Sven Hedin and his Relationship
Organizer: Horst Junginger (Forum for German Studies und Department of History, University of Uppsala)
Date and Place: 17-18 January 2011, University of Uppsala
When the famous explorer Sven Hedin (1865-1952) was awarded with the Gold Medal of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and with the honorary degree of the University of Munich 68 years ago in mid-January 1943, a long-lasting friendship between Hedin and Germany reached its climax. Parallel to the honoring, a newly founded Sven Hedin Institute for Inner Asian Research was inaugurated in Munich. It constituted a division of the SS Ahnenerbe, Himmler’s notorious brain trust that targeted the establishment of a scientific substructure for the Indogermanic race. Even under these exceptional circumstances at the peak of World War II and the extermination