Kyrklig och social reform : motiveringar till diakoni 1845-1965

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


The main purpose of this dissertation is to see how proponents of diaconia justified the establishment of three Swedish diaconal institutions: Diaconissanstalten 1851 (The Institution for Deaconesses, Stockholm, now Ersta diakonissällskap/Ersta Association for Diaconal Work), Stockholms Stadsmission 1853 (The Stockholm City Mission) and Svenska Diakonanstalten 1898 (The Swedish institution for Deacons, first in Gävle, from 1905 in Stockholm, now Stiftelsen Stora Sköndal/The Stora Sköndal Foundation). Included is also a study of how diaconal work was justified in Sweden in the post-war period, a time when religious neutrality within health care and education was high on the political agenda. An additional purpose is to discuss how these justifications are related to the modern discourse of social work.

The primary source material consists of journals that voiced the opinions of the aforementioned diaconal institutions, Parliamentary records and newspaper articles. This material is culled for justificatory arguments. The set of justifications found in each setting is discussed from three angles: theology, ideology and gender roles.

The dissertation shows that justifications for diaconal institutions have varied over time, but that all the initiatives have reformism in common. Diaconal institutions are vindicated as projects for social and ecclesial improvement and not merely as instruments for the material or spiritual well-being of individuals. This reformist stance contrasts with how responsibility for one's neighbour was justified in pre-industrial Sweden: as a duty performed within a static society. Reformism in diaconia is in this dissertation looked upon as an early example of modernisation.

The justifications of diaconal work found in the source material are the following. In the 1850s diaconal work was justified theologically as a means of revival and evangelism. The ideological stance of its proponents was social conservative. Female diaconia was propagated because women were regarded as particularly apt for nursing and caring. Around the year 1900 diaconal work was mainly a question of reinforcing the Church of Sweden as the spiritual and moral foundation of Swedish society. Ideologically, diaconia (both male and female) was still social conservative. The justification of male diaconia was that supposedly male characteristics could be made useful in a lay ministry at the service of the Church of Sweden. In post-war Sweden the basis for justifications shifted to social liberalism and a theology of stewardship.


  • Elisabeth Christiansson
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Philosophy, Ethics and Religion


  • diaconia, deacon, systematisk och praktisk), Kristna kyrkans historia, History of the Christian church, social discourse, modernity, social work, evangelicalism, reformism, confessionalism, stewardship, social conservatism, Church of Sweden, deaconess, Kristen teologi (allmän, systematic and practical Christian theology, General
Translated title of the contributionReform in Church and Society.The Justification of Diaconia in Sweden 1845-1965
Original languageSwedish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
Award date2006 May 31
  • Artos & Norma
Print ISBNs917580317-8
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

Defence details Date: 2006-05-31 Time: 10:15 Place: Spoletorps hörsal, Spolegatan 1 R, Lund External reviewer(s) Name: Wyller, Trygve Title: Prof Affiliation: Oslo universitet ---