How the Nineteenth-century Evangelical Revival Strengthened Faith and Undermined Christendom
A Swedish Case
Keywords:secularisation, modernity, revivalism, evangelicalism, church history
This article deals with the paradoxical relationship between the nineteenth-century Evangelical Revival and secularization. It is argued here that the revival and its worldview played a role in increasing pluralism and choice in the nineteenth century – a process often related to secularization. The Evangelical movement both attempted to oppose modernity and rationalism and emphasized religious freedom, voluntarism, and individualism. It therefore induced and popularized self-reflection, doubt, and deconversion. It also favoured religious democracy in opposition to a state-imposed religious monopoly (at least in northern Europe). Furthermore, by dividing people into believers and nonbelievers, it emphasized religious polarization. This contributed to an undermining of established religious structures, fragmenting and pluralizing the religious landscape and giving people the option to abstain completely from religious commitment. The Swedish confessional (inner mission) revivalist denomination Evangeliska Fosterlands-Stiftelsen (EFS – approx. the Swedish Evangelical Mission Society), founded in 1856, is used as a case. The popular literature they published and distributed manifested an evangelical worldview. In this article four themes, based on the popular literature, are used to study empirically the changing role of religion in relation to nineteenth-century revivalism: ‘the dualistic worldview’; ‘conversion’; ‘activism’; and ‘self-reflection’.
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