Til bevillingsoversigt

Protestant Aesthetics of the Nordic Welfare States

Carlsberg Foundation Reintegration Fellowships


The project focuses on the impact of Protestant aesthetics on the Nordic welfare states through the study of literary works. In "A Protestant Aesthetic?", Daniel T. Jenkins describes how Protestant ethics has founded an aesthetic ideal that resembles "a building site. But the eye should discern some of the ultimate glory of the building even if it is unfinished." The project starts at the intersection of the Modern Breakthrough ideal of debating problems and religious traditions. It relates the metaphor of perceiving Nordic societies as "building sites" to the welfare state paradigm of creating reformations rather than revolutions. The thesis is that since the Modern Breakthrough Nordic welfare literature has debated problems by perceiving the Nordic welfare project as a "building site."


In recent years, the Nordic welfare states have been celebrated around the world in surveys of social trust and happiness. The success of the Nordic welfare states has so far largely been studied from socioeconomic perspectives mainly focusing on this high social trust as a product of the welfare state itself. Yet, it has proven difficult for other countries to simply adopt the Nordic welfare institutions and generate higher social trust. Hence, it seems that these institutions have a longer, more complex history. Studies focusing on history, religion and culture have chiefly focused on the Social Democratic parties and the Grundtvig-influenced movements. No scholarly work has so far focused on the impact of the Modern Breakthrough on the Nordic welfare state.


In 5 chapters, focus will be placed on Danish literature demonstrating a continuation in debating problems and viewing the Nordic welfare project as "unfinished." To show how the selected works relate to trans-Nordic debates, the case studies include Swedish comparative sources. The first two chapters stress the Georg Brandes-Henrik Pontopppidan link as a key case regarding how merging's of religious and secular aesthetics and ethics are particularly evident from the Modern Breakthrough era. The other chapters will focus on 3) social realism of the second generation of Modern Breakthrough in the inter-war period, 4) early forms of "eco-humanism" of the 1970s/1980s, and 5) present-day Nordic migrant poetry debating problems and pointing to the Nordic welfare state as a "building site."


As part of the project, I argue that the ideal of "debating problems" and its connection to the Protestant revival pattern of creating reformations and improvements rather than revolutions is just as essential to the development of the egalitarian Nordic welfare states as the Grundtvig-influenced movements, e.g. the Folk High School and the co-op movement which, historically, mainly focused on the class of property-owning peasants. Following the SSR principle, the project highlights the impact of the pluralistic democratic ideal of "debating problems" of groups such as the rural and urban proletariat, women, children, and cultural minorities. I am currently working on the first part of the project as a postdoc at Université de Strasbourg and look forward to completing it at SDU.