Darwinism and cultural struggles in rural Askov and metropolitan Copenhagen in nineteenth-century Denmark

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference abstract for conferenceResearch

  • Hans Henrik Hjermitslev, Denmark
  • Department of Science Studies

In the 1870s, when Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species and Descent of Man were translated into Danish by the botanist-turned-poet J. P. Jacobsen, evolutionary thought played a seminal role in the modern breakthrough advocated by the freethinker and literary critic Georg Brandes. A group of students and artists assembled around Brandes in the capital of Copenhagen - the only Danish city hosting a university in the late nineteenth century - and used Darwinism in their cultural struggle against what they regarded as reactionary Christian and conservative values which dominated in the country.

At the same time in the village of Askov in rural Jutland, a liberal fraction of the Evangelical-Lutheran State Church, the Grundtvigians, had a stronghold at their high-profile folk high school. Here materialism and Darwinism associated with the Brandes circle were tabooed and later condemned. However, around 1900 as Darwinism was widely criticized in scientific circles, a young generation of Grundtvigians transformed evolutionary theory into ‘safe science' and made it a legitimate subject at several folk high schools in the country. This paper argues that the cultural differences between metropolitan Copenhagen and rural Askov are crucial in understanding the reception of Darwinism in Denmark.                

Original languageEnglish
Publication year2009
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2009
EventXXIII International Congress of History of Science and Technology - Budapest, Hungary
Duration: 28 Jul 20092 Aug 2009


ConferenceXXIII International Congress of History of Science and Technology

    Research areas

  • Darwinism, Christianity, Grundtvigianism, science and religion

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