The Partnering of Church and School in Nineteenth-Century Sweden

August 22, 2008

By Green, Todd

The causal link between modernization and secularization forms the core of secularization theories. With modernization, rationalization leads to a “demythologization” of the world; technology reduces the occasions in which humans seek divine assistance for this-worldly problems; large-scale industrialized enterprises, cities, and nation states replace the small, close- knit communities from which religion traditionally derives its strength; individualization increases the probability of religious fragmentation, religious indifference, and the rejection of religion. According to secularization theorists, these and other modem developments in recent centuries have led to a significant decline in the influence of religion in Europe. To the extent that religion survives at all, it does so as a private matter, on the margins of the social order.1 What secularization theorists often fail to note is what sociologist Yves Lambert refers to as modernity’s “diverse and contradictory effects” on religion.2 Modernization has contributed to secularization in Europe, but that is not the whole story. Some periods of rapid modernization, such as the nineteenth century, also witnessed popular revivalist movements, a proliferation of new religious organizations in the form of charities ana associations, and redefined yet still significant roles for religious institutions and professionals in society. These developments were in many ways products of modernity, and a historical perspective merits caution when describing modernization only in terms of its secularizing effects.

The diverse effects of modernization on religion in nineteenthcentury Europe can be illustrated by a closer examination of a typical feature of many secularization theories-functional differentiation. Functional differentiation is the process by which social functions historically carried out by religious institutions and personnel are “taken over” in the modern era by more secular, specialized institutions and professionals.3 In medieval Europe, for example, most of the responsibility for poor relief rested with parish clergy, religious orders, and confraternities. In the early modern and modern periods, poor relief boards and social workers gradually assumed formal responsibility for this task. As this happened, religious institutions became less and less necessary for the functioning of society.

Secularization theorists almost universally accept the theory of functional differentiation, and this is understandable.4 Especially in the twentieth century, functional differentiation has taken its toll on European religious institutions through the emergence of modern welfare states. But in the context of the nineteenth century, functional differentiation is more accurately understood as the continuation of an early modern process that redefined the roles played by religion and religious institutions in society. This redefinition process certainly undermined the public influence of religion in various spheres of society, but where some doors closed, others opened, which the field of education demonstrates. The emergence of obligatory schooling in the nineteenth century was accompanied by the creation of a new body of secular teaching professionals and a bureaucratic system of school boards-clear signs of increasing functional differentiation. But in much of Europe, these developments took place under the auspices of church professionals and institutions, with clergy and parish boards taking on positions of authority and leadership in the new systems of compulsory education.5 A notable exception is France, though the Republican drive to push religious institutions and orders out of education did not begin until the 1880s, and even then, the Roman Catholic Church established an alternative school system that educated a significant minority of children until the turn of the century.

A more typical example is Sweden. Its modern elementary school folkskola) emerged in the mid- to late nineteenth century as the state adopted the task of providing for the educational “needs” of all its citizens.6 At the same time, the elementary school system’s organization and administration, its teaching professionals, and its curricula were developed and sustained in large part through the efforts of Sweden’s national Lutheran church, the Church of Sweden, and its representatives at the local and regional levels. In the nineteenth century, compulsory education depended on a partnership between church and state as it took shape, and it was only in the twentieth century that this sphere of society became clearly secularized.


The provision of popular education in the form of elementary schools varied considerably in the Nordic countries in the early modern period. Denmark and Norway increasingly depended on schools, whereas Sweden, Finland, and Iceland relied much less on them. All five Nordic countries witnessed high literacy rates, but schools were much more important in the spread of literacy in Denmark and Norway than in the other countries.7

The availability of schools in Sweden was confined primarily to cities and to a few of the more populous regions in the south. Both extensive poverty and the sparse population in much of the country meant that the provision of schools for the vast majority of rural Parishes was simply not possible before the nineteenth century, opular education in Sweden therefore relied greatly on cooperation between the heads of household on the one hand and church functionaries such as parish clergy and clerks on the other.8

The 1686 Church Law, combined with a 1723 royal decree, formally placed the responsibility of teaching children the fundamentals of the Christian religion and basic reading skills in the hands of the Lutheran church and the heads of household. Parents or guardians kept the responsibility to teach their children how to read familiar religious texts, particularly Luther’s Small Catechism and his explanations of the catechism. For their part, parish priests examined the reading and religious knowledge of children and adults at annual gatherings known as “house examinations” (husforhof). The priest recorded the reading ability of each parishioner in a register; if a parishioner’s knowledge or literacy proved to be inadequate, it was incumbent upon the priest to arrange for supplemental instruction. In many cases, it fell to the parish clerks to provide auxiliary education, though they did not always possess the knowledge and ability to accomplish this task. In such cases, a schoolmaster or other literate person might provide remedial instruction. Schooling, however, remained a last resort for the vast majority of Swedes.9

The eighteenth century witnessed attempts in many Western European countries to expand the provision of elementary schools. In Sweden, the Society Pro Fide et Christianismo, established in 1771, was the leading proponent of founding a school in every parish to teach basic subjects such as geography, history, reading, writing, and arithmetic. The society succeeded in establishing a series of new schools in some regions. At the turn of the century, however, the institutions of the household and church remained the primary providers of popular education.

