General Information

Through research and teaching, the Van Vollenhoven Institute seeks to contribute to a better understanding of the formation and functioning of legal systems in developing countries and their effectiveness in contributing to good governance and development.

Law, Governance and Development

Legal systems are meant to contribute to social order, justice and legal certainty. But in the face of serious challenges, law’s functioning in developing countries is frequently problematic: legal systems often inherited from the colonial past, are complex and fragmented, and must function amidst socio-political tensions and economic hardship. Although development assistance increasingly focuses on establishing the rule of law, systematic knowledge in this area remains scarce. The inter-relationships between law, governance and development forms the Van Vollenhoven Institute’s field of study.

The Van Vollenhoven Institute

Leiden University is well-established in the study of international law, colonial law, comparative law, customary law, the social and political sciences, and non-western languages and cultures. The Leiden Law School was home to Grotius, the ‘father’ of international law, and later to the renowned scholar of Indonesian adat and public law, Cornelis van Vollenhoven. The Van Vollenhoven Institute dates back to the era when Dutch lawyers and administrators were trained for service in colonial Indonesia, Surinam and the Antilles. Today, the Institute collects, produces, stores, and disseminates knowledge on the processes of and relationships between law, governance and development, particularly in Asia and Africa.


Our research employs a socio-legal approach to develop insights into the workings of national legal systems in their historical, social and political contexts. It includes both state law and legal institutions, as well as customary and religious normative systems, with a special focus on access to justice. In our research projects the processes of law-making, administrative implementation, enforcement and dispute resolution have a prominent place. Local case studies help us to find out how law functions in society.   
Through comparative analysis and formulation of theory, the Institute makes recommendations for legal reform and international legal assistance.  


The Van Vollenhoven Institute offers thematic and regional courses that attract both Dutch and overseas students.   ‘Law, Governance and Development’ is the main introductory course. An overview of the main fields of Islamic law – its history as well as contemporary debates – are covered in ‘Introduction to Islamic Law’ and 'Sharia and National Law in the Muslim World', while ‘Law and Culture’ explores the relationships between these two concepts from legal, sociological and anthropological angles. In addition, regional courses on law and governance in Indonesia and Africa present specific legal systems in their social and development contexts, with special attention to how law actually functions on the ground. 
The Van Vollenhoven Institute also offers the minor Law, Culture and Development

The Institute also offers tailor-made courses on law and development for academics and professionals, in Leiden and on location abroad.


Our library contains over 22,000 books, journals and historical documents under the care of a specialized librarian. The thematic collections include:

  1. a collection of comparative works on law, governance and development in the developing world;
  2. a collection on modern (1945–present) Indonesian law, a rarity outside Indonesia; 
  3. a reference collection on law and governance in other developing countries and regions, namely Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, the Dutch Antilles, Surinam, and increasingly, China and other Asian countries; and 
  4. a unique, comprehensive collection on the laws of Indonesia, Surinam and the Netherlands Antilles under colonial administration.

Who was Cornelis Van Vollenhoven?

Do you want to read more about Cornelis van Vollenhoven?

Last Modified: 04-11-2011