Once upon a time, this blogspace served as a site for intermittent posts related to my 2015-2016 academic sabbatical at the University of Stockholm in Sweden; it has now been repurposed for the upcoming “Cultural Immersion in Sweden: Swedenborg and His Contexts“ seminar offered by the Center for Swedenborgian Studies (CSS) at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley. Over a week in January 2018, the special seminar will be taking a group of GTU students who are studying Emanuel Swedenborg for a week of contextual learning at various sites in Sweden. We will locate Swedenborg within the artistic, religious, scientific, and Scandinavian cultural environments that shaped his singular output as scientist and mystic, poet and anatomist, geographer and seer. We will also trace the impact of Swedenborg’s thought on subsequent artistic and cultural figures in Sweden, including the poet and dramatist August Strindberg and the Sufi painter Ivan Agueli.
When Swedenborg began to quietly publish his unsettling heterodox theology in 1749, his work had remained deliberately anonymous, without authorial attribution. Yet, after a somewhat infamous episode of clairvoyance tied to a dangerous fire that tore through Stockholm in 1756–an event that attracted the interest of Immanuel Kant in Königsberg— Swedenborg was outed as a mystic who could purportedly speak with angels and the spirits of the deceased. In subsequent publications that followed this international notoriety, Swedenborg sometimes added to his title pages that the work was “ab Emanuele Swedenborg, Sueco” — from Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swede.
Taking cue from these laconic title-page remarks, this seminar aims to deepen and contextualize the specifically Scandinavian dimensions of Swedenborg’s project. Learning-on-location will allow us to unpack the ways that both Swedenborg’s science and his theology emerged out of a space that lay on the margins of eighteenth-century Europe: a hyperborean liminality where the currents of Enlightenment rationalism became entangled with a swirl of esoteric and folk traditions, and the fervor of the same radical Pietism that had produced, a generation earlier in Germany, Jakob Böhme.
Our site visits will include:
- Swedenborg’s summer house, the only extant piece of his former estate on Södermalm, now part of the Skansen Folk museum
- Riddarhuset, the House of Nobles, where Swedenborg served as an active member of Parliament for many years following his family’s ennoblement
- Gamla Stan, the old medieval island in the heart of Stockholm where Swedenborg lived at various points, and where his father had served as royal chaplain to the king.
- Falu Gruva, the enormous copper mine in Darlana where Swedenborg often went as a royally appointed assessor-of-the-mines
- Darlanas Folk Museum, to learn about the rich folk culture and indigenous artistic traditions in a region that Swedenborg’s family had deep connections to (we will stop by to view, from the outside, the Sveden farmstead that lent itself to the family’s new last name when they became ennobled)
- the Gustavianum at Uppsala University, where Swedenborg matriculated and studied, and may have observed anatomical dissections
- the pre-Christian Viking settlement of Old Uppsala, gamla Uppsala, to experience the thinness between Uppsala University’s cosmopolitan aspirations, on the one hand, and the proximity of cairns and ruins, remnants of old Norse religious practices and folkways, on the other.
- the archives at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, to view the collection of Swedenborg manuscripts, including his so-called “spiritual diary”–one of the largest single-author manuscript collections from the 18th century in the world, now designated part of UNESCO’s “world memory” cultural heritage
- the Stockholm New Church and the Reading Room of the Lord’s New Church in Sweden, two Swedenborgian groups currently active in Scandinavia
- the Nordiskamuseet, to explore the seventeenth and eighteenth century religious and cultural dynamics that shaped Swedenborg, as well as later paintings, texts, and photographs tied to August Strindberg’s occult interest in Swedenborg
and many more; check-out our seminar’s itinerary for further details.