Despite the lesser degree of formal schooling in Sweden than in many other parts of Western Europe, by the end of the seventeenth century, Sweden had the highest literacy rank among Nordic nations. One century later, it had become one of the most literate countries in all of Europe. Of course, such an assessment depends on how literacy is defined. If the ability to sign one’s name is excluded as a criterion, then Swedes were far more literate than most Europeans, at least in terms of their ability to read and pronounce words from a written text.10 More importantly, Swedes achieved this high degree of literacy primarily through the educational efforts of the church and the household. These two institutions had proven to be as efficient as many schools throughout Europe in the provision of popular education in the early modern period.


The number of available schools in Sweden grew significantly in the first half of the nineteenth century. Between 1820 and 1850, many of these schools were established according to the Lancastrian model of education derived from England. With this model, one teacher instructed up to several hundred children at once with the assistance of more advanced students working as monitors. The Lancastrian method was first introduced in Sweden in 1818. In 1824, there were 60 Lancastrian schools with just over 4,000 students. By 1842, the year of the Elementary School Law, there were 515 such schools with almost 30,000 students.11 These Lancastrian schools, added to the already existing elementary schools, meant that Sweden was becoming a more schooled society even before the advent of compulsory education. Nevertheless, at the end of the 1830s, almost 50 percent of Sweden’s parishes lacked an elementary school. Popular education remained at the discretion of church and household in many regions.12

Historians generally fall into one of two camps when explaining why the parliamentary estates decided to pass legislation on compulsory elementary school education in 1842.13 One school of thought maintains that politicians responded to the growing democratization of society and changes in the agrarian economy. Liberal politicians in particular felt that mass education would provide people with the knowledge necessary to adapt to these changes. Other historians insist that politicians were responding to the rapid population growth and the proletarianization of the people. More conservative politicians saw in the compulsory elementary school a means of social control through which the existing social order would be reinforced and legitimized. Most likely, both sets of concerns enabled various liberal and conservative factions within the government and parliament to come to a general agreement on the need for universal elementary school education.14 In the parliamentary debates leading up to the passing of the 1842 Elementary School Law, all four estates wanted to allow local municipalities to have considerable freedom in organizing and overseeing elementary schools. Other concerns pertained to the long distances that children in larger parishes would need to travel to reach the school. Some also voiced their support of the continued role of home instruction in education. Despite these concerns, the four estates agreed on instituting comprehensive elementary school education.15

On 18 June 1842, the Elementary School Law took effect. It stipulated that every parish must establish “at least one, preferably permanent, school with a duly approved teacher.”16 In those cases in which a parish could not afford to bear the full financial burden of establishing an elementary school, the state would subsidize the costs. Otherwise, residents of each parish were responsible for the costs of building a school and hiring a teacher, and they had to do so within five years of the law’s passing, though allowances were made for the creation of ambulatory schools if difficult financial circumstances or a lack of resources made it unfeasible to build a permanent school.17

Historians have often viewed this law as the beginning of compulsory education, though care must be taken to qualify the concept of “compulsory.” The 1842 law did not mandate a specific school age, nor did it require all children to attend school.18 Home instruction was still permissible under the proviso that the local school authorities annually give examinations to children taught by their parents.19 Obligatory school attendance was not enacted until 1882. What was compulsory beginning in 1842 was the responsibility of all parishes and parish authorities to establish a school and hire a certified teacher, that is, to make formal schooling available to all children.

The law’s specific provisions concerning the elementary schools’ organization, administration, teachers, and curricula will be discussed in greater detail below. At this point, it should be noted that the realization of universal elementary school education occurred gradually. During the first few decades, significant obstacles arose that made carrying out the 1842 law’s basic conditions difficult. First, the law created a huge and immediate demand for certified, educated teachers throughout the country, but it would take decades before colleges could produce enough teachers trained to meet the demand.20 Second, economic resources were lacking. Many poor parishes had difficulty, even with state aid, in building a school and hiring a teacher, and many parents could not provide their children with adequate clothing and shoes.21 Third, in more sparsely populated regions, the distances between homes and the parish elementary school were often great, and the roads leading to the school were typically in poor condition.22 Finally, in a number of communities, parental interest in the elementary school was low. The tradition of household instruction still held sway in some areas for much of the nineteenth century, not to mention that parents often needed their children to work at home for much of the year.23

What these factors indicate is that while the 1842 law called for the mass creation of new specialized institutions, organizations, and professionals to begin popular education, in practice, older institutions, particularly the household, continued to play a significant role. As for the church, the 1842 law certainly redefined its role in popular education but not in a way that undermined the church’s traditional influence in this area. In fact, the church was given a central place in the new educational system. In this way, church institutions and professionals were assured a role in the development of the modern elementary school.


The parish elementary school constituted the basis of the new system of comprehensive education. Within the first decade, however, the types of elementary schools established by the parishes began to vary beyond legal stipulations, due in part to the difficulties mentioned above concerning the realization of comprehensive education. In 1853, parishes received the right to establish lower elementary schools (mindre folkskolof). Five years later, the state extended its recognition of approved schools to include grammar schools (smaskolor) .24 Lower elementary schools were provisional elementary schools intended for those who lived too far from elementary schools. Grammar schools were created to help with large class sizes and the wide spectrum of ability and knowledge found in the classrooms. They were intended for the very young and beginners and thus functioned primarily as a preparatory stage for elementary schools, though at times they also served as substitute elementary schools.25 Both lower elementary schools and grammar schools had an additional purpose: they alleviated the teacher shortage since the state allowed uncertified teachers to teach at these schools.26

