Presenting my paper to ALPLM’s virtual Conference on Illinois History.

Some ideas and observations that came to me presenting my paper, “Swedes in Roger Williams’ Garden: Acculturation in Immigrant Churches, 1848-1860” at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum’s annual Conference on Illinois History. Plus a couple of pictures — including a very nice picture below of a very bored-looking cat — and a couple of items for my futures file, where I keep “story ideas, meetings and activities scheduled for a later occurrence” (to quote The Wall Street Journal).

Actually, it’s all for possible future use. Even the picture of Oley the cat may wind up in our annual Christmas letter, and it documents the beginnings of an authorial hippie-style ponytail after six months of pandemic.

My observations on the presentation:

Zoom and social media. It all worked out better than I’d expected, and I’m actually beginning to like Zoom. I counted 37 people logged on for our session, and all but two or three were still with us at the end. A slightly better turnout than I remember from previous years when I presented F2F. Link HERE for this year’s program (22nd annual Conference on Illinois History, Oct. 5-9, 2020), and HERE for an ALPLM overview of the Illinois history conferences. (I also posted the pictures to Facebook HERE, along with a very succinct summary of my thesis.) I was one of three presenters in our breakout session, from 10:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 7. Here’s our session:

Session 15: Ethnicity and Immigration in Illinois (Registration)

     “Swedes in Roger Williams’ Garden: Acculturation in Immigrant Churches, 1848-1860,” Peter Ellertsen, Independent Scholar

     “Illinois Jews’ Experiences Serving in the Military During World War II,” Adam Taylor, Purdue University

     “From South Bohemia to the Capitol: The Life of Czech-American Congressman Adolph J. Sabath,” Martin Nekola, The Czechoslovak Talks

I was unsure about Zoom, since I’ve only taken part in smaller book discussion and pericope (bible) study groups at my parish. But our moderator, Abagail Cline of ALPLM’s education program, walked us through it, kept us online (maybe we’re all getting better at online conferencing as the pandemic wears on) and kept the discussion moving along. I’d written out a script in case I froze up with the new technology, but I found I could wing it OK.

So I was able to ad lib it, reading only verbatim quotes.

I’m copying the script below, though, since going over it helped me think through the paper again — and I incorporated several revisions in the script that I want to follow up on.

Some very small, but very important revisions.

My original paper came out to 11,962 words (I was shooting for 12,000), including 50 mostly bibliographic endnotes. So, considering all that verbiage, I was able to clarify several points when I was writing the script. I kept another window open so I could copy edits back into the original, but I want to pull out a clarification of my hypothesis here.

This way I’ll have it handy as I consider avenues for expanding the paper, or submitting it for future publication.

Perhaps the best summary of my thesis is the one I wrote for Facebook — “that the old Augustana Lutheran Synod was a powerful driver in adapting old-country Swedish culture to a new land and creating a blended Swedish-American creole culture.” But three quotes from the script go a long way to clarify my main lines of thought.

One quote is a more succinct way of referring to creolization — you don’t teach in a Catholic college for 15 years without learning the importance of defining your terms, so I began by defining my terms a little more clearly:

BUT FIRST – DEFINING TERMS — A TYPE OF ACCULTURATION CALLED CREOLIZATION – (not in the title) – a term from cultural anthropology for blended, or hybrid, cultures that combine old-country and New World elements and “put things together in new ways” (Ulf Hannerz). They like to quote post-colonialist novelist Salman Rushdie, who once said his writing “fears the absolutism of the Pure. Mélange, hotchpotch, a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world.” I also like to slightly misquote a folklorist named James Leary, who wrote about multiethnic “polkabilly” bands of the upper Midwest during the 1930s and 40s — “here reside North Coast creoles.”

I’ve plowed this field before, and had an extended discussion of it in my State Historical Society article “How Newness Enters the World”: Cultural Creolization in Swedish-American Hymnals Published at Augustana College, 1901-1925.” But I like the way I was able to boil it down in the script. There’s also a good treatment in Wikipedia (see below for a link).

