Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

The Nordic household state - variations upon a theme by Luther

Nordic project financed by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (Stockholm) - Project leader Urban Claesson (Sweden) and Nina Koefoed (Denmark)

This Swedish-funded project is a Nordic development of the Danish project Lutheranism and Danish social development. The results and perspectives in the Danish project are transferred to a broader Nordic context, and thus makes it possible to compare the Danish results with empirical data from, and previous research on, Sweden and Finland.

The Nordic countries were all part of the Lutheran Europe taking form after the Reformation. Martin Luther had raised the household as the place to realize the Christian calling, in controversy with the medieval notion of calling for the holy life in the monastery. The household thus became the overall organizational form at all levels of society.

This project focus on how Lutheran theology formed the basis of the strong states in both Denmark and Sweden during the 17th century. As the household was such an important foundation for the states and their power, the project label them “household states” and will systematically compare the Danish and Swedish versions. The project will focus specifically on the household's synchronizing effect of the household on different levels. It will also raise questions about the Nordic welfare states as a late expression of this Lutheran household thought.

The project is of further importance by highlighting the evangelical Lutheran social form in dialogue with the international research that has been more interested in the social role of the Calvinist Protestantism. By systematically comparing two uncommonly monoconfessional Lutheran types of societies, the societal significance of the Lutheran inheritance is uncovered in a way that is previously unexplored.


Bo Kristain Holm: A diachronic dimension of the Household State

This sub-project analyzes the Lutheran reception and reinterpretation of ancient ideas about the benevolent father as ruler, and the notion of the common good (bonum commune), in the Household State. Based on a study of these ideas in Danish state building, comparable Swedish sources will be analyzed, e.g. material that describes and discusses the aim of the monarchy and legislation that defines the ruler's authority and social responsibility.


Gorm Harste: The synchronical dimension of the Household State

This sub-project clarifies Lutheran concepts of sovereignty, authority, responsibility and obedience by comparing them with other contemporary European thinkers (Bodin, Erasmus and Calvin). After this clarification, the research focuses upon how these perceptions were incorporated in the organization of the Danish and Swedish Household States. Important sources will be studied e.g. ordinances and regulations, as well as more symbolic expressions such as architecture. The Danish state is examined in the Danish project as the basis for a comparative study of Sweden.

Important sources will be church ordinances and constitutions, however in addition more symbolic forms such as architecture and territorial interpretations as map history. The historical emergence of the welfare state has got a widely recognition internationally in the comparative perspective. The overall frame is that Danish state formation is compared with Swedish state formation. A normally underestimated comparative perspective is that the state formations in Sweden-Finland and Denmark-Norway can be tested in according to two very dissimilar narratives about on the one hand social imaginaries about ’the state church’ (Sweden) and ’the church of the people’ (Denmark). On the other hand, in addition both state formations are embedded into a European state formation, in which ’war makes states and states make war’ (Tilly, Skocpol), for example throughout the three hundred years of Swedish/Danish conflicts about control of access to the Baltic. States in war often copy reforms from each other. Certainly, reform fever is not a recent phenomenon. Both consequences of the Reformation and reform claims due to military competition point in same directions, covergent state formations among the Nordic states. At a meso and micro level such convergences might appear in the protestant Lutheran (not Calvinist) ethics of work, organization and cooperation among civil servants. This semantics of Lutheran obedience might expose forms somewhat different from Calvinist (disciplinary) and Catholic (corporate) forms. In this perspective the project cope with studies of ’protestant work ethics’ and sheds light upon the difference it offers to such studies when Lutheran forms of obediency are considered; yet fine nuances of participatory involvement have long path dependencies in those two Scandinavian Lutheran institutional legacies.

Urban Claesson: Teaching about the household

How was the household taught in Denmark and Sweden? Luther’s comments on the fourth and sixth commandments in his Small Catechism along with the table of duties reveal how the household was formulated for general education. The focus in this subproject will not be limited to the original catechism, which had already been translated into Danish and Swedish in the 16th century. Instead, the focus will be the many different local expositions of the catechism published in Denmark and Sweden during the 17th and 18th centuries. In contrast to other spiritual books that were often translated from German, these explanations were mainly written by Nordic theologians and pastors as a way of coping with the challenges they faced in their local congregations. A systematic comparative analysis of the contents of these versions still needs to be done.  How was the household presented in different expositions in order to legitimize authority, limits of responsibility, duties and sets of emotions? Is it possible to find common patterns in the different types of editions?  And why did the era of pluralism in terms of local textbooks end up turning out so differently in the two kingdoms? This sub project aims to answer these questions.  

Nina Javette Koefoed and Karin Hassan Jansson: Negotiation of authority and responsibility in the household

This project investigates social relations, identities and obligations within the household. In Luther’s explanations of the social relations in the household, parents were the authority while the main duty of servants and children was to obey. But even though the household was a hierarchy, it was also characterized by reciprocity, and authority came with responsibilities to care for one’s subordinates or dependants. This has been studied and discussed in Swedish research on popular culture and social conflicts handled in different courts. In the Danish case, it is almost unexplored. The focus is on the regulation and practice of authority and responsibility by the members of the household. It thereby explores how legislation was linked to Lutheran ideas and how ordinary people made use of the household culture in their encounters before the court. It will be carried out by means of a close reading and comparison of parts of the national laws and court protocols concerning similar types of social conflicts in Denmark and Sweden. Did labourers and servants in the two counties use the household culture in the same way? Did household masters Denmark and Sweden argue for their authority along the same lines? Did the courts treat similar cases in the same way? What were the differences and similarities in the understanding of a Christian household and its way of living?