Unintended Secularization? Theological Agents in the Abolition of the Use of Mosaic Law in Western Scandinavia

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Tine Reeh


University of Copenhagen


DKK 690,702




Monograph Fellowships


The book explores the nexus between Nordic Lutheranism and societal developments of the 18th century. It investigates the agency of theologians and theological ideas in effecting change within the legal practice. More specifically, the book centers on the abolition of religious authority in questions of jurisprudence and a departure from the use of Biblical texts as judicial precepts (so-called Mosaic Law) in criminal cases in Denmark-Norway and Iceland.


The book offers new insights concerning the differentiation between theology and law in public administration, as well as of the role of Lutheran theologies in the process of secularization in Western Scandinavia. Previous literature on legal developments and reform in 18th-century Scandinavia is dominated by scholars using legal and enlightenment philosophy, legislation - or legislators' agency - as the point of departure for describing a top-down process of change. This book takes a different approach.


During the 17th and 18th centuries, it became common practice for Kings to request expert opinions from theological professors at the University of Copenhagen prior to making final decisions regarding the most serious, complex, and critical of criminal cases, especially those in which the death penalty was involved. Using the theologians' responses within actual court cases, supplemented by sources pertaining to these cases from both the lower courts and the Supreme Court, the book explores the consequences of shifting theologies on legal practice and factual process of change.

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