Responding to Secularization: The Deaconess Movement in Nineteenth-Century Sweden

Responding to Secularization
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My parents, Jerry and Suzanne Green, spared no expense in making sure that I received an excellent education. My brothers, Mike and David Green, have expressed their pride in my accomplishments, and this has meant more to me than they will ever know. My wifes parents, Olle and Birgitta hln, graciously opened their home in Stockholm to me while I was doing much of the research. My daughter, Rebecka, scarcely remembers a time when I was not a graduate student or a professor. Colleagues used to remark that it must be difficult to be working on a Ph.

My wife, Tabita, gave me so much support while I worked on this project. When someone who is both a spouse and parent returns to graduate school, many burdens are placed on other family members. Tabita bore these with grace, and without a doubt, I could not have researched and written this book apart from her faith in me and my vocational calling. Educational External Work Stations,. Number of Sisters,. External Work Stations,. Brings rundbrev J. Religious historians and sociologists of religion have participated in a vigorous debate since the s over how to explain the apparent decline of religion in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Europe.

I will engage this debate from a historical perspective by studying the social signifi- cance of deaconesses in late nineteenth-century Sweden. Swedish dea- conesses acquired, maintained, and expanded their influence in impor- tant social functions during this period. They did so even though more secular, specialized institutions and professionals were increasingly as- suming formal responsibility in Sweden, as in much of Europe, for many of the social functions carried out historically by religious institutions.

The influence of deaconesses in the public sphere demonstrates that the adoption of social functions by more specialized institutions and profes- sionals did not necessarily push religious institutions and professionals to the margins of society. Religious organizations and personnel continued in many instances to carry out essential social functions, both in compe- tition and cooperation with other specialized institutions.

Swedish dea- conesses had to overcome obstacles that their male religious counterparts did not face in carrying out these social functions. For this reason, my study will also address the ways in which gender enabled deaconesses to wield public influence at a time when women were often limited in the work they could perform outside the home.

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I will argue that the female diaconate succeeded in alleviating some gender-based concerns with its work by extending the domestic sphere and the qualities deemed most suitable for women into the public sphere. The female diaconate gained access to the public sphere by organizing, interpreting, and carrying out its work in accordance with the traditional religious construction of gen- der that was prevalent in the nineteenth century. Given the focus of my study, I will devote much of this chapter to a discussion of the secularization debate between and among sociolo- gists and historians, as well as to how my study fits into this debate.

My study differs from much of the Anglophone historical schol- arship on secularization in modern Europe in that its primary focus is not on the decline of religious beliefs and practices among individuals and particular social groups over the past several centuries. Functional dif- ferentiation is the process in which social functions historically carried out by religious institutions and personnel are absorbed by more secu- lar, specialized institutions and professionals in the modern era.

To take one example, in medieval Europe, poor relief was largely the preserve of parish clergy, religious orders, and confraternities. In the early modern and modern periods, social workers and welfare boards gradually assume formal responsibility for this work. Prominent sociological defenders of the secularization thesis argue that functional differentiation, as part of the process of modernization, inevitably led to a decline in the social significance of religion in the public sphere, that is, in that domain of society in which essential social, political, and economic functions are carried out on societys behalf.

Since many religious historians of modern Europe have emphasized the decline of religious beliefs and practices in their studies on secular- ization, very little historical work has been done on exploring the socio-.

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On the other hand, historians from the United States who study modern French religious history are much more likely to devote considerable attention to the beliefs and practices of individuals and social groups. I intend to compensate for this gap in the his- torical research through a study of the deaconess movement, a religious movement that arose in response to increasing functional differentiation in nineteenth-century Sweden. The female diaconate specialized in the areas of education, health care, and poor relief.

Many sociologists point to these same three social functions as areas in which religious institu- tions and personnel became marginalized in the social order once these responsibilities were taken over by more specialized institutions and professionals. For this reason, a study of the female diaconate seems quite appropriate.

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The challenge with such a study is that the causal link between func- tional differentiation and secularization appears difficult to refute. One noted sociologist, Jos Casanova, has even argued that the latter, at least from a theoretical perspective, should be defined primarily in terms of the former. Particularly in the twentieth century, functional differentiation has taken its toll on European religious insti- tutions through the emergence of modern welfare states. Few would argue that religious institutions possess the same degree of social sig- nificance in contemporary Europe as they did two or three centuries ago.

But from a broader historical perspective, functional differentiations effects on religious institutions cannot be understood only as secular- izing, even if secularization has been one outcome. In the context of the nineteenth century, functional differentiation is best understood as the continuation of a process dating from the early modern period that redefined the roles played by religion and religious institutions in society. This redefinition process certainly posed challenges to reli- gions public influence as churches and church representatives lost their monopolies on social services and were forced to compete or cooperate with more specialized providers, both religious and secular.

In plenty of instances, the established churches of Europe simply were not up to the task, and the increasing marginalization of religious institutions was one result. But where some doors closed, others opened. Functional differen- tiation also created opportunities for religious communities to wield.

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Deaconesses are a case in point. The female diaconate arose in mid- nineteenth-century Sweden to specialize in those areas subject to sig- nificant functional differentiation.

The very founding of the female dia- conate was a reaction to functional differentiation and its potentially sec- ularizing effects, and the fact that the deaconess movement survived and even expanded its influence in the late nineteenth century reflects its suc- cess in responding to modernization and particularly to the increased demand for specialized providers in areas such as nursing and social work.

