PhD research

Shaping Chaplaincy by Participating in Research – Niels den Toom


Research has become a significant topic in the world of chaplaincy. Since the last two decades, an empirical turn is observed in chaplaincy research and consequently, empirical studies have grown exponentially. In order to become a research-informed profession a closer connection between research and practice is strived for by international chaplaincy organizations. A stronger connection between both can improve chaplaincy’s practice and enhance its position in its context. The last decade shows that not only academic researchers are studying chaplaincy, but also chaplains are involved in doing research.

But what does it mean for the practitioners to become a researcher themselves? Do both roles of researcher and chaplain stimulate each other or does it cause friction? On the one hand, there are hesitations: will a focus on research stimulate the rationalization of chaplaincy? Will the ‘spirit’ of spiritual care remain? On the other hand, research could contribute to the understanding of chaplaincy and its domain, meaning-making and worldviews.

Research question

The Case Studies Project (CSP) provides a unique opportunity to study the meaning and effects of participation in research for four years. Over fifty chaplains are studying their practice in research communities that are led by an academic researcher. In this project, the question will be explored: (How) does participation in the CSP contribute to the professionalism of chaplains?


A mixed-methods study will be used to answer the question, consisting of four steps. First, a literature study will be conducted, analyzing the discourse on professionalism in chaplaincy literature. Second, six chaplains will be interviewed in three series, during their participation in the project. Third, a survey, based on the interview data, will be conducted involving all chaplains in our project. Fourth, after performing the analysis, it will be brought into dialogue with the participants’ experiences and worldview traditions by means of focus groups.


The PhD-project has been started in November 2018 and will end on October 2021. Although the thesis will be published as a monograph, the articles below are published.

For more information, please feel free to contact Niels.

Den Toom, J.N., Walton, M.N., & Körver, J.W.G. (2019). Jezelf als een ander. Onderzoeker en geestelijk verzorger in het Case Studies Project. Handelingen. Tijdschrift voor Praktische Theologie 46 (2), 39-48.

Den Toom, J.N. (2019). Geestelijk verzorger en onderzoeker: wat levert het op? Tijdschrift Geestelijke Verzorging, 22 (95), 47. 

Den Toom, J.N. (2019). Case Studies Project: geestelijk verzorgers onderzoeken hun eigen praktijk. PThUnie 13 (2), 24.

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