Why do Swedes trust the State and Scots don’t?

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15 November 2017, 1-2 pm (CMB Conference room 2.15)

Ingela Naumann and Lindsay Paterson, University of Edinburgh


Why do Swedes trust the State and Scots don’t? An exploration of the religious foundations of state-citizens relations in modern welfare systems

In Scottish political debate, Scotland is often likened to the Nordic countries in its views about social justice. Yet social policy making in Scotland has followed ‘un-Nordic’ routes. An immediate explanation would be that Scotland, as part of the United Kingdom, is also part of its liberal welfare regime. This explanation may, however, be too simple. In this paper we explore how the Protestant traditions of Presbyterianism and Lutheranism have shaped state-church relations differently in Scotland and Sweden, resulting in different understandings of the role of the state and civil society in public welfare.

Until recently, the dominant understanding in comparative research was that religion mattered for the development of the welfare state in predominantly Catholic countries, but not for Protestant ones. There is now a growing body of historically oriented research that counters this view pointing not to the absence (or presence) of religion, but to the denominational differences of church-state relations as important explanations for variations in national social policy. In this paper we explore this question by comparing Scotland with Sweden, in relation to church, state authority and citizens.

The relative autonomy of Scotland following the Treaty of Union with England in 1707 has been attributed to institutions which were independent of the state and yet governed society locally. The autonomy was guaranteed by the independence of the Scottish Presbyterian Kirk from state intrusion. Scottish civil society was thus independent of the state because Calvinism Presbyterianism is theologically distant from the state. In this, the Scottish Presbyterian tradition differs fundamentally from Lutheranism. In Sweden state and church have been closely linked since King Gustav Vasa instigated the Church of Sweden in 1536 thereby separating it from the Catholic Church. In 1593 the Swedish Church and with it all the king’s subjects became Lutheran. The specific character of the church-state relation created the basis for the expectation in Swedish society that the state should be responsible for social welfare. While the religious influence of the Swedish Church faded throughout the 20th century, it was only in 2000 that the Church became officially separated from the State. Thus the Lutheran ‘two kingdom doctrine’ drew the church close to the state in secular matters, whereas its version in Scottish Calvinism kept the two quite separate from each other.

We draw on extensive scholarship since the 1980s about Scottish civil society and about church and state in Sweden to exemplify how Presbyterianism and Lutheranism, respectively, conditioned modern social policy debates in Scotland and Sweden. We look particularly at education as an example of the relation between state and church.

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