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Religion in Society: Per Ingesman Retires from Aarhus University

Per Ingesman, a professor of church history at Aarhus University, retired recently. With a background in theology as well as history, he has been crucial for the process leading to the establishment of the LUMEN Centre. He has a long and manifold career behind him, and the key question in his research has always been the classical question in ecclesiastical historiography: How does religion influence society – and vice versa – and how can we describe this influence?

Professor Per Ingesman at his farewell lecture, 8. September 2021

From history student to theology professor

An experienced and illustrious researcher ends his career: On 31 August 2021, Per Ingesman retired from the Department of Theology at Aarhus University, having served as a professor of church history since 2009. Numerous students, the present author included, have attended Per Ingesman’s courses in general church history, late medieval religion, and the intertwining of church and state during the early modern centuries. His Kirkens Historie (2012), co-edited with Carsten Bach-Nielsen and co-authored with Bach-Nielsen, Nils Arne Pedersen and Jens Holger Schjørring, serves as the standard textbook on general church history at universities in Denmark and Norway, and is likely to be found on many a bookshelf of theology students and pastors alike. Researchers at the Department of Theology and beyond know him as a skilled and valued colleague who works in a determined way, who is always curious, and who employs interdisciplinary methodology in mapping, analysing and describing historical Christian religion.

Per Ingesman gained a Master’s degree in history and the study of religion at Aarhus University in 1982, and has been employed there ever since – only interrupted by a one-year visiting researcher position at the University of Cambridge in 1993/94. In 1985 he was awarded the degree of lic.theol./PhD in theology, and in 2003 he defended a habilitation thesis for which he was awarded the degree of dr.phil. In Aarhus Professor Ingesman has held the positions of junior researcher, postdoctoral researcher, associate professor, professor with special responsibilities, and full professor.

New light on medieval Papal-Danish diplomatic relations

His research interests focused initially on ecclesiastical administration during the Danish Middle Ages, reflecting a scholarly tradition established at Aarhus University in the 1960s by Troels Dahlerup, professor of history and Ingesman’s supervisor in the early stages of his career.

From the mid-1980s to early 1990s, he published papers and books on the fiscal history of the Lund Archbishopric, clergymen’s testaments, the development of ecclesiastical jurisprudence, clerical and noble heraldry, the diplomatic relations between Denmark and the Holy See, and the role of religion in the historiography of late medieval Denmark.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Ingesman discovered hitherto unknown records held in the Papal archives in the Vatican City. He was able to demonstrate that Danish cases were brought before the Rota Romana, the Papal supreme court. Culminating with the habilitation thesis in 2003, Provisioner og processer, Ingesman’s studies in the Vatican archives nuanced the scholarly understanding of Papal-Danish interactions during the late medieval period, advocating that these relations were flourishing and rewarding, and criticising the thesis of late medieval ecclesiastical depravation found in parts of earlier – mainly Protestant – scholarship.

Ecclesiastical historiograpby as a collaborative effort

Ingesman was originally a student at the Department of History in Aarhus. However, his scholarly trajectory led him to the Faculty of Theology (today: the Department of Theology). In the 1980s and 1990s, the intellectual environment at the faculty’s Department of Church History prospered with researchers covering topics as diverse as the history of Christian liturgy, early Christian writings, Reformation and Pietism studies, Grundtvig scholarship, and the history of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Denmark (the Folkekirken). This interdisciplinary approach and broad scope undoubtedly influenced Ingesman’s own thinking. Since the 1990s the department has housed several collaborative projects, many of them with contributions from Ingesman: in 1994 he and Bach-Nielsen edited an anthology on Grundtvigian influences on Danish ecclesiastical historiography, and in 2000 he contributed to an anthology on possible relations between Protestant theology and the social democratic welfare state ideology in the Nordic countries (a forerunner of a hotly debated topic these days). As mentioned above, he also co-edited and co-authored Kirkens Historie in 2012, and since the mid-2010s he has been active in the projects of the LUMEN Centre. Perhaps the most important testimony to Professor Ingesman’s interdisciplinary and interperiodical approach to church history is his edited volume Religion as an Agent of Change: Crusades – Reformation – Pietism, published by Brill in 2016. In this anthology, leading scholars of church history discuss what it means to work with religion as an explanatory power in historical material, placing religion in the discourse of the history of their own disciplines.

Common chalices in the early twentieth century, the social disciplining of the Reformation – and beyond

The broad scope of the Aarhus church historical environment also led Professor Ingesman to delve into other periods than the Middle Ages proper. In the 1990s, Ingesman applied his interest in ecclesiastical jurisprudence to the formative years of Danish constitutionalism, c. 1849–1930, and he published studies on the development of the Folkekirken during the nineteenth century, on the so-called Genforeningen in 1920 – the integration of Northern Schleswig into Denmark in the wake of the German defeat in World War One – and (with relevance for the present pandemic) on the balancing of health policy and ecclesiastical affairs in the discussion of a single common chalice or multiple individual chalices in the eucharistic practice of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Denmark in the early twentieth century.

Since the 2000s, Professor Ingesman’s research has been devoted mainly to the sixteenth-century revolution in religion, culture and politics which is usually called the Reformation, and to its consequences for Christian religion in Denmark during the early modern centuries. Inspired by cultural historians such as Thomas N. Tentler, Ingesman was interested in religion as a method of social disciplining at the threshold of the Reformation and beyond. Arguing that the confession of sins and penance were employed by ecclesiastical authorities as a mechanism to ensure that people performed the right actions, and perhaps had the right state of mind, Ingesman demonstrated that when the Lutheran Reformation enabled the king to take control of institutionalised religion, the clergy became an instrument in the hands of royal power. Through the church and its clergy – although Ingesman has often argued that the church ceased to be a church after the Reformation and instead became a state department of ecclesiastical, judicial and moral matters – the king gained the opportunity to introduce practices of social disciplining in Denmark. This claim requires the researcher to work with long perspectives. Accordingly, Professor Ingesman integrates the events and sources of the sixteenth century into a broader narrative of the history of an emerging centralised state in early modern Denmark. In the context of his Reformation studies, Ingesman has published papers on the role of religion in the realpolitik of the Danish kings in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, on the characteristics of Lutheran jurisprudence in Danish Reformation authors, on the importance of the Decalogue in social disciplining and legal practice in the seventeenth century, and on the history of sex, marriage and divorce. A preferred theoretical point of departure for Ingesman’s studies has been that of confessionalisation – the notion that ecclesiastical and stately spheres of action and thought intertwined during the early modern period. In recent years, he has included another international paradigm in his studies: confessional cultures (the notion that the diverse early modern Christian confessions developed distinct cultures with confessionally marked codes, ritual behaviour and strategies of selfing and othering).

A meticulous scholar

Per Ingesman is a diligent representative of his profession. The recipient of a festschrift on his 65th birthday in 2018, he has published more than 80 book reviews in Danish and international journals since the 1980s, and he has edited or co-edited several books on historical periods intended for the general public, most recently Reformationen – 1500-tallets kulturrevolution (2017, co-edited with Ole Høiris).

In many ways, Per Ingesman has been active in bringing church historical scholarship in Denmark to the international forefront, and he has insisted that the Danish context cannot be comprehended without bringing in international perspectives, and, vice versa, that international historiography needs to pay attention to the Danish context. Upon his retirement, he has left church history at Aarhus University with a legacy that future generations cannot overlook.