Religious identity development of adolescents who grew up in a strictly Reformed context in the Netherlands

Adolescence is a crucial period in the development of adolescents. They need to develop a stable identity that can function as a fundament for their whole life. Religion is important for identity development because it offers beliefs, values, and norms that give meaning and guide behavior. Also, religion brings wholeness and coherence in someone’s identity, even more in case of identity questions about meaning and purpose. The aim of this research is to understand and describe the religious identity development of adolescents with a strictly Reformed education.

About Reformed adolescents

In the Netherlands, there are several groups of highly or strictly religious people, like Muslims and Christians. For these people, religion is intertwined with their education and, therefore, religion determines their identity development. Adolescents with a strictly Reformed education grow up in a context that often advocates orthodox beliefs and practices and that distances itself from the broader postmodern society. At the same time, these adolescents are part of this society and are increasingly influenced by it. Because of these appealing different contexts, developing a religious identity can be a challenge.

About this research

We observed that the research on how adolescents growing up in a strictly Reformed context construct and develop their religious identity, is underdeveloped and that there is a lack of research. Therefore, it is needed to gain factual knowledge about this population and their religious identity development. The aim of this research is to understand and describe the religious identity development of adolescents with a strictly Reformed education, from the perspective of these adolescents themselves. In our study, we explore processes of religious identity exploration and commitment, processes that are central to religious identity development. We also explore how the context – ‘identity agents’ and other contextual factors – influences religious identity development.  

In our qualitative research, we conduct in-depth interviews with eightteen adolescent that grew up in a strictly Reformed context and that identify themselves as:

  • strictly Reformed
  • not strictly Reformed anymore, but Christian/do not know how to identify themselves
  • non-religious

Our interviews have a narrative element which means that adolescents retrospectively reflect on their religious identity and religious identity development. To elicit storytelling, we use visual methods, like photos.


The study may contribute to theory formation regarding religious identity development, from a qualitative-empirical perspective. Furthermore, it may inform (professional) educators in school, church, and family who as ‘identity agents’ are involved in guiding adolescents in their religious identity development. Lastly, because of the critical voices about adolescents that grow up in monoreligious contexts, the study may provide a more evidence-based and more realistic image of strictly Reformed raised adolescents. 

The project is a co-financed PhD-trajectory in which PThU and Driestar educatief are working together.


  • PhD-student Anne-Marije de Bruin-Wassinkmaat MSc (PThU & Driestar educatief)
  • Supervisors: prof. Marcel Barnard (PThU, promoter),  prof. Cok Bakker (Utrecht University, second promoter), dr. A de Kock (ETF, co-promoter) and dr. Elsbeth Visser-Vogel (Christelijke Hogeschool Ede, co-promotor)


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