Academic journal article Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality

Christian Social Reform Work as Christian Masculinization? A Swedish Example

Academic journal article Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality

Christian Social Reform Work as Christian Masculinization? A Swedish Example

Article excerpt

"Our intention is not to discuss and theorize, but to march and take action." These were the words of the Swedish Protestant pastor Eric E:son Hammar, characterizing the work of the Christian social reform project of which he was the leader and driving force, in the periodical Ny Mark (New Land) in 1909. In this article, I will present the results of a study of Ny Mark and its presentation of different masculinities. A hypothesis is that Eric E:son Hammar and his colonization project was a part of a Swedish project promoting "muscular" Christian manliness.

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"Our intention is not to discuss and theorize, but to march and take action." These were the words of the Swedish protestant pastor Eric E:son Hammar, characterizing the work of the Christian social reform project of which he was the leader and driving force, in the periodical Ny Mark (New Land) in 1909. The quotation summarizes Hammar's idea of Christian social reform work: personal, practical action and resourcefulness before cautiousness and indirect contributions.

In this article, I will present the results of a study of Ny Mark, which was published between 1908 and 1926, and which was the official publication of a Christian social reform project led by Hammar. The article will start from the idea that Hammar and his colonization project can be seen as part of a contemporary Christian reaction to a presumed change in the societal position of Christianity and the Church. By way of introduction, I will discuss a connection between the construction of masculinity, Christendom and social reform work: that Christian social reform work can be seen as part of a Christian mobilization against what was understood as demasculinization and devitalization of the Church and Christianity. The question is: can Hammar's Christian social reform project be related to Anglo-Saxon ideas of so-called Christian manliness?

Christian Manliness, Muscular Christianity and Social Christianity

What, then, is understood by Christian Manliness? The most well-known manifestation is the phenomenon of Muscular Christianity, which originated as a literary movement in England in the 1850s. The phrase Muscular Christianity first appeared in a review of the British parson and writer Charles Kingsley's (1819-1875) novel Two Years Ago in 1857. Later, it was also used to describe the novel Tom Brown's Schooldays (1856) by Kingsley's friend Thomas Hughes (1822-1896). According to Clifford Putney (2001), Muscular Christianity soon became the general label of not only Kingsley's and Hughes' writings, but of a whole genre of adventure novels about "manly Christian heroes" who combined high moral principles with recognition--and promotion--of the physical body. Kingsley and Hughes' writings are to be seen in the light of their social criticism, and especially their criticism of the Anglican Church, which they found weakened and effeminate. In short, Muscular Christianity can be seen as a "campaign for more health and manliness in religion."

In America, the ideas of Muscular Christianity did not establish a grip on society until after the Civil War. Then it found a breeding ground in a general occupation with manliness and health that was part of the critique of modernization and urbanization. Among American men who felt their manhood, health and social status threatened by impairing city life, weakening office jobs and "feminized" Protestantism, Muscular Christianity was embraced as "a strenuous religion for the strenuous life." Muscular Christianity had its heyday in America from around 1880 to 1920. Movements such as the YMCA and the Men and Religion Forward Movement sought to make religion more manly and attractive to men. Muscular Christian ideals, however, lost their force after World War I (Putney, 2001).

The phenomena of Muscular Christianity has been studied by several scholars in the US and Great Britain (Vance, 1985; Hall, 1994; Robertson, 1994; Ladd and Mathisen, 1999; Bradstock, 2000; Putney, 2001). …

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