Ironically, functional differentiation gave the female diaconate its raison dtre. To focus only on the secularizing outcome of functional differentiation is therefore to overlook the overall success of religious communities such as the female diaconate and to fail to appreciate what Yves Lambert calls the diverse and contradictory effects of modernity on religion.

Responding to Secularization: The Deaconess Movement in Nineteenth-Century Sweden

Because the concept of secularization has multiple dimensions, and be- cause different scholars sometimes mean different things when they refer to it, it is necessary to explain how I will use the term. Until around the mid-nineteenth century, secular- ization typically referred either to the transfer of ecclesiastical property from the church to secular persons or bodies as was the case during the Reformation or the French Revolution , or to the relinquishing of orders by monks and nuns.

A related use of the word in the nineteenth century referred to the transferal of control of a particular public institution, such as a university, away from religious bodies.

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Martins Press, , ; Kevin M. In recent decades, scholars have attempted to delineate more clearly the different senses in which the term can be used. The sociologist Jos Casanova argues that secularization has three different connotations: a decline in religious beliefs and practices, a differentiation of secular from religious spheres, and a privatization of religion. The validity of each of these three connotations, he maintains, should be studied indepen- dently. In the context of modern Europe, particularly before the late twentieth century, the religion in question is typically some form s of Christianity.

Moreover, this decline can be studied on one of two levels. First, the scholar can study the extent to which there has been a decline in the religious beliefs and practices of individuals or social groups i. The primary indicators of such a decline include church attendance, church membership, church rituals baptisms, marriages, funerals, etc.

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Second, religious decline can be studied in terms of the larger social significance of religion. The scholar in this case attempts to uncover the extent to which religious institutions, organizations, and professionals have lost their influence in the public sphere. My concern is with whether or not functional differentiation adversely affected the social significance of one particular religious group, the Swedish deaconessate.

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I do not wish to confuse this second sense of the term with the first. Several historians, including Hugh McLeod, C.

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Like all Islamophobic claims, this insistence says much more about the West than it does about Islam. Paulson, Steven D. En studie av barndopet i Svenska kyrkan. No part of this publication may be reproduced, translated, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission from the publisher. Private donations in particular would prove to be a significant source of revenue, as the establishment of new divisions and the building of new structures were funded largely in this manner. It would be worthwhile to investigate these connections more closely from a transnational perspective.

Sommerville, and Jeffrey Cox, have rightly pointed out that there is no necessary connection between these two levels of secularization. Secularization in this work will refer to a decline in the influence of religion in a given society and not, in its stricter sense, to a process of differentiation. Religion in a given society can have social significance even when levels of religious beliefs and practices are low, and vice versa.

The debate between and among sociologists and historians has to do with much more than definitional issues. The secularization debate is first and foremost a debate over what can be termed the secularization thesis or secularization theory.

Weber sug- gested that rationalization and the advance of science would increas- ingly make religious beliefs and behavior more untenable. He insisted that with modernity there would be an increasing disenchantment of the world. Consequently, in studying secularization, the scholar must look for the connections between the two. In this assessment, he differs from fellow sociologist and defender of the secularization thesis Bryan Wilson, who makes a greater effort to treat the social significance of religion separately from the issue of whether or not peo- ple hold religious beliefs or participate in religious rituals.

Decline or Religious Change? David Owen and. Tracy B. Strong Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company ,. The most promi- nent advocates of this theory in the s were Bryan Wilson and Peter Berger, though many other sociologists followed suit. Their work con- tributed to giving the secularization thesis the status of sociological orthodoxy in the s and s.

The more recent trend within sociology is to criticize or even reject the theory of secularization, but the thesis continues to have its defenders, most notably Steve Bruce. While defenders of the secularization thesis differ on some points, most of them agree on the essentials.

These advocates of the ortho- dox model of secularization contend that modernization creates prob- lems for religion in contemporary societies, problems that ultimately undermine the traditional influence of religion both on individual beliefs and practices and on the functioning of society. Science and technology reduce the occasions for which people have recourse to religion.

The greater centrality of reason demythologizes the world. Functional dif- ferentiation renders the social services of religious institutions and pro- fessionals unnecessary.

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Religious pluralism challenges the plausibility of an absolute system of truth and morality that is able to give cohesion to a given society. But what modernization has done, and will continue to do, is relegate. Free Press,. To the extent that religion survives, it does so only on the margins of the social order and without having much significance for society as a whole.

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The most prominent sociological assault on the secularization thesis in recent decades has come from Americans who defend what is variously referred to as rational choice or supply-side theory. Ian- naccone. Rational choice theorists believe that most theories of secular- ization fail because they attribute the cause of secularization to a lack of demand for religion in various modern societies, particularly European ones. But rational choice theorists assume that the demand for religion is relatively constant, and that an inadequate supply of religion best explains the seemingly high levels of secularization in some societies.

This is par- ticularly true in many parts of Western Europe where there is a tradi- tion of state churches having a monopoly on religion. State monopolies discourage competition among religious institutions, and if there is no free marketplace of religion, state churches have little incentive to meet the diverse religious demands of a given population.

The failure to meet these demands results in many segments of the population distancing themselves from the established religion. Much of Europe suffers from low levels of religious participation because of a tradition of religious monopolies and limited choices in the religious marketplace.