Irrespective of the types of elementary schools in a given parish, the immediate supervisory organ for all schools was the parish school board. The school board established the regulations governing the schools in its parish, including the method of instruction and the manner of discipline.27 The board also determined the age at which children in the parish began school28 and the times of the year and the hours each day that school would be held.29 Finally, the board tested and hired teachers and set each school’s budget.30

The introduction of local administrative school boards clearly reflected increasing functional differentiation in education that led not so much to a decline in the parish priest’s authority over educational matters, but rather to a change in how this authority was exercised. With the compulsory education law, he assumed a new position-the school board chairman, which gave him significant influence over how elementary education was carried out at the local level. The priest directly supervised all elementary school teachers and held the highest rank of school official in the parish. More importantly, elementary school education was viewed as properly belonging to the sphere of the parish church and clergy, despite the creation of a new body of teaching professionals and the implementation of a bureaucratic organization of school administration at the local and regional levels. When a series of laws passed in 1862 and separated parish government from municipal government, the responsibility of elementary school education remained with the church and its clergy. Moreover, the 1842 law recommended that elementary schools be constructed adjacent to the domiciles of the parish priests in order to facilitate their school’s supervision,31 and in many cases, this recommendation was followed.

At the regional level, the cathedral chapter, headed by the bishop, oversaw the affairs of all school districts in its diocese. Aside from making sure that schools in the diocese conformed to the prescriptions of the 1842 law, the cathedral chapter’s primary responsibility was the education of school teachers. For this purpose, each of the twelve chapters, along with the Stockholm consistory, was required to establish a teacher training college.32 Typically, the directors of these colleges were members of the clergy with prior teaching experience.33

The parish school board and the cathedral chapter thus constituted the primary organizational and administrative units in the emerging school system, but within a few decades of the 1842 law, the state realized that these bodies needed help if the obstacles preventing the realization of universal elementary school education were to be overcome. Parliament and the government agreed on the necessity of instituting a new office in 1861-the elementary school inspector. Inspectors were nominated by the cathedral chapters and subsequently appointed by the government. They visited the elementary schools in their respective districts to gather knowledge concerning the conditions and needs of the schools, after which they gave detailed reports to the cathedral chapters concerning their findings. This information helped regional school authorities gain valuable information concerning the state of the school system and which areas needed most attention. Inspectors commonly reported problems ranging from huge class sizes to low or erratic attendance to poor sanitary conditions.

Some historians view the establishment of the inspectorate as the beginning of significant state intervention at the national level in elementary education, a trend that continued in the 1870s with provisions for government-paid teacher salaries and the creation of a national elementary school curriculum. By the end of the nineteenth century, the duration of the school year and the qualifications of teachers were also standardized throughout the country.34 But even with this increase in state control, the state relied heavily on the church to implement legislation and decisions pertaining to elementary school education at the local and regional levels. The inspectorate was itself closely tied to the church. Not only were inspectors nominated by the cathedral chapters, they were often recruited from among the parish clergy, particularly in the first few decades. The vast majority of inspectors in the beginning functioned on a part-time basis for this very reason-they already had full-time work as parish priests, or else they were clergy working as teachers.35 The clear tendency in the mid- to late nineteenth century was toward greater functional differentiation in the organization and administration of elementary school education, but the church was not left empty-handed. The day-to-day operation of elementary schools fell to church professionals and institutions. In school affairs at both the local and regional levels, parish priests, bishops, and inspectors were the highest authorities, and their decisions and policies shaped the manner in which the 1842 law was implemented throughout the country. Specifically, the increase in functional differentiation did not have immediate secularizing effects on the church’s role in education. It simply led to a change in how the church carried out its administrative functions as part of a new system of compulsory education. The more secularizing consequences of functional differentiation came to the fore only at the turn of the century.


In institutional school settings and particularly in partnership with heads of households, parish priests and clerics had long held a significant role in popular education in Sweden. The 1842 Elementary School Law created a new professional class to take over the function of educating children-the elementary school teacher. Parish priests and clerks did not disappear from the teaching ranks overnight, but the new legislation made it clear that elementary school teachers on the one hand and parish priests and clerks on the other were two distinct groups of professionals.

The teaching function of the parish priest certainly declined as a result of the 1842 law. But again, where one door closed, another opened as the clergy received considerable authority over the manner and content of instruction in the new school system. As school board chairs, the clergy oversaw and made crucial decisions concerning the entire curriculum, with the law stipulating that they were to nave “careful oversight in particular of the instruction of religion in the elementary schools.”36 This did not necessarily mean that the clergy personally had to carry out this instruction, although they sometimes offered lessons on religion in the schools.37 More generally, they were responsible for making sure that teachers conducted religious instruction in accordance with the principles of the Lutheran faith.

The priest’s particular oversight of religious instruction reflected the centrality of Christianity in the curriculum. The 1842 law describes Christianity as the school’s “most important subject” and usually listed it first or second in those paragraphs that spell out the core subjects to be taught in the schools-subjects that included the Swedish language, Swedish history, general history, geography, writing, and mathematics.38 Religious instruction was based on Luthers Small Catechism. For decades, the catechism was the most important textbook in the elementary schools, creating future generations of faithful Lutherans and, more specifically, providing children with the “necessary knowledge” required for Confirmation and First Communion.39

In addition to the catechism, religious instruction included biblical history, a subject focused primarily on teaching edifying narratives from the Bible. In the beginning, the catechism was clearly the more important of the two, but as the century progressed, national reforms of school curricula placed greater emphasis on teaching the Bible.40 Even so, religious instruction remained strongly confessional and under the close supervision of the parish priest. It was also the central component of the elementary school curriculum, and as such, the link between church and school was reinforced throughout the late nineteenth century.