The second quote deals with Roger Williams and the way the whole idea of religious diversity and the separation of church and state get tangled up together. Church-state relations have become a political football again in recent years — if ever there was a time they weren’t, at least in recent history — and I suspect I’ll be returning to it in the future. I think the following revision (further revised a little from what I wrote in the draft) clarifies the modified Calvinist (post-Calvinist?) form the American system of voluntary religious associations took in the 1850s:

Roger Williams’ formula for the separation of church and state was a “hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world.” We need to understand it was to keep the state – and secular society — from contaminating the church, which Williams and other Calvinists of his day saw as a gathered community of believers. And it was – and is – inextricably wrapped up with the American ideal of freedom of religion and religious diversity. By the 1850s the Calvinism of early New England had evolved into a “folk religion” of fire-and-brimstone sermons, camp meetings and dramatic conversion experiences where sinners were “saved” and joined the gathered community of saints, where they were subject to church discipline.

And the third quote is a restatement of my thesis in the conclusion. I had a terrible time wrestling it to the ground in my 12,000-word draft, but I was able to get it down more clearly in the script. I even quit ad libbing over Zoom and read it aloud, so I’d be sure to get it right. It goes like this:

In later years, Swedish-Americans would pride themselves on how rapidly they assimilated. But in actuality, the process was more complex. I would argue that in their ethnic congregations of the 1850s, the Swedes created hybrid forms, that “put things together in new ways,” in Ulf Hannerz’ words, and brought something new into the world. Like so many other immigrants throughout history, they rejoiced with Salman Rushdie in mélange, hotchpotch, a bit of this and a bit of that. Seeing their experience through the lens of acculturation and creolization offers us a more nuanced picture of how American culture evolved and how it might evolve in the future.

Q&A on multi-ethnic creolization in Metro East

Abby Cline relayed the questions to us by reading them aloud (apparently) from a chat box on Zoom. (I really have to get more comfortable with the technology! I’m afraid it’s going to be with us, for better or worse, for a good long while.) Two asked recommendations for further reading on the Swedish colony at Bishop Hill, the old Augustana Synod and the Jenny Lind Chapel in Andover. I don’t need to rehash them here.

The third, which was long, detailed, knowledgeable — and extremely thought-provoking — riffed off of something I’d said about different creolized ethnic subcultures in Chicago. I didn’t take down the questioner’s name, but she reeled off a list of ethnic groups that settled in the Metro East area — Glen Carbon? Granite City? — and said it was like “a little United Nations” there. She wanted to know if they influenced each other as they acculturated and developed creolized cultures.

Great question! I hadn’t given much thought to it, but it made sense to me.

Thinking aloud, I remembered the Swedes and Belgians in the Quad-Cities area, and a story my father told about visiting southeastern Minnesota, where he grew up in the 1920s as a Norwegian Lutheran preacher’s kid. There were two little towns in the area, one Norwegian and one Bohemian, he told me, and the Norskies and Bohemians didn’t have much to do with each other. But when he visited 50 years later, he noticed the mailboxes alternated on the road between the towns — Norwegian name, Czech name, Norwegian name, a couple of Czech names — and the demographics were thoroughly mixed. He asked about it, and he was told, ya sure, they all intermarried a long time ago.

Something to think about. Something to look into. Another idea came to me out of the blue while I was ad libbing.

Creolization and the “unaltered” (ahem!) Augsburg Confession

When I was reading a quote from one of my primary sources, I realized I’d better explain a pledge that prospective church members from Sweden were asked to give — that “in this land you will remain true to our ancient unforgettable faith and teaching … [and] hold to the unaltered Augsburg Confession.” So I ad libbed something to the effect that the Augsburg Confession was a statement of Lutheran doctrine presented to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at at the imperial Diet of Augsburg in 1530, and you can’t get much more old-country than that.

It was one of those spur-of-the-moment things that happen when you’re winging it, and I like what I came up with better than my prepared remarks.

In fact, the Swedes’ insistence on the “unaltered” Augsburg Confession was a sticking point among different German, Scandinavian and “English” (or English-speaking) Lutherans in 19th-century America, so the wording of the pledge is further evidence of the creolization or acculturation I discussed in the paper.

So into my futures file it goes (along with the links to Wikipedia’s pages on creolization and acculturation, which are excellent).

Here’s a cat picture.

(The cat, by the way, has as much ethnic heritage as it’s possible for a cat to have. He’s a Maine coon cat, and I named him Oley after the E.E. Cummings poem “i sing of Olaf glad and big.” The naming of cats, as T.S. Eliot reminds us, is a delicate matter, and I gave it some thought. The Norwegian spelling would be Ole, and it’s common enough in the upper Midwest. But we don’t have too many Norskies in central Illinois, and I was afraid people would see it and think it was “¡Olé!” like in Spanish. So I spelled it phonetically …

(See? More creolization, a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world.)

