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Mormons or Muslims, They’re Not Us. But Who are We? Religious Difference as a Prism for Cultural Identity in Denmark
April 18, 2011 @ 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Julie K. Allen
Resident Fellow (2010-2011)
Scandinavian Studies, UW-Madison
In the aftermath of the Mohammed cartoon crisis of 2005, Danish society was often painted as intolerant and racist. A closer look at the cartoons in question, however, reveals that their depiction of Mohammed is incidental; their real focus is questioning Danish cultural identity. This talk traces the way in which religious difference has been used as a prism for examining Danishness since the early 19th century. The popular uprisings that shook Europe in 1848 resulted in few lasting governmental changes except in Denmark, where absolutism gave way to a constitutional monarchy. The June 1849 Danish Constitution established religious freedom, but, after more than a thousand years of complete unity between church and state, the largely homogenous Danish society was unprepared to deal with the cultural difference attendant upon the exercise of this right. The arrival of Mormon missionaries in Denmark in 1850 and subsequent conversions of tens of thousands of Danes to Mormonism brought the issue of religious difference to the forefront of Danish society. This situation inspired a range of Danish literary, artistic, musical, and cinematic depictions of Mormons, each of which has as much or more to do with Danish cultural identity as with Mormonism itself.
Julie K. Allen is Assistant Professor of Danish in the Department of Scandinavian Studies. She received her Ph.D. in Germanic Languages and Literatures from Harvard University in 2005. Her research focuses on the cultural phenomena of national and gender identity construction in 19th and early 20th century Denmark and Germany. She has had several articles published about 19th and 20th century Danish and German authors, including Georg Brandes, Søren Kierkegaard, Ruth Berlau, Arthur Schnitzler, and Thomas Mann. Her forthcoming book, /Georg Brandes and Asta Nielsen: The Godparents of Danish Cultural Modernity /(2012)/, /examines the role of celebrities and the mass media in shaping European and Danish perceptions of modern Danish national and cultural identity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.