Op 24 november 2022 hield prof. dr. ir. Jan van der Stoep zijn oratie aan Wageningen University & Research met als titel Stewardship Revisited. A Conceptual Analysis. De volledige tekst kunt u hier downloaden. De video-opname van de oratie kunt u op de site van Wageningen University terugkijken. Hieronder vindt u de (Engelse) inleiding van de oratie.

We live in uncertain times that are often referred to as the Anthropocene. Climate change and loss of biodiversity have irreversible effects. Never has human impact on the earth been so great. Disruptive forces are being unleashed that can hardly be controlled. What do these developments mean for the place we as humans occupy on this earth? Must we become humbler, accepting that we are a species among other species? Or is it time for us as humans to take full responsibility? Moreover, how are we supposed to feed the world population? Should we focus on small-scale agriculture that is nature-inclusive or should we instead work on more intensification to raise productivity?

In this inaugural lecture, I want to explore what the concept of stewardship means forcurrent discussions on agriculture, nature conservation, and climate change. Stewardship is a term that often pops up in such discussions. Most of the time without further explication and in a rather fuzzy way. The use of the term is not without controversies. Sometimes stewardship is associated with anthropocentrism, albeit in a benign form. At other times, on the contrary, it is associated with care for the earth and for all living beings. To get a better understanding of what stewardship means, and to figure out what its actual relevance may be, I want to delve deeper into the history of the concept. Stewardship is not just a random term that we use today, for various purposes. It is part of a long tradition. In the eleventh century the English word steward was formed by combining two other words: stig, that means house, or dwelling place; and weard which is the ancient word for a warden (Hall 1990, 40). Taken literally, a steward is a person that manages an estate on behalf of a landlord. It is a profession that still exists today. The term stewardship, however, is also often used in a metaphorical sense, to describe the place of humans in the cosmos, and the specific vocation that humans have.

Stewardship is not only a term with a long history, but it also has strong religious connotations. The term is closely connected to a Christian worldview as it has been developed in the Western world, especially in the tradition of the Reformation. Originally, stewardship means that people are commissioned by God to cultivate the land and to protect it. The central idea is that the earth does not belong to human beings themselves. People are called to cultivate the land in the service of God, or in more secular variants on behalf of their children or humanity at large. As an endowed professor of Christian philosophy, I see it as my task to investigate what meanings have been given to stewardship over time. Moreover, I want to explore whether we can interpret the concept in such a way that it is useful today. Hence the title of my speech: stewardship revisited. I hope to show that the concept of stewardship is much richer than often assumed. And I also want to demonstrate that, especially in our current age, we cannot do without the idea of stewardship. (…)


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