One of the purr-ks of working from home.

{Note — this is the script I used for the presentation, pretty much as written. My usual practice when I’m giving a paper is to: (1) write out an article-length documented essay — potentially suitable for reworking for publication; (2) write out a shorter script for oral delivery; and (3) more-or-less ignore the script during the presentation, except for verbatim quotes, which I will read from the script. In the last day or two beforehand, I’ll tinker with the language and get so familiar with the content that I can ad lib most of it. That way, I can wing it safely.}

SWEDES IN ROGER WILLIAMS’ GARDEN – FINAL SCRIPT

UNPACKING THE TITLE: Between the lines, it’s about immigrants from a state church culture in Sweden and how they adapted to freedom of religion and religious diversity in America (RW’s garden)

BUT FIRST – DEFINING TERMS — A TYPE OF ACCULTURATION CALLED CREOLIZATION – (not in the title) – a term from cultural anthropology for blended, or hybrid, cultures that combine old-country and New World elements and “put things together in new ways” (Ulf Hannerz). They like to quote post-colonialist novelist Salman Rushdie, who once said his writing “fears the absolutism of the Pure. Mélange, hotchpotch, a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world.” I also like to slightly misquote a folklorist named James Leary, who wrote about multiethnic “polkabilly” bands of the upper Midwest during the 1930s and 40s — “here reside North Coast creoles.”

INSERT A – Ulf Hannerz and cultural anthropologists

The terms are clunky, but they have the advantage of reflecting the complexity of the process better than earlier studies of “Americanization” that tended to assume that immigrants simply shed their Old World cultures and became Americans, when in fact the cultural interaction was, and is, a complex multidirectional process.

In a nutshell, I argue that the Swedes who in 1860 created the Augustana Lutheran Synod headquartered in Rock Island developed such a creolized, or blended, Swedish-American culture.

SWEDES – in 1850 Swedish immigration was first beginning and only 3,559 Swedes lived in the US — 214 in Chicago, and smaller communities in Andover, Galesburg and northern Illinois. All Swedes were baptized into the Lutheran state church, taught the catechism and confirmed as youngsters … but Swedish-American Lutheran pastors got no support from the state church and they faced bitter competition from frontier revivalist preachers, mostly Methodist and Baptist.

INSERT A1 – Hedstrom (per Esbjörn)

… that the Lutheran church is dead; that it is the Babylonian harlot [and] … the Swedish preacher [Esbjörn] has come to burden these free citizens with the shackles and fetters of the State Church; that there are no Lutheran congregations in America: that the Methodists are the genuinely true Lutherans but with another name.

The Swedes had to adapt quickly to American norms, partly because of the competition and partly because they received funding from Congregationalists and Presbyterians in the American Home Missionary Society, whose Calvinist theology demanded what theologians call a gathered community of saints, or of the elect.

ROGER WILLIAMS’ GARDEN – Roger Williams’ formula for the separation of church and state was a “hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world.” We need to understand it was to keep the state – and secular society — from contaminating the church, which Williams and other Calvinists of his day saw as a gathered community of believers. And it was – and is – inextricably wrapped up with the American ideal of freedom of religion and religious diversity. By the 1850s the Calvinism of early New England had evolved into a “folk religion” of fire-and-brimstone sermons, camp meetings and dramatic conversion experiences where sinners were “saved” and joined the gathered community of saints, where they were subject to church discipline.

INSERT B – Diarmaid [Deer-mad] MacCulloch

Throughout American history these ideas have been inextricably bound together, and the separatist ideal of a pure community of believers set apart from the wickedness of the world was inherent in the 19th-century ideal of a system of voluntary religious associations, free of government interference in a New World. Diarmaid MacCulloch, the English historian, catches its spirit very well in his magisterial survey Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, when he speaks of “the rhetoric of covenant, chosenness, of wilderness triumphantly converted to garden … served up with a powerful dose of extrovert revivalist fervour.” All of this, he says, would lead to “a Christianity shaped by a very different historical experience from western Europe.”9

ACCULTURATION – For Swedish Lutherans, you became a member of the church when you were baptized. But the American expectation was that you had to document you first had a conversion experience, i.e. you had been “saved.” The Home Missionary Society made this a condition of helping fund startup congregations. It was a nice, and unusual, ecumenical gesture, but it created problems.