Even though the 1842 Elementary School Law created a new class of teaching professionals, the limited supply of educated teachers in the ensuing decades forced the state to develop a series of solutions to alleviate the shortage.41 One solution was to open the profession to women. Allowed to teach in lower elementary schools beginning in 1853, grammar schools in 1858, and elementary schools in 1859, women were permitted to attend teacher training colleges by the 1860s.42

Women were attractive candidates as teachers because they were cheap labor in comparison to their male counterparts.43 Their gender also qualified them since historically women had played a significant role in the education of children in the household.44 With teaching, a woman could enter a profession that literally took her out of the household but that ideologically could be justified because the instruction and nurturing of children was an extension of her traditional domestic duties.45 For their part, women found teaching enticing because demographic and economic circumstances forced many to find a means of support outside the household. Two developments in particular drew women into the teaching profession: the significant increase in the number of unmarried women by midcentury, and an emerging market economy transforming the household into a unit of consumption rather than production.46

The founding of the Swedish Deaconess Institution in 1851 coincided with the significant teacher shortage and the trend toward opening the profession to women. The deaconess institution was a product of the neo-evangelical revivals, with the initial purpose to train evangelical Lutheran women as nurses to care for the sick and the suffering.47 While the institution did not abandon this original goal, it soon shifted its focus to training teachers, partly because its first director, Marie Cederschiold, was herself a former schoolteacher who saw a need in society that she believed deaconesses could help meet.

Most of the deaconesses who worked as schoolteachers did so in remote provincial areas, often in private schools.48 The 1842 law permitted individuals and organizations to establish private schools in a particular school district under the authority and approval of the local school board.49 Teachers at private schools did not have to be certified graduates of teacher training colleges, though their competency and knowledge was subject to examination by the parish priest and school board. The overall percentage of children educated at private schools in the years immediately following the 1842 law was iairly low. In 1847, approximately 4 percent of children attended these schools. But considering that in this same year just over 50 percent of children received their education in regular elementary schools,50 it is clear that many communities continued to lack access either to schools or teachers (or both), though certainly some families refused to send their children to school for other reasons. Under these circumstances, private schools were the only schools available to children in some rural districts in the decades following the 1842 law.

Some private schools at which deaconesses taught were estate schools, established by an individual on his/her estate, usually members of the nobility who had a connection to the neo-evangelical revivals, wanting to hire a teacher of sound Christian character. Many of the other schools served by deaconesses were established by missionary societies, also connected to the revivals, and orphanages and mill/factory schools.

The deaconess institution stationed sisters at sixty-two provincial schools between 1855, the year of the first assignment, and 1890, the year that the last school station was discontinued.51 By most indications, deaconesses were very much in demand as teachers in some rural parishes, even if they constituted only a small fraction of the overall number of teachers. A survey of the deaconess institution’s annual reports and the extant correspondence between provincial school authorities and the institution reveal that into the late 1860s, and beyond, demand for the teaching services of deaconesses consistently outweighed supply. Some schools made repeated requests, perhaps over a period of years, before finally receiving a deaconess. Other employers practically begged the deaconess institution not to reassign a deaconess already in their service to another school or work station. In still other cases, schools received word that no deaconess was available, causing them, often reluctantly, to make alternate arrangements for hiring a teacher.

Several reasons account for this demand for deaconesses. First, their gender connected them to the household sphere, and this connection made them obvious candidates to teach and nurture children since this task was a fulfillment of their “natural” motherly responsibilities. Second, many of the employers were either individuals or organizations strongly influenced by the neo- evangelical revivals, and they sought “Christian-minded” women who would instruct the children in the true Lutheran faith and serve as religious role models.52 Third, deaconesses were quite affordable in comparison with most elementary school teachers, male and female. Most deaconesses received a salary roughly equivalent to the lowest paid elementary school teachers in rural Sweden.53 Finally, despite the fact that the deaconesses themselves sometimes articulated frustrations about their lack of preparation or training, school authorities and parents alike were largely satisfied with their job performance. As the institution’s annual report from 1863-64 stated, “we have generally been spared any troublesome information concerning so many sisters employed in the provinces … instead … we have been encouraged by the testimonies concerning their work.”54 Much of the surviving correspondence from school authorities to the deaconess institution confirms this assessment. The evidence of high demand in some rural parishes makes the deaconess institution’s decision, in 1866, to begin withdrawing from elementary school teaching all the more puzzling at first glance. Ironically, the number of schools at which deaconesses worked reached its peak of thirty-three one year after the decision was made to reduce the number of school stations. By 1872, this number decreased to ten, and seven years later, only one provincial school employed a deaconess.55 A deaconess would continue at this school until 1890.56

The person most responsible for the decision to withdraw from elementary school teaching was Johan Christoffer Bring, a Lutheran priest who took over as director of the Swedish Deaconess Institution in 1862. The reason Bring gave publicly for the decision was that statesupported teaching colleges were effectively meeting the demand for teachers and, more importantly, they were doing so with better-trained teachers.57 He did not believe that the deaconess institution could compete with these specialized training colleges, and for this reason, he felt that the diaconate’s efforts should be directed to where there was greater need, namely health care and poor relief.

