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Historisk tidskrift 123:3 • 2003

Innehåll (Contents) 2003:3

Uppsatser (Articles)

Väckelse och sekularisering. Exemplet Umeås Evangelisk-Lutherska Missionsförening 1850–1910

Stefan Gelfgren

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Revivalism and Secularisation. The Local Congregation in Umeå of the Swedish Evangelical Mission Society 1850–1910

This article deals with how organised Christianity transformed during the second half of the 19th century. The transformation is described in terms of secularisation in the sense that religious affiliation became voluntary, optional and individual. The paradoxical relation between revivalism and secularisation is especially stressed. The Swedish Evangelical Mission Society (EFS) was founded in 1856 in order to revitalise the confession of the State church, through emphasising laymen participation and the individual relation to God. However, through establishing an autonomous body within the Church, EFS undermined the Church and its interpretations of Christian doctrines.

This development is studied through a local EFS congregation of Umeå, a small town in the northern part of Sweden. When the congregation was founded in mid 19th century its activities consisted mainly of prayer meetings twice a week, which included singing hymns and reading from the Bible and texts by Luther. The congregation also had a Sunday school. By the end of the 1880s the variety and content of the activities had changed. It became possible to spend every day of the week in the prayer house. Occasions for religious socialising in pleasant forms increased, and the congregation now started to turn into a denomination. From being an open and self-evident association, integrated with the Church and society, it became in a way more closed and started to define itself in relation to other contemporary associations and phenomena. The congregation developed a specific culture. An awareness developed that the congregation could only constitute one alternative among others in an increasingly pluralistic society.

This change was a result of an adaptation to the changing context in which the congregation worked. Locally, in Umeå, this transformation primarily relates to the increasing number of different popular movements (temperance and revivalist movements) and their ways of gathering and providing entertainment to its adherents. This led to a pluralisation of the town’s life and to a more competitive situation, to which the congregation had to respond. Hence, previous forms of activities were not enough to attract new and keep old adherents. In this way, the religious content became less prominent. In the more diverse situation EFS’s local congregation became one voluntary and optional choice among other religious and non-religious alternatives.