Den postreformatoriska katolicismen i Norden

Mission, konversion och alternativa identitetsdiskurser


  • Yvonne Maria Werner



This article summarizes and discusses some results of my earlier research focusing on the Catholic mission in Scandinavia and the alternative identity discourses that this missionary activity created. It also discusses Catholic gender discourses and ideals of masculinity. The Nordic countries were subjected to Catholic missionary activity, aimed at bringing the Nordic peoples to convert to the Catholic faith. Catholic orders and congregations played a significant role in this missionary work, and most of the Catholic priests who worked in the Nordic area were members of religious institutes. Male religious often took responsibility for the parishes, whereas the female religious mainly dedicated themselves to education, health care, and other forms of social work. Women religious sometimes had a great influence on the mission work. Yet, even if belonging to religious orders transcended socially constructed gender differences, it was nevertheless only men who held the power-generating positions. In the literary conversion narratives as well as in the inquiries about conversion motives made among ordinary converts, conversion is described as a process leading to a conviction of the Catholic Church as the only true church. The Catholic unity, hierarchical order, logical teaching systems, and uncompromising adherence to metaphysical aspects of the Christian creed are emphasized and contrasted with the division and adaptation tendencies in the Protestant churches. Devotional life and the solemn litur­gy are also highlighted, as is the anchoring of the Catholic Church in an, as it was believed, unchanging tradition that has withstood the storms of time. The reforms initiated by the Second Vatican Council, which paved the way for ecumenical dialogue and for a more open form of Catholicism, changed the discourse of conversion. In post-Conciliar Scandinavian conversion narratives, it is no longer the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church that is emphasized but spiritual values, such as a feeling of the presence of God, mysticism, and personal sanctification.