Bring clearly reacted to what sociologists today call functional differentiation, and it is easy to conclude that functional differentiation alone forced Bring and the leadership to withdraw the female diaconate from this increasingly specialized and professionalized sphere of work. But care must be taken not to view this as a deterministic process. The discontinuation of teaching was a conscious choice, one that could have been made differently. The leadership could have chosen to improve the training and educational program of the deaconess institution so that deaconesses would have possessed similar qualifications and credentials to those coming out of teacher training colleges. In other words, the leadership could have chosen to compete with these colleges, but it did not. Moreover, given the fact that demand for deaconesses was higher than ever as the leadership made the decision to withdraw from teaching, all indications are that had the female diaconate continued its work in this sphere, the number of schools hiring deaconesses would have increased, at least in the short run.

So the real question is why Bring and other leaders chose not to transform the deaconess institution into a more specialized teacher training college. The answer lies in Brings theological convictions. He believed that by shifting the focus of diaconal work to health care and poor relief, the female diaconate would be more in line with Christ’s own earthy ministry among those in need as well as with the work carried out by deaconesses in the early church.58 Brings theological understanding of the proper work of a deaconess, much more than functional differentiation, led to the discontinuation of elementary school teaching.

More important than whether functional differentiation contributed to the discontinuation of deaconess involvement in elementary school education is the point that deaconesses would not have had the opportunity to serve as teachers in the first place apart from functional differentiation. One must remember that deaconesses were not vestiges of the Church of Sweden’s participation in education or welfare from the medieval and early modern periods. They first arose in the mid-nineteenth century in order to specialize in those areas subject to increasing functional differentiation. Functional differentiation in education, for example, created a new teaching profession and a huge demand for teachers that teacher training colleges could not meet. The female diaconate was born under these circumstances, and it survived and even expanded only because it found a way to address the unmet need that arose due to the greater specialization and professionalization of education, health care, and welfare. Functional differentiation may have taken its toll on deaconesses in the twentieth century, but in the nineteenth century, it gave the female diaconate its raison d’etre.


Even with the withdrawal of deaconesses from elementary school teaching from the 1860s onward, the link between church and school remained close for several decades, though signs of tension between the two began surfacing toward the turn of the century. The increasing professionalization of the teaching vocation explains much of this tension. In 1880, a national organization for elementary school teachers, Sweden’s Elementary School Teacher Association (Sveriges Allmanna Folkskollarareforening), or SAF, was established. Its leadership advocated a sharper division between church and school, insisting that elementary schools should focus primarily on educating citizens and that religious instruction should be ethical and nondogmatic in orientation. The Labor movement, some free church leaders, and many elementary school teachers shared the views of the SAF’s leadership, though religious instruction continued to be confessionally based.59

Functional differentiation and the professionalization of teachers took its toll on the partnership between church and school in the twentieth century as parliamentary representatives and government officials at the local and regional levels began to view elementary school education less as the preserve of the church and more as its own sphere. The first sign of clear secularization came in 1909, when parliament decided that the responsibility for school affairs in larger cities would be transferred from parish school boards to the city councils.60 The school boards, chaired by the parish priest, continued to oversee school affairs in rural areas until 1930, when municipal authorities in parishes of over 1,500 residents assumed this function.61 The organizational and administrative secularization of local school boards was replicated at the regional level in 1958, when newly established county school boards replaced bishops and cathedral chapters as authorities in school matters and teacher education.62

The subject of Christianity in the schools had already come under scrutiny toward the end of the nineteenth century, but the 1940s saw that serious efforts were made to give the subject a more objective orientation, particularly with the 1946 school commission appointed by the Social Democratic government.63 By the 1960s, these efforts had largely come to fruition, as exemplified in the transformation of the morning prayer services in the schools into morning assemblies, which minimized the religious element.64 Today, instruction in religion continues, but its purpose is to enable students to contemplate existential and ethical issues, to understand better how Christianity and other religious have influenced and continue to influence Swedish society, and to become aware of the differences and similarities between world religions.65

Functional differentiation is largely the culprit behind this secularization, but this is not to suggest that churches and church representatives have been victimizedhy impersonal historical forces that gave them no choice but to relinquish their traditional responsibilities in education. It was the particular direction that functional differentiation took under the Social Democrats, especially from the 1930s onward, that led to the increasing marginalization of religion and religious institutions in the elementary schools. The Social Democratic vision of society was for a strong, centralized state that would provide for all of the needs of its citizens apart from the aid of religious institutions. Many of the educational reforms initiated from the 1940s onward attempted to realize this vision. The Church of Sweden opposed some of these initiatives, particularly those that sought to alter significantly the nature and place of religious instruction in the curriculum. On the whole, however, the church offered little resistance to many post-war educational reforms. One possible reason for this is that the Church of Sweden’s status as a “state church” (statskyrka) impeded it from freely countering the expanding welfare state. It is more likely that the Church of Sweden generally approved of the welfare state’s increasing involvement at all levels of comprehensive education.66 The secularization of education was therefore accomplished because the Social Democrats made a compelling case for doing so-so compelling that even the Church of Sweden found little reason to develop a clear alternative vision.


