Review: Östman on Allen, Danish, But Not Lutheran

By November 30, 2017

We are pleased to post this book review by friend of the JI Kim Östman, who has researched and written extensively on Mormonism in the northern-European country of Finland. He holds a Ph.D. in comparative religion from Åbo Akademi University (2011) and a D.Sc. in microelectronics from Helsinki University of Technology (2014), and works as a Senior R&D Engineer with Nordic Semiconductor.

Dr. Östman’s research on nineteenth-century Mormonism in Finland was published as a doctoral dissertation by Åbo Akademi University Press. It discusses how Mormonism was viewed in Finnish print media, by local civil and ecclesiastical authorities, and what kind of results the LDS church’s Swedish-led missionary efforts in perilous legal conditions led to. A co-founder of the European Mormon Studies Association (EMSA), he is continuing his Mormon history research into early twentieth-century Finland and Sweden on his free time, as a post-doctoral scholar affiliated with Åbo Akademi University.

Julie K. Allen: Danish but Not Lutheran: The Impact of Mormonism on Danish Cultural Identity, 1850–1920. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2017, 288pp.

Scandinavians are overwhelmingly Lutheran to this day, although religiosity has tended to give way to “believing in belonging” during the past centuries. Their national churches are still seen as custodians of culturally significant rites of passage, bringing people together at life’s critical junctures. As Prof. Julie Allen explains in her study of Mormonism’s impact on Danish culture and identity, Denmark was the first Nordic nation to officially decouple citizenship from Lutheranism. Being a Dane had meant being Lutheran, but the new 1849 constitution separated the two identities by legalizing the activity of new religious movements while retaining the privileged position of the state church. This leap in religious freedom was preceded by for example Baptist activity in the kingdom.

Denmark was Mormonism’s port of entry into Scandinavia, which became one of the faith’s nineteenth-century strongholds. The constitution allowed the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon mainstream) to enter legally “through the front door” in 1850. Still, front-door access did not save the Mormons from opposition even in the form of early violence, in addition to more commonplace theological criticism. Danish cultural identity rested on shared elements such as language, customs, history, and not least religion, causing the advent of new Anglo-American religious movements to be perceived as a threat to national integrity and social order.

To a non-American scholar, Allen’s work is especially welcome as it does not focus on the well-rehearsed narrative of Mormon emigration and the converts’ new lives in Utah, as many studies of early Mormonism in non-American locales tend to do. Instead, the story centers on the host nation, probing its relationship to Mormonism as a new cultural element from multiple viewpoints. For example, how did the Danish elite react to its arrival? How is Mormonism’s impact seen in sources such as newspapers, books, and films? How did conversion affect the identity of Danish Mormons? To answer these questions, the author offers four chapters with chronologically and thematically diverse snapshots or case studies that emerge from a plethora of Danish Mormon and non-Mormon materials. The case studies are illustrated with relevant paintings, photographs, or silent-film stills; considering the frequent references to various localities, a map would have been helpful for the book’s non-Danish readers.

A major case study concerns the brothers Søren and Peter Kierkegaard. Whereas the philosopher Søren protested against the Lutheran church because he felt it prevented a person’s development into a real Christian, he did not publish anything directly about the Mormons. In contrast, clergyman Peter confronted two inexperienced Mormon missionaries during their preaching meeting, eventually producing an 1855 treatise about what he saw as a perversion of Christianity. He also retaliated against Mormon emigration with its promises concerning health, wealth, and salvation in Utah, thus providing a variation on a prominent theme of the 1910s, when the issue of female ’white slavery’ was connected to the Mormons in politics, the press, and film.

Another snapshot displays Baroness Elise Stampe as an early observer who took the Mormons seriously, apparently because of trying to understand the conversion of a friend. A disciple of Grundtvig, Stampe wrote a long unpublished manuscript where she analyzed Mormon history and doctrine, finding fault with some parts and giving credit where she felt it was due. In particular, and in a comparatively rare display of cool-headedness for the time, she pointed out the hypocrisy and ignorance among those who condemned a new faith without really knowing anything about it.

Mormon polygyny was a topic of constant concern in Denmark, although it was not practiced there. It conjured up images of the exploitation of women, the forcing of female converts to Utah to join polygamous harems, and the deceptive use of sacred doctrine as a foil for immorality. Thus, street ballads and later films depicted the plight of the Mormon emigrant woman and the intrigues of a Mormon “priest” trying to capture gullible women. Indeed, Mormonism became so synonymous with polygyny that it could be used “as a shorthand explanation for polygamous relationships,” for example in silent films that Allen covers (p. 177).

