d r a f t

In memoriam, Oley the Cat, ca. 2006-March 13, 2022.


Seems like the tectonic plates are shifting again, in my life and in the world at large …

In ways that may give a new context for my study of the church-planting stage of Swedish-American immigration and the foundation of the Augustana Synod in 1860. First, some trends of the 2020s that make it timely

  • Authoritarianism on the upswing, both at home and worldwide with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, aided and abetted by Purin’s cheerleaders on Fox News; two sides of the same coin?
  • A worrisome religious component to the authoritarian political movements, e.g. in the Russian Orthodox Church in Eastern Europe and white Christian nationalism in America
  • political sectarianism leading to levels of polarization arguably unmatched since the 1850s (note to self: FIND STUDIES); cf. David Potter’s treatment of black-and-white moralistic rhetoric in The Impending Crisis
  • a trend on the Trump Supreme Court toward normativizing (is that a word?) a conservative “Judeo-Christian” interpretation of religious freedom under attack by secular institutions — exemplified by Justice Alito’s on- and off-the-bench rhetoric

Revisiting components of my hypothesis that the Augustana Synod was a creolized institution vis-a-vis Mireille Delmas-Marty’s idea of “reciprocal creolization”

  • idea of a folk church vs. ren forsamling — cf Anglican “broad church” concept — ren forsamling more Calvinist-Anabaptist, American Puritan blending of the two
  • Catherine Brekus’ articles, and others, on the PBS series website — especially regarding Jewish and Catholic subcultures being formed within an overall American context of normative Puritan Protestant religious culture

Not quite a thesis statement, but these notes from my October 2021 presentation of 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 boil it down in an elevator speech. Well, three elevator speeches. Maybe an elevator in a very tall building? I just copied them from my script, which, as usual, I departed from once I got going:

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 freshman English 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 very good treatment of creolization in Wikipedia

And the second, following right after it:

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 script) clarifies the modified Calvinist (post-Calvinist?) form the American system of voluntary religious associations took in the 1850s:

[blockquote] 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. [/end blockquote]

And the third, basically a restatement of my thesis in the conclusion. I had a terrible time wrestling it to the ground in my 12,000-word draft (as I acknowledged in my notes debriefing the presenation), but I was able to get it down more clearly in the script. I even quit ad libbing over Zoom that day 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.

Also a very nice cat picture, which Debi took when our Maine coon cat Oley hopped into my lap as I was finishing the presentation. We lost Oley this month, just short of what would have been his 17th birthday (he was a shelter kitty, and they estimated he was a year and a half old when we got him, and arbitrarily assigned a date of March 20, 2006).

More on Delmas-Marty:

Another potentially rewarding context for creolization! A French legal scholar named Mireille Delmas-Marty has written a couple of articles building on the work of French Caribbean poet Edouard Glissant and suggesting creolization — by which I think she essentially means negotiating differences among different cultures — as a means of ensuring cultural diversity in a global world.


My headnote: Excerpts from a query: Sent Thu, Jul 22, 8:32 PM — it doesn’t matter who I sent it to, and I have no plans to fool around with a free-standing article, but Mireille Delmas-Marty’s concept of “reciprocal creolization,” a process of cultural blending that involves dialogue and mutual respect for differences, fits in so well with Ulf Hannerz et al., I want to keep it around for possible inclusion in an expanded version of my October 2020 paper on the Augustana Synod. I also blogged about it HERE, in more detail. David Brooks’ comment on the PBS NewsHour also fits into my conceptual framework, as does Delmas-Marty’s reference to the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversivy. Possibly in the conclusions/discussion section?


obit in Le Monde: [Le Monde avec AFP], “Mireille Delmas-Marty, éminente universitaire et juriste, est morte,” Le Monde, Feb. 13, 2022 https://www.lemonde.fr/disparitions/article/2022/02/13/mireille-delmas-marty-eminente-universitaire-et-juriste-est-morte_6113501_3382.html


Mireille Delmas-Marty, “Comparative Legal Studies and Internationalization of Law: Inaugural Lecture, March 20, 2003, Collège de France,” trans. Liz Libbrecht https://books.openedition.org/cdf/3878.


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