Functional differentiation in the form of extensive welfare states has clearly posed significant problems for the public influence of religion in Europe during the past century, but it must be remembered that in the nineteenth century, there was more to this process than its secularizing effects. In the field of education, functional differentiation redefined the roles played by churches and church representatives. Churches lost some or their traditional educational functions as a result, but new opportunities arose that enabled religious institutions to maintain a significant degree of “… influence. This was certainly true in Sweden.” Legislation in 1842 signaled the beginning of the modern elementary school and a new class of “secular” teaching professionals, but it also assigned an essential role to religion and religious institutions in the compulsory education system.

At the local level, parish clergy functioned as the highest authorities in school affairs. As chairmen of the parish school boards, clergy had a significant role in hiring teachers, determining school curricula, and overseeing religious instruction. At the regional level, bishops and cathedral chapters constituted the highest authorities and had the particular task of establishing and supervising teacher training colleges. In all schools, public and private, Christianity remained at the core of the curriculum, and a teacher’s ability to teach this subject, along with his/her own religious and moral qualities, were important considerations for clergy and school boards when hiring. And even though the 1842 legislation differentiated traditional church professionals from teaching professionals, a new group of religious personnel, deaconesses, temporarily functioned as teachers in the wake of the severe teacher shortage, and in doing so, they provided elementary school instruction in some rural parishes to children who otherwise might not have had access to it. The significant administrative responsibilities and the authority that religious institutions and professionals received in the newly formed educational system suggest that from a historical perspective, it is best to describe the increase in functional differentiation in the nineteenth century as a process that redefined the role of religion in the public sphere. This redefinition process sometimes had a more immediate secularizing impact on churches and church representatives, but it could also create opportunities for religious institutions and professionals to acquire and/or maintain public influence into the twentieth century, as the field of education illustrates. The story of compulsory education in nineteenth-century Sweden and Europe in fact is the story of these “diverse and contradictory effects” of modernity on religion.67 It is a story worth remembering for any scholar who seeks a fuller understanding of the nuanced relationship between modernity and religious change.

1. Studies outlining the secularization thesis are too numerous to be listed here. Two works considered by many scholars to be foundational to the development of the modern theory of secularization are Peter L. Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (New York; Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1967), and Bryan Wilson, Religion in a Secular Society: A Sociological Comment (London: C.A. Watts & Co. Ltd., 1966). For a contemporary defense of the theory, see Steve Bruce, God is Dead: Secularization in the West (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002).

2. Yves Lambert, “New Christianity, Indifference and Diffused Spirituality,” in The Decline of Christendom in Western Europe 1750- 2000, eds. Hugh McLeod and Werner Ustorf (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 66.

3. A classic definition of functional or structural differentiation is given by Emilie Durkheim: “Yet if there is one truth that history has incontrovertibly settled, it is that religion extends over an ever diminishing area of social life. Originally, it extended to everything; everything social was religious – the two words were synonymous. Then gradually political, economic and scientific functions broke free from the religious function, becoming separate entities and taking on more and more a markedly temporal character.” Emile Durkheim, The Division of Labor in Society, trans. W.D. Halls (New York: The Free Press, 1984), 119.

4. Jose Casanova argues that functional differentiation is really the core of the theory of secularization and a basic feature of modernization. On the other hand, decline in religious beliefs and practices, and the privatization of religion, are not necessary to the theory of secularization, even if these “processes” have been prominent in modem European societies. See Jose Casanova, Public Religions in the Modern World (Chicago, Ill.: The University of Chicago Press, 1994).

5. For a discussion of religion and education in modern-day Europe, See Grace Davie, Religion in Modem Europe: A Memory Mutates (New York; Oxford Press, 2000), 82-97.

6. An examination of the partnership between church and school at the upper secondary (gymnasium) and university levels in the nineteenth century would also prove illuminating in understanding how functional differentiation created opportunities for religious institutions in the public sphere. Due to space constraints, however, the scope of this essay will be limited to elementary schools.

7. Loftur Guttormsson, “The Development of Popular Religious Literacy in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” Scandinavian Journal of History 15 (1990): 21-23.

8. In 1768, approximately 10 percent of all rural parishes had an elementary school of some sort. See H. Arnold Barton, “Popular Education in Sweden: Theory and Practice,” in Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century: Facets of Education in the Eighteenth Century, ed. James A. Leith (Oxford: The Voltaire Foundation at the Taylor Institution, 1977), 536, and R.A. Houston, Literacy in Early Modern Europe: Culture and Education 1500-1800 (London: Longman, 2002), 36.

9. Klas Aquilonius, Svensk folkskolans historia. Det svenska folkundervisningsvasendet 1809-1860, Vol. 2 (Stockholm: Albert Bonniers, 1942), 43; Gosta W. Berglund, “Hemmet och skolan,” in Ett folk borjar skolan. Folkskolan 150 ar, 1842-1992, ed. Gunnar Richardson (Stockholm: Allmanna Forlaget, 1992); 211; Ake Isling, “Arbetsformer och arbetssatt,” Folkskolan 150 ar, 120; Guttormsson, “Popular Religious Literacy in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” 14, 22-23; Barton, “Popular Education in Sweden,” 525.

10. Harvey J. Graff, The Legacies of Literacy: Continuities and Contradictions in Western Culture and Society (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1987); Guttormsson, “Popular Religious Literacy in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” 32.

11. K. G. Lindqvist, “Pionjartidens skolor,” Folkskolan ISO ar, 54; Sixten Marklund, “Lararen i skolan. Utbildning och yrkesambitioner,” Folkskolan 150 ar, 141; Aquilonius, Svensk folkskolans historia, 193-94.

