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Kirstine Helboe Johansen

The legacy of the Danish ‘church fathers’ N.F.S. Grundtvig and S.A. Kierkegaard in 11,955 contemporary sermons

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N.F.S. Grundtvig (1783-1872) and S.A. Kierkegaard (1813-1855) are important theologians in Denmark. They lived through the turbulent process of Danish mid-nineteenth-century nation building holding the establishment of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Denmark (ELCD) in 1849 as a pivotal mark. Though contemporaries, Grundtvig and Kierkegaard have come to represent two differing theological stances and clerical mentalities that have influenced modern Danish church history each in their own way. Grundtvig was one of the key figures behind the establishment of the ELCD in 1849, and his theological legacy has been important in Danish church life since then – in particular through his huge contribution of hymns to the official Danish hymnal. Kierkegaard, on the other hand, is known for his philosophical and theological pondering over the human condition of the individual in Modernity; his position is often categorized as proto-existentialistic. To him, faith was a matter of individual choice. Despite their prominent status in the ELCD, Kierkegaard’s and Grundtvig’s influence on the theology practiced in the church today has never been subject to a thorough and systematic investigation. It is the aim of this paper to begin to remedy this fact. Accordingly, we present an analysis of a text corpus of 11,955 Danish sermons and investigate how Grundtvig and Kierkegaard are interpreted and associated with the Christian conceptual triad of faith, hope and love. The study thus scrutinize the interpretative links between Grundtvig and Kierkegaard, particularistic authorities of Danish church life, and universalistic features of Christianity in the form of central concepts.
The sermon corpus is composed of sermons from 2011-2016 written by 95 pastors in the ELCD, and metadata includes time labels and basic sociodemographic labels. The sermons are sampled opportunistically, but are dispersed in terms of geography, age and gender of the pastors.
We deploy word embedding analysis to map the semantic fields of seed terms at different complexity levels. In the first analysis, we generate and interpret the semantic networks of Grundtvig and Kierkegaard respectively. In the following analysis, we observe these networks of Grundtvig and Kierkegaard in relation to the semantic networks of the seed terms faith, hope, and love. Measuring the core networks of the theologians against the triad networks unveils subtle, but significant variations between Grundtvig and Kierkegaard in the network structures. These variations entail that the Grundtvig cluster and the Kierkegaard cluster are oriented differently towards the triad network; that significant terms in the triad networks vary in their proximity to the clusters of either Kierkegaard or Grundtvig; and that certain terms originating from the networks of triad seeds are absorbed to the clusters of either Grundtvig or Kierkegaard.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDigital Humanities in the Nordic and Baltic Countries 2022
Publication year15 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2022
EventDigital Humanities in the Nordic and Baltic Countries Conference (DHNB 2022) - Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden
Duration: 15 Mar 202218 Mar 2022


ConferenceDigital Humanities in the Nordic and Baltic Countries Conference (DHNB 2022)
LocationUppsala University

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