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Scandinavian revivals contributed to the emergence of modern society

A wave of pietist revivals swept across Sweden during the first half of the eighteenth century. A new doctoral thesis in history from the University of Gothenburg shows that the revivals followed the same general pattern and that they, together with the Enlightenment, promoted the rise of modern individualism.

Originating in Germany, pietism challenged contemporary orthodox Christianity and was a forerunner to the great revival movements of the nineteenth century. It emphasised the immediate and personal relation between man and God without the intervention of the Church.

‘By stressing the direct relationship between man and God without the involvement of the Church, pietism promoted the emergence of modern individualism,’ says Per von Wachenfeldt, author of the thesis and historian at Karlstad University and the University of Gothenburg.

He has studied three pietist revivals in the region of Skara, Sweden, namely the rural revivals in Främmestad, Stora Bjurum and Skärv during the 1730-1760 period.

Other scholars have had difficulties finding a general definition of pietism. With the help of David Hollatz’s book The State of Grace from 1742, a book that is commonly referred to as the Pietist handbook, von Wachenfeldt reveals a shared pattern in the three analysed revivals.

By analysing for example letters, church documents and personal written accounts in order to study the revived individuals’ values and behaviour, the thesis shows that the revivals followed the same general pattern.

‘The model for salvation presented in The State of Grace represents one of the most central concepts in Christianity. It surprised me how well it serves as a handbook of the salvation process.

Per von Wachenfeldt’s study points to the notion that men and women, young and old, regardless of family trees and worldly wealth were allowed to think and make reflections for themselves in their interaction with God. These ideas of reflection and afterthought influenced the secular Enlightenment as well.

‘My research findings will hopefully lead to an increased interest in the pietist revivals as a process that psychologically changed the people in the eighteenth century who were touched by it. A change that ended up benefiting society at large in the form of increased respect and understanding between fellow human beings,’ says von Wachenfeldt.

For more information:
Per von Wachenfeldt, telephone: +46 (0)70 482 89 56, e-mail:

Title of the doctoral thesis: Nådens ordning. En studie av västsvensk pietism omkring 1730–1760 (The State of Grace – A study of pietism in western Sweden ca. 1730–1760). In Swedish with an English summary.

Helena Aaberg | idw
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