12. Egil Johansson, “Folkundervisningen fore folkskolan,” Folkskolan 150 ar, 15; Lars Petterson, “Fyller verkligen folkskolan 150 ar?,” in Carl Johans forbundets handlingar for aren 1989-1993 (Uppsala: Reklam & Katalogtryck, 1994), 48.

13. Sweden’s parliament Riksdag) historically consisted of four estates: the Nobility, the Clergy, the Burghers, and the Peasants. Parliament adopted a bicameral structure in 1866. The Church of Sweden thereby lost formal representation as the Clergy Estate was abolished and a separate ecclesiastical governing body, the General Synod Kyrkomotet), was established.

14. Tomas Englund, “Tidsanda och skolkunskap,” Folkskolan 150 ar, 91; Christina Florin, Kampen om katedem. Feminiserings- och professionaliseringsprocessen inom den svenska folkskolans larakar (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1987), 17-18; Gunnar Richardson, Svensk utbildningshistoria. Skola och samhalle forr och nu (Lund: Studentlitteratur, 1981), 35.

15. Gunnar Richardson, “1842 ars folkskolestadga,” Folkskolan 150 ar, 22-26.

16. Swensk-Forfattnings-Samling for 1842, No. 19 (Stockholm, 1843), [section]1.1. Hereafter, this volume will be abbreviated as SFS 1842. All translations from the Swedish are my own.

17. SFS 1842, [section]1.2, 1.3.

18. The school board in every parish determined the appropriate age for children to begin schooling. The law did stipulate, however, that a child should be no older than nine when starting. SFS 1842, [section]8.1. See also Johansson, “Folkundervisning fore folkskolan,” 167; Petterson, “Fyller verkligen folkskolan 150 ar?,” 48-49.

19. SFS 1842, [section]8.3.

20. Johan Wallner, Folkskolans organisation och forvaltning i Sverige under perioden 1842-1861 (Lund: Hakan Ohlssons Boktryckeri, 1938), 211; Gunnar Richardson, “Folkskolan tar form – de forsta decenniema,” Folkskolan 150 ar, 31.

21. Richardson, “Folkskolan tar form,” 32, 38.

22. Marklund, “Lararen i skolan,” 142-43; Richardson, “Folkskolan tar form,” 33, 36, 38.

23. Berglund, “Hemmet och skolan,” 211; Richardson, “Folkskolan tar form,” 30-31, 32, 38.

24. Richardson, “Folkskolan tar form,” 33; Ingela Schanberg, De dubbia budskapen. Kvinnors bildning och utbildning i Sverige under 1800- och 1900-talen (Lund: Studentlitteratur, 2004), 35.

25. Marklund, “Lararen i skolan,” 142-43; Richardson, “Folkskolan tar form,” 34.

26. Marklund, “Lararen i skolan,” 143.

27. SFS 1842, [section]2, 3.

28. SFS 1842, [section]8.1.

29. SFS 1842, [section]9.1.

30. SFS 1842, [section]1.3, [section]2.3, [section]6.

31. SFS 1842, [section]3.

32. SFS 1842, $5, [section]13.1.

33. Sven Enlund, Svenska kyrkan och folkskoleseminariema 1842- 1868. Med sarskild hansyn till seminarierna i Uppsala, Harnosand, och Goteborg (Uppsala: Foreningen for Svensk Undervisningshistoria, 1993), 178.

34. Ulla Johansson and Christina Florin, “The Trinity of State, Church and School in 19th Century Sweden,” in Polish and Swedish Schools in the 19th and 20th Centuries: A Historical Study, eds. Ryszard Kucha and Ulla Johansson (Lublin: Marie Curie- Sklodowska University Press, 1995), 71.

35. Richardson, “Folkskolan tar form,” 35.

36. SFS 1842, [section]10.

37. In the clergy estate’s deliberations over the Elementary School Law just before its passing, some advocated requiring parish priests personally to give instruction in Christianity at least once per week in the new elementary schools. Lennart Tegborg, “Kyrka och skola 1809-1865,” in Sveriges kyrkohistoria 6. Romantikens och liberalismens tid (Stockholm: Verbum, 2001), 249.

38. SFS 1842, [section]6.1, [section]7; Tegborg, “Kyrka och skola 1809-1865,” 249.

39. SFS 1842, [section]7.

40. Enlund, Svenska kyrkan och folkskoleseminariema, 185.

41. Much of the material in this section is based on my own archival research at the Ersta Diaconate Society in Stockholm, Sweden. Hereafter, the administrative board of the society (Svenska Diakoniss-Sallskapets Forvaltningsutskott) will be abbreviated SDSFU, and the society’s archives (Ersta Diakonisallskaps arkiv) will be abbreviated EDA. The deaconess publications cited below, including the annual reports (known either as Berattelse och redovisning or Arsberattelse) and the periodicals Olivebladet and Febe, are located in Sweden’s Royal Library (Kungliga biblioteket) in Stockholm. For an extended discussion of the female diaconate’s contribution to elementary school education, see Todd Green, “Secularization and the Public Sphere: The Social Significance of Swedish Deaconesses in Education, Health Care, and Poor Relief, 1851- 1901″ (Ph.D. diss., Vanderbilt University, 2007), 118-53. Two important resources in Swedish on the female diaconate’s work in education are Einar Ekman, Diakonien och folkskolan. En minnesvard insats i svenskt folkbildningsarbete under forra seklet (Stockholm: Foreningen for svensk undervisningshistoria, 1950), and Gunnel Elmund, Den kvinnliga diakonin i Sverige 1849-1861. Uppgiftoch utfomming (Lund: CWK Gleerups, 1971).

