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Lessons from the Religious Laymen's Movement in Scandinavia Atle Hetland.

At a Seminar organized by the Diplomatic Insight and the Pakistan-Norway Association (PANA) in July this year, I had the opportunity to speak about the Scandinavian Laymen's Movement, with the several Revival and Renewal Movements, from the late 1700s and the 1800s. I drew a line from the religious movements in Europe and the New World before the American Independence and the French Revolution, at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in England and the rest of the UK. Norway became independent from four hundred years as part of Denmark in 1814 but had to enter into a union with Sweden, since it was on the winning side of the Napoleonic Wars (and Denmark was on the loosing side and had to cede land). This was a time of radical and democratic thinking, with uprisings against colonial powers, national powers, the upper classes and authority in general either it was "granted by King or God".

The time of succumbing blindly to authority was waning, as it had gradually been from the time of the Reformation in the Church (1517), the invention of book printing and the introduction of widespread and even universal primary education. The explorers also played a role in shattering established rule. Not all of this was good, but much of it was.

In Scandinavia as elsewhere in Europe, the laymen's movement paved the way for the democratic winds in politics, with improved human rights and workers rights, and even the socialist movement and the labour movement that came later. In America, there are similar lines, which also include the Civil Rights Movement. Interestingly, it was the laymen who began preaching to the negroes in America, or the African-Americans, as the term is today.

Hans Nielsen Hauge (1771-1824) was the first Norwegian layman who organized ordinary people to hold prayer meetings in their homes. At the time, many people had lost faith in the state church, but not in God. The church was often seen as representing the establishment and elite, with university educated pastors and bishops. Hauge emphasized practical help to the poor in way of entrepreneurial advice, for example, to establish printing presses, mills and textile industries. The movement he established was not against the state church, but it gave emphasis to simple Christian morals: modesty, honesty and hard work. Today, we would say it was a lowbrow type of Protestant Christianity. Hauge himself was imprisoned many times because it was not permitted for laymen to hold religious meetings unless permitted unless under the leadership of the parish pastor; this law was only lifted in 1842.

"Haugianism" has lived on in the Norwegian minds and thoughts, and it also traveled with the many Norwegian emigranting to America. When I grew up, we thought of "Haugianism" as old-fashioned and outdated. Today, modern business schools give Hauge attention not only as a religious leader but also as a social and economic leader and entrepreneur.

In neighbouring Sweden, the main leader of the early laymen's movement was Lars Levi Laestadius (1800-1861). He was a government pastor himself, hailing from the remote north of the country and also working there in areas with Sami and Lappish people, the indigenous people of Scandinavia, living in the north of the countries as nomadic or semi-nomadic reindeer herdsmen. Laestadius emphasized similar moral and religious ideas as Hauge, and he seems to have been stricter in aspects,emphasizing repentance and simplicity in daily life. The "Laestaedianism" is till this day the largest laymen's movement in Scandinavia, with more following in the north.

The laymen's movement had pietistic elements, but few preachers were dark and joyless. They were also influenced by the Wesleyan heritage in the UK, which emphasized a more positive and lighter theology, giving people strength to live in a hard and unjust world, with long working hours, poverty, decease, and large families.

It is not possible to talk about the laymen's movement in Scandinavia with out mentioning the Swedish poet, theologian and hymn writer Karolina Wilhelmina Sandell- Berg (Lina Sandell) (1832-1903). She wrote some 650 hymns and many of them are still in use in Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries. "Bred dina vida vingar" (Spread Your Wide Wings Over Me) and "Blott en dag" (Day by Day and by Each Passing Moment) are the best known and loved hymns. Today, they are also song by popular artists and seen as containing not only spiritual but universal wisdoms comforting people in their daily lives. "Tryggare kan ingen vara" (Children of the Heavenly Father) is used at most child baptisms in Sweden up to this very day. Part of Lina Sandell's success was that Oskar Anhnfelt (1813-1882) wrote beautiful and catching tunes for her songs, and he traveled all over Scandinavia with his guitar performing them at religious meetings.

The state church pastors complained to the king in Stockholm about his work, but the king was himself impressed by the songs and supported their use.

We should note that Lina Sandell had no formal education at all, not even primary school since she was a sick child and her parents many times thought they might loose her. Her father was a state church pastor who taught his daughter at home, including foreign languages, and she translated hymns from English and German into Swedish. This was all at a time when women did not have much of a place in public life, not even in Scandinavia. In Norway, the first woman was admitted to university in 1882 and women got the right to vote in 1913. Lina Sandell did not even use her full name on her books, only the initials L.S., keeping with the ideals of Christian modesty as well as the gender traditions. Although she grew up at a government vicarage, Lina Sandell became part of the laymen's movement and her beautiful songs were part of its teaching and theology.

It has been said about Lina Sandell that if she had lived in a Catholic Christian country, say in Italy or Spain, she might well have become a nun; in Protestant Christian Sweden she married and worked with publishing at the National Evangelical Institute (Fosterlandsstiftelsen) in Stockholm. And if she had lived in our time, she would perhaps have been a Bishop, Theology Professor or maybe a TV talk- show hostess and preacher! On the other hand, the impact of her work might not have been more.

This is all interesting, you may say. But what does it have to do with Pakistan today, or the country's relations with the Scandinavian countries?

Being a social scientist myself, and also believing in the "Scandinavian model" for development, equality and fairness, I think the laymen's movement is worth studying for Scandinavians today, and also for Pakistanis. There are many common aspects in our history, but development may happen at different times. In Pakistan today, I hope we can draw lessons from Lina Sandell's extraordinary life and contributions to humanity. I also hope that religious and secular leaders, such as Hans Nielsen Hauge and Lars Levi Laestadius, can be examples and give inspiration to Muslim men and women in Pakistan. I was just my task to draw your attention to them.

I believe that without the Scandinavian laymen's movement, and related movements elsewhere in Europe, the democratic political movements, especially with the strong Labour Parties, would not have developed the way they did. W might not have had the welfare state and the deep feelings for equality and fairness that Scandinavians are so concerned about, yes, sometimes obsessed about. Pakistan needs to emphasize these issues in politics and at the communal level. The family is strong in Pakistan, and good is that, but it is at the private level. A modern country needs a strong public sector to develop fairness for all. Religion, in Pakistan, mainly Islam, should produce the foundation and major premises for our lives.

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from research, diplomacy and development aid.
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Publication:The Diplomatic Insight
Geographic Code:4E0SC
Date:Aug 31, 2012
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