- Danish but Not Lutheran: The Impact of Mormonism on Danish Cultural Identity, 1850–1920 by Julie K. Allen
Approximately 23,000 Danes converted to Mormonism during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Of these, 17,000 emigrated to the United States, rejecting both their previous Lutheran religion and their Danish nationality. Julie Allen asks the fascinating question of the degree to which Danish Mormons actually rejected their natal identities. Just as intriguingly, she also investigates the question of how this fairly sizeable number of converts impacted Danes' vision of themselves. If to be Danish was to be Lutheran, then what did it mean if a Dane was not Lutheran? There is no question that Allen's investigation has been influenced by present-day discussions of Danish identity motivated by the existence of the visible number of Muslims who now reside in Denmark. She admits this herself, hoping that understanding the one can perhaps help with understanding the other.
This is undeniably an absorbing and relevant topic. However, Mormons were not the first non-Lutheran Danes. Jews lived openly and legally in Denmark dating back to Christian IV's invitation to them in the seventeenth century. Although Jews tended to congregate on certain streets in Copenhagen, there never were formal ghettos where they had to live and from which they were not allowed to leave—nothing like the ghettos of Warsaw and Prague, for instance. Allen makes the assertion that "until the mid-nineteenth century, residents of Denmark who were not Lutheran were not Danish" (p. 4). This is simply not true. Jews were granted formal citizenship in 1814. Even prior to formal citizenship, there were several generations of Jews who were born and lived their entire lives in Denmark. They spoke Danish and conducted themselves as "Danes." Catholics also lived openly as Danes, as did other non-Lutheran Protestants. Although Denmark had a state church, and one had to be confirmed in a church in order to attain one's majority, it could be any church, not just the Danish Lutheran variety. So, although freedom of (and from) religion was guaranteed in the 1849 Constitution, there had actually been much freedom prior to that. This, of course, comes down to the meaning of the word "Danish." With no electoral franchise and no modern concept of citizenship, how do you distinguish between those who are "Danes" and those who are not? Everyone needed some sort of permission to work, travel, and live in a city or parish. So who is "Danish"? Allen does not address this question.
Perhaps a better way of looking at the issue of identity is to note that Allen is dealing with those people who were born in Denmark and [End Page 136] immediately baptized as Lutherans—and who, later in life, as adults, then rejected their Lutheranism for something else, in this case, Mormonism. Only here, too, as Allen points out, Baptists had paved the way. In fact, she hints that many Mormon converts started out as Baptist converts. So she is dealing with the process of conversion. Did converting from one's religion also include a rejection of one's nationality? The Mormons did not think so, but for other Danes, the answer was more ambivalent.
This is an account of the tension between Danish culture, at various levels, and Mormons. My favorite chapter is the last one, which deals with Mormons' perceptions of themselves. Allen discusses the experiences of three Mormon families whose letters have been preserved. Here, we can follow their feelings as they remain in Denmark trying to convince other family members to leave, emigrate, and establish themselves in Utah as Americans. It is quite clear that they retain much of their Danish identity in Utah, but also that upon return to Denmark, they are confronted with how much they really have changed. This is a common experience with immigrants. What is so good about this chapter is that it puts human faces on the individuals who chose to...