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Norwegian Ecclesiastical Affiliation in Three Countries: a Challenge to Earlier Historiography

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Historians like Oscar Handlin and Timothy L. Smith asserted that international migration, especially that of Europeans to North America, was a process which reinforced traditional religious loyalties. In harmony with this supposed verity, a venerable postulate in the tradition of Scandinavian-American scholarship was that most Norwegian immigrants in the New World (the overwhelming majority of whom had been at least nominal members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway) clung to their birthright religious legacy and affiliated with Lutheran churches after crossing the Atlantic (although for many decades it has been acknowledged that by contrast, vast numbers of their Swedish-American and Danish-American counterparts did not join analogous ethnic Lutheran churches). In the present article, however, it is demonstrated that anticlericalism and alienation from organised religious life were widespread in nineteenth-century Norway, where nonconformist Christian denominations were also proliferating. Furthermore, in accordance with these historical trends, the majority of Norwegian immigrants in the United States of America and Southern Africa did not affiliate with Lutheran churches. Significant minorities joined Baptist, Methodist, and other non-Lutheran religious fellowships, but the majority did not become formally affiliated with either Norwegian or pan-Scandinavian churches.


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