INSERT C — Esbjörn

 “The Swedes have been members of a State Church,” explained the Rev. Lars Paul Esbjörn of Andover, who received funding from the AHMS, “and the greater number of them have lived in places where the true religion, conversion, and new birth and sanctification are unknown or mentioned with contempt and disdain.”

Esbjörn feared, with some justification, if he tried to enforce the Home Missionary Society’s rule, he would lose members to the Methodists who were actively proselytizing in the area. So after some drama, the Swedes worked out a compromise. As it was finalized in 1853 by Pastor Erland Carlsson of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Chicago, prospective new members from Sweden would be vetted by the pastor and congregational council and then reaffirm their baptismal and confirmation vows and promise to follow church discipline. They would be asked:


INSERT D – Erl. Carlsson

Dear friends, you have asked to become members of this our Evangelical Lutheran congregation. Since you have been born and nourished within the Lutheran Church we do not require any new profession of faith. We desire only to know if also in this land you will remain true to our ancient unforgettable faith and teaching. On behalf of the congregation I therefore ask if with sincerity of heart you will faithfully adhere to the Confession you have already made at the altar of the Lord (in confirmation), and accordingly will hold to the unaltered Augsburg Confession?

{Note. I was running out of time ( shoutout to Debi, who appeared in the doorway to her home office, where I logged onto the Zoom Session, to let me know when it was time to wrap up.) So I skipped the parts in brackets and went on to the conclusion about acculturation below.}

[Carlsson’s policy, based on Esbjörn’s compromise, seems to have worked:

INSERT E – Immanuel Church Council Minutes, Chicago

The published version of its minutes for Thursday, May 28, 1857, drily records, with the names left blank, that:

A request to become a member of the congregation had … been received from _____ __________, and though he had handed a certificate to the Church Council from Justice J.L. Miliken stating that _____ __________ because of insufficient evidence had been acknowledged innocent of the charge preferred against him by _____ __________: nevertheless the Church Council felt that this matter as well as the status of _____ __________ in general were of such a nature that it is unwilling to be responsible for accepting him as a member of the congregation; but resolved that the question be submitted to a vote of the congregation itself, and that this vote be taken tomorrow evening after the close of the service and the reading of these minutes.

Meeting after Friday vespers, the congregation voted 26-15 not to admit “_____ __________,” whoever he was and whatever the charges against him might have been.42 Carlsson’s compromise came in handy.]


ACCULTURATION was — and is — a two-way street and not a simple process of assimilation.

INSERT F — Speaking in 2012 to the Augustana Heritage Society, James Bratt of Calvin College cited the experience of the Dutch Reformed, and other churches and said: The bottom line … was expressed well 120 years ago by one of my own Dutch immigrant subjects: “We are not and will not be a pretty little piece of paper upon which America can write whatever it pleases.” Acculturation is a two-way, not a one-way, street. We read the same lesson in the annals of Norwegian and German immigration, among Jews and Catholics of various national origins, and also in Maria Erling and Mark Granquist’s history of Augustana. A good many people in all these groups came to the United States looking not so much to find a new way of life as to preserve an old one.

(My last editorial note [I promise]! I need to make it even more clear we’re not talking about assimilation here. Wikipedia, my go-to source for all human knowledge, has this definition: “Cultural assimilation is the process in which a minority group or culture comes to resemble a dominant group or assume the values, behaviors, and beliefs of another group.” Especially in the current xenophobic political climate, I want to make it abundantly clear that immigration enriches American culture and acculturation is a two-way street.)

MY CONCLUSION (also quoted verbatim from the 12,000-word paper): In later years, Swedish-Americans would pride themselves on how rapidly they assimilated. But in actuality, the process was more complex. I would argue that in their ethnic congregations of the 1850s, the Swedes created hybrid forms, that “put things together in new ways,” in Ulf Hannerz’ words, and brought something new into the world. Like so many other immigrants throughout history, they rejoiced with Salman Rushdie in mélange, hotchpotch, a bit of this and a bit of that. Seeing their experience through the lens of acculturation and creolization offers us a more nuanced picture of how American culture evolved and how it might evolve in the future.

One thought on “Debriefing ‘Swedes in Roger Williams’ Garden’ — notes and a copy of the script for my Oct. 7 ALPLM presentation on acculturation and creolization

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