Leadership in Grand Béguinage Leuven: 12 October 2017 - Offsite program in the context of the ILA-Co


Finding inspiration from the Beguines and their leadership. The Beguines made their own rules and forged their own lifestyle. They typically stepped outside of the establishment that limited them in living their values of simplicity. Thereby they intended to escape the tension of authority within the establishmen and to find freedom and autonomy.

WHO: Participants in this offsite program are in leadership roles or aspire such.

WHEN: Thursday, October 12| 13:00 - 17:30 WHERE: Grand Béguinage, Leuven TICKET PRICE: ILA members - $37 | non-members - $50

Non-members can also register here >>


As part of ILA's 19th Annual Global conference in Brussels on October 12-15, 2017 addressing 'Leadership In Turbulent Times', prof. Jeroen Stouten and Katharina Mullen will be offering a program on the leadership of the Beguines. LINK to ILA-org announcement.

ILA - is the International Leadership Association. It's mission of promoting a deeper understanding of leadership knowledge and practice for the greater good aims to make a difference and to contribute to the world's need for better leadership.


Outcomes of this program are:

  • Learning about the principles and values underlying leadership in medieval religious society

  • Experiencing inspiration for rethinking your own leadership

  • Engaging with peers on the essence of leadership

  • Developing an understanding of (female) leadership in medieval society

  • Reflecting on freedom and autonomy in your own leadership.

  • Enjoying the beautiful historic sites of the University and the Grand Béguinage, a UNESCO world heritage site.

Program Leaders:

Jeroen Stouten >> Katharina Mullen >>


Learning about the life of the Beguines and their organization, especially their leadership.

Focusing on how leadership was organized in the Béguinage and on the role and position of female leadership, exercised at a time when leadership predominantly was a male role.

Examining some of the works of art in the Béguinage that will help shed light on leadership in the Middle-Ages and Renaissance.


In the Béguinage historical quarter, the remarkable architectural legacy of this period is still evident. This style can still be found in cities across the Netherlands and Belgium, but nowhere in greater splendor than in the old university town of Leuven and the Béguinage, which became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1998. As attendees make their way to the Béguinage, they will pass by the many historic buildings of the University of Leuven, which was founded in 1425.


Participants will tour the Grand Béguinage in Leuven, walking through the gardens and along the buildings - taking in the atmosphere.

  • Exchanging impressions sensing the environment

  • Deepening the historic dimension and relevance of the Beguines for freedom and autonomy and how their values inspired their leadership

  • Dialogue: how does the example of the Beguines speak to you personally and professionally?


13:45 Arrival at Leuven train station and walk to the Béguinage

14:00 Tour around the Béguinage while describing the Beguines' leadership style

16:30 Dialogues on insights as we walk around the Béguinage

17:00 Walk back to Leuven train station heading for Brussels.


The Béguinage in Leuven dates from the 13th century. The community had about 360 Beguines in its heyday in the 17th century. The Béguinage was a sort of commune for unmarried, religiously-inclined women known as Beguines (pronounced Bay-Gueens). The word is most likely derived from the Flemish word beghen, which means to pray. Beguines were women in the Low Countries who, beginning in the 12th century, chose to live neither under the care of a man nor the vows of the church. Theirs was, in essence, a feminist movement and its remarkable architectural legacy is still evident in cities across the Netherlands and Belgium. But nowhere in greater splendor than in the old university town of Leuven.

The Leuven Béguinage (called Begijnhof in Dutch) was founded in 1230. Exquisitely restored in the 1960s, it is today a quaint little town of tiny gabled homes and gardens that spreads across 17 acres.

UNESCO has declared the Béguinage a World Heritage site in 1998, a place of outstanding cultural importance. There are neither cars nor shops in this spectacular urban oasis that delights visitors year-round. The Béguinage today consists of a series of alleys, courtyards, gardens and parks with dozens of houses and convents built from traditional sandstone. It is currently inhabited by students, foreign visiting professors and staff of the oldest Catholic university in Europe.

Béguinages were home to generations of religious women who sought to live a more independent life than that of women who married against their will. They made their homes, catered to the sick and poor, and sought to serve their god without separating from the rest of the world. As Catholic women devoted to prayer and good work, Beguines lived simply, wore loose robes and headwear similar to nuns' habits. But nuns they were definitely not.

Beguines had a semi-religious life-style that survived more than 800 years. They took no religious vow and they could leave the Béguinage and marry, if they chose. Belonging to no established religious or social order, they lived apart from society in Béguinages - self-sufficient communities of individual houses - allowing for an exceptional degree of independence, socially as well as economically.

They could own property and took no alms. Women of all classes were welcomed. They carried on professions, often in the textile industry. They elected women to be leaders — Grandes Dames — and each Grande Dame was often assisted by an elected council. Each Beguine was expected to support herself and make a tangible contribution to the Béguinage, either through labor or rent income.

This offsite will explore the Béguinage and the leadership of the Beguines.

On a tour we will learn about the life of the Beguines and their organization, especially their leadership.

We will focus on how their leadership was organized, the role and position of female leadership in times in which leadership predominantly was a male role.

Moreover, we will focus on the art works in the Béguinage to learn more on leadership in the middle-ages and renaissance.

We will start at the Leuven train station from where we shall walk through the historic center of Leuven and pass along the many historically valuable buildings of the University of Leuven (KULeuven founded in 1425) to arrive at the Béguinage.

When entering the Béguinage we walk through the gardens and along the little alleys and buildings taking in the atmosphere.

We start by exchanging impressions while sensing the historic environment amongst the houses the Beguines lived in.

Afterwards, in a tour around the Béguinage, including the historic church, we deepen our understanding and knowledge of the Beguines and their leadership.

We conclude with a dialogue among participants on how the example of the Beguines speaks to us personally and professionally.

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