In addition to such reactions by non-Mormons, Allen provides snapshots into identity development and negotiation among Danish Mormon converts. The focus is on converts who emigrated to Utah, which as a process involved major changes in family relationships and feelings of cultural belonging. As Allen demonstrates through their letters, these emigrants still felt themselves to be Danes and continued mingling with other Danes in Utah. Her examples are a reminder that despite church policy aiming for rapid assimilation, many first-generation Scandinavian Mormons in Utah clung to their native language and customs for decades.

While it may reflect the problem of finding good primary sources, I find it unfortunate that the book does not analyze the lives and identity negotiations of Danish Mormons who stayed in Denmark, i.e., those who continued building and leading their church in the homeland. The lives of such non-emigrants would provide an even greater depth of understanding regarding what it meant to remain “Danish but not Lutheran.” The sole partial exception in Allen’s discussion is the well-documented Frederik Ferdinand Samuelsen, but even he emigrated to Utah in 1919. As the first non-American Mormon parliamentary member in the world, Samuelsen’s religion was seen as odd but still tolerated by his compatriots, in part because of his significant contributions to society.

As one who appreciates statistical rigor, I was disturbed by a seemingly cavalier attitude towards numbers. According to earlier work by William Mulder in Homeward to Zion, approximately 23,500 individuals converted to Mormonism in Denmark between 1850 and 1905. About a third of these became disaffected, whereas about 12,700 emigrated to the United States. Based on Andrew Jenson’s History of the Scandinavian Mission, less than 2,000 additional Danes became Mormons between 1906 and 1920. Allen’s work cites both Mulder and Jenson, but still erroneously claims that approximately or more than 17,000 (p. 1, p. 8, and p. 186) or over 18,000 (dust jacket) Danish Mormons emigrated during those years. An emigration rate of about 50 %, while high, does thus not reflect their “almost universal propensity” (p. 18) to do so.

The disaffected third is forgotten when claiming inaccurately that roughly 23,000 nineteenth-century converts “remained committed to [Mormonism] for the rest of their lives” (p. 186). And while the total number of converts is reported accurately at one point (p. 67), it is also variously expressed as “approximately 30,000” between 1915 and 1920 (p. 1, with 1915 probably being an editorial oversight), nearly 30,000 between 1850 and 1900 (dust jacket), or “tens of thousands” “over the next decade” after 1850 (p. 15, should probably read “decades”). On the other hand, that F. F. Samuelsen would have “seen thousands of missionaries come and go” (p. 240) during his Mormon years in Denmark (1892–1919) is unnecessary hyperbole.

A more important matter of numbers concerns the magnitude of the Danish Mormon membership and missionary effort during the period of study. Although the waxing and waning of the Mormon presence is discussed generally and some early numbers for Baptist membership are provided for comparison (p. 41), the reader does not get a solid comparative grasp of the various non-Lutheran movements that operated in Denmark. Coupled with the practical disappearance of the other movements from the book’s later discussion, the central argument about the significance of the Mormon effect on developing Danish conceptions of identity is thus not supported to the fullest extent. Statistics and comments on the development of other movements would have been useful in bolstering the case further.

At any rate, these are minor quibbles next to a fine work of scholarship produced by Julie Allen. Her book exhibits the kind of sociocultural analysis that the study of Mormonism and Mormon history can look up to. To analyze new religious movements as elements of their various host cultures in this manner offers an abundance of uncharted avenues for study and new understanding. For Mormon studies in particular, it is an almost untapped cornucopia that brings the field into increasingly productive discussion with the study of religion and culture more generally. Allen’s work is recommended as a model for such research, especially when societal dynamics related to Mormonism are of interest, and Allen is to be commended for painstakingly “walking the walk” by learning and working with a foreign language and culture.

Kim B. Östman

Åbo Akademi University, Finland

Kim Östman is a post-doctoral scholar affiliated with Åbo Akademi University.
E-mail: kim.ostman@abo.fi.

Article filed under Book and Journal Reviews Categories of Periodization: Territorial Period International Mormonism


  1. Thanks, Kim! This sounds like an important work and you’re the right person to review it.

    Comment by David G. — November 30, 2017 @ 11:31 am

  2. I wasn’t sure if I was going to read this (the pioneer narrative is well-worn) but I think I’m going to pick this up now. Thanks, Kim!

    Comment by J Stuart — November 30, 2017 @ 11:49 am

  3. Glad to hear about this book. I just put it in my basket at Amazon since one of these days I’ll get around to annotating a Danish ancestor’s pioneer-era diary.

    And, I love the picture the author used on the cover, so much so that I have a framed print on the wall behind me. (It’s an Arnold Friberg copy of a painting by Christen Dalsgaard, Mormoner på besøg hos en tømrer på landet [Mormons visit a country carpenter] (1856).)

    Comment by Amy T — November 30, 2017 @ 5:08 pm


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