42. Within decades, Ae vast majority of grammar school teachers were women, and by the turn of the century, women constituted 40 percent of all elementary school teachers. Florin, Kampen om katedern, 192.

43. Ibid., 196.

44. Aquilonius, Det svenska folkundervisningsvasendet, 51; Schanberg, De dubbia budskapen, 35, 38.

45. Florin, Kampen om katedem, 194.

46. Gunnar Qvist estimates a 36 percent increase in the number of unmarried women between 1830 and 1845. Gunnar Qvist, Kvinnofragan i Sverige 1809-1846. Studier rorande kvinnans naringsfrihet inom de borgerliga yrkena (Goteborg: Akademiforlaget-Gumperts, 1960), 116.

47. The Swedish Deaconess Institution was formally under the auspices of a private association, the Swedish Deaconess Society, and not the Church of Sweden. The female diaconate therefore operated largely independently from the Church of Sweden, though the deaconess institution established closer relations with the Lutheran church as the century progressed.

48. The deaconess institution also operated a private school for poor children in the Katarina parish in Stockholm. This school opened in 1852 with seven students. By the 1860s, an average of seventy to eighty children were registered at the school, making it one of the larger private schools in the city. The school closed in 1871 for reasons that will be discussed below. SDSFU Berattelse och redovisning 1852-1853, 14-15; SDSFU Berattelse och redovisning 1858- 1859, 19-20. In many ways, the deaconess institution and its school in Stockholm functioned as Sweden’s first teacher training college for women.

49. SFS 1842, [section]12.

50. Richardson, “Folkskolan tar form,” 30.

51. Ekman, Diakonien och folkskolan, 73-75.

52. See, for example, Rafvetofta School to J.C. Bring, undated, A Ia 3 (No.60), EDA; Nahlavi School to J.C. Bring, undated, A Ia 3 (No.63), EDA.

53. A deaconess received a salary of 200-225 riksdaler per year in the 1850s and early 1860s. By comparison, most rural elementary school teachers in the 1850s received 200-300 riksdaler per year, though this figure does not take into account the lodging provided for them by the parish. Elmund, Den kvinnliga diakonin, 107.

54. SDSFU Berattelse och redovisning 1863-1864, 10.

55. “Hwad ar diakonissanstalten?,” Olivebladet 3 (1866): 60; SDSFU Arsberattelse 1871-1872, 8-9; SDSFU Arsberattelse 1879, Olivebladet 17 (1880): 81.

56. This school, the Torpelund School, is last listed in the 1889 annual report. SDSFU Arsberattelse 1889, Olivebladet 27 (1890): 70.

57. SDSFU Berattelse och redovisning 1868-1869, 10-11.

58. “Om Diakoniss-verksamheten,” Olivebladet 1 (1864): 6-7; “I Jesu namn,” Olivebladet 5 (1868): 43-44; “Nagot som, enligt skriften, kan anbefalla diakonissverksamheten,” Olivebladet 9 (1872): 37-38; “Kyrklig fattigward,” Olivebladet 17 (1880): 131.

59. Lennart Tegborg, Folkskolans sekularisering 1895-1909. Upplosning av det administrativa sambandet mellan folkskolan och kyrka i Sverige (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1969), 28-35.

60. Johansson and Florin, “The Trinity of State, Church and School,” 74; Tegborg, Folkskolans sekularisering, 14.

61. Ingmar Brohed, Sveriges kyrkohistoria 8. Religionsfrihetens och ekumenikens tid (Stockholm: Verbum, 2005), 14.

62. Brohed, Religionsfrihetens och ekumenikens tid, 196; Richardson, Svensk utbildningshistoria, 44.

63. Brohed, Religionsfrihetens och ekumenikens tid, 196.

64. Edgar Almen, “Presentation and Problem Inventory: Religious Education in Sweden,” in Religious Education in Great Britain, Sweden and Russia: Presentations, Problem Inventories and Commentaries, eds. Edgar Almen and Hans Christian 0ster (Linkoping: Linkoping University Electronic Press, 2000), 64. This work is available online at: http://www.ep.liu.se/ea/rel/2000/001/rel001- contents.pdf.

65. The Swedish National Agency for Education’s description of and goals for religious instruction in compulsory school education can be found in English on its website at: www3.skolverket.se/ki03/ front.aspx?sprak=EN. The link to compulsory education on the menu provides access to syllabi for basic school subjects. Religion is listed under the category of “Social Studies.”

66. Elisabeth Christiansson, Kyrklig och social reform. Motiveringar till diakoni 1845-1965 (Artos & Norma bokforlag, 2006), 141.

67. See n. 2 above.

TODD GREEN (B.A., Birmingham-Southern College; M.Div., Columbia Theological Seminary; M.A., Ph.D., Vanderbilt University) is adjunct professor in the history of Christianity at Vanderbilt Divinity School. Special interests include early modern and modem European religious history, particularly secularization, church-state relations, religious liberty, and gender and religion.

Copyright J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies Spring 2008

(c) 2008 Journal of Church and State. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.

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