvili. You can reach ISFORB via .

News and upcoming events


Senior researchers

Prof. Dr. Jelle Creemers Religious Studies Church/state relations, Evangelicalism, Belgium
Dr. Tatiana Kopaleishvili History Church/state relations, (Post-)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 (PhD Students)

James Bultema Missiology The History of the Turkish Protestant Church in Context
Joel Hartmann Missiology Models of Ecclesiological Structures for Convert Communities
Anne-Cathérine Pardon Holocaust studies Gerhard Kittel, Lutheran Theologian of the Third Reich? An Evaluation of His Thought through Critical Discourse Analysis (FWO PhD Fellowship; Joint PhD Project with VU Brussels)
Kristina Patring Religious Studies Integral Mission and FBO-State Donor Cooperation

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

  • Du Plessis, Georgia A. “Is Reasonable Accommodation Sufficient Protection for the Right to Religious Freedom in Secular Societies?” In Law, Religion, and Freedom: Conceptualizing a Common Right, edited by W. Cole Durham Jr., Javier Martinez Torrón, and Donlu D. Thayer, 63–79. ICLARS Series on Law and Religion. New York: Routledge, 2021.
  • Schirrmacher, Christine. “Christianity and the Essential Characteristics of Democracy.” In God Needs No Defense: Re-imagining Muslim-Christian Relations in the 21st Century – A Festschrift in Honor of Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher, edited by Thomas K. Johnson and C. Holland Taylor, 81–87. Bonn: VKW, 2021.
  • Creemers, Jelle. “The Flemish Draft Law on Religious Communities: A Critical Analysis.” 6 March 2021. []
  • Du Plessis, Georgia A. “COVID-19 and Limitations to the International Right to Freedom of Religion or Belief.” Journal of Church and State 63, no. 4 (2021): 619–47.
  • Schirrmacher, Christine. “Stimmen zeitgenössischer islamischer Gelehrter zu Religions-freiheit und Frauenrechten.” In Jahrbuch Religionsfreiheit, edited by Thomas Schirrmacher, Martin Warnecke, and Uwe Heimowski, 160–77. Studien zur Religionsfreiheit / Studies in Religious Freedom 38. Bonn: VKW, 2021.
  • Creemers, Jelle, and Samuël Velinga. Face 2 Face Protestants in Encounter: Teacher’s Book. Beyond the Horizon, 2021.
  • Ferreira, Ignatius Wilhelm, and Joseph Bosco Bangura. “African Charismatic Movements and Urban Missiology.” In Africa Bears Witness: Mission Theology and Praxis in the 21st Century, edited by Harvey Kwyani, 99–111. Nairobi / Accra: ATN Press, 2021.
  • Surguladze, Kakhaber, Irakli Baramidze, Khatuna Diasamidze, and Tatiana Kopaleishvili. “Catholicism in Georgia at the Initial Stage of Russian Rule (First Half of the XIX Century).” History, Archeology, Ethnology 6 (2021): 250–63.
  • 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-organization of the Sola Forum Conference ‘Religious Freedom in the Caucasus – History, Theology and Practice’ in Tbilisi, 28-29 October 2022.
  • Organization of open session ‘Cult-Watching Organizations in Europe: Comparative Perspectives’ (Eileen Barker [LSE], Tatiana Kopaleishvili and Jelle Creemers) at European Association for the Study of Religion conference in Cork, 27 June – 1 July 2022.
  • Organization of international ISFORB conference ‘Freedom for Us or for All? (Non-) Religious Communities and FORB Rights’, ETF Leuven, 5-6 May 2022.
  • Organization of open session ‘European states and the Regulation of (Minority) Religions’ at European Association for the Study of Religion conference in Pisa, 30 August-3 September 2021.
  • Organization of international ISFORB conference (online) ‘Religious Freedom in Europe: Under Critical Investigation’, ETF Leuven, 6-7 May 2021.
  • Co-organization 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.
  • Organization 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-organization 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-organization and co-chair of ‘Exploring responses to religious discrimination and persecution’ (Christof Sauer and others) 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-organization 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 & Religious Persecution” (ETF Summer Colloquium)
  • 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.

Selected ISFORB partners

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