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Executive summary

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Research Questions

  1. How are religious institutions governed and organised?
  2. What is the relative size of foreign funding of religious institutions vis-à-vis their total income?
  3. What are the differences between between the largest religious denominations in the Netherlands with regard to foreign funding?
  4. To what extent is foreign funding associated with undesirable influence?

In the Netherlands, religious institutions are responsible for funding their own religious activities. In addition to donations from within their own community, they can raise funds from other private individuals, foundations and private organisations — domestically but also abroad. However, the desirability of foreign funding to religious institutions has been subject to a public debate in the Netherlands, a debate that has focused primarily on Islamic institutions.

The Netherlands House of Representatives has asked the government to conduct an independent study into foreign funding of religious institutions. The Research and Documentation Centre (WODC) of the Ministry of Justice and Security eventually commissioned RAND Europe and its research partner Breuer&Intraval to carry out the research.

This study applies a bottom-up approach, using a survey among religious institutions in the Netherlands with questions about their funding. Desk research, interviews and case studies were also carried out and their results were triangulated with the survey findings. Whilst there are limitations to the availability, validity and reliability of the sources and the data gathered, the findings of this report provide insight into the relative size of foreign funding among the largest religious communities in the Netherlands. In doing so, this report contributes to an evidence-based debate about funding of religious institutions and the potential associated influence, but it also shows how difficult it is to map this phenomenon.

Key Findings

Organisational structures of religious institutions

Religious groups in the Netherlands have a high degree of organisational freedom. There is relatively limited government oversight and regulation of their governance and funding. As a result, there is a variety of governance structures among religious institutions in the Netherlands. There are differences between denominations, as well as within denominations. The way a religious institution is organised and embedded in wider structures of the denomination says something about the independence of an individual institution's discretion about its own (financial) policies. In general, local religious institutions in the Netherlands, such as Catholic parishes, Protestant congregations or Islamic mosques, have to raise their own funding.

Foreign funding of religious institutions

The main source of income for religious institutions in the Netherlands consists of donations and contributions from members of their community. The traditional churches in the Netherlands tend to have a stronger financial foundation than churches, mosques and some migrant churches that were established more recently in the Netherlands. All in all, these 'younger' institutions tend to rely more heavily on their own members for their funding compared to the traditional churches. The results of the survey show that foreign funding accounts for only a small portion of the income of the participating institutions. At the same time, it shows that foreign funding occurs among both Christian and Islamic institutions.

Differences between religious groups

Foreign funding seldomly occurs among traditional Christian churches. Migrant churches are slightly more likely to receive foreign funding as a result of the close international ties between their diaspora in the Netherlands and their country of origin. Finally, the various sources we consulted point to several dozen Islamic institutions for which there are indications that they applied for or received foreign funding. Many of these institutions that received or applied for foreign funding have plans for construction or renovation. These mosques are typically of Moroccan origin and sources suggest that for many of them political Salafist influences play a role.

Undesirable influence

Based on our primary research, we did not find any indication of direct foreign influence (political or religious; from states or umbrella organisations or other organisations) by for example setting explicit conditions for the financial support. Other sources also provide scant evidence that foreign funding is accompanied with explicit conditions, for example with regard to the appointment of board members or preachers. However, even if it is unconditional, financial support from religious (zakat) funds in countries such as Saudi-Arabia or Kuwait to mosques with political Salafist influences could raise questions about possible anti-integrative, undemocratic or discriminatory influences on a religious community in the Netherlands. The limited foreign funding to churches on the other hand, according to experts and other sources, is much less likely to originate from unfree, undemocratic countries with interests that are at odds with Dutch or European interests.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was prepared for the Ministry of Justice and Security, Research and Documentation Centre (WODC) and conducted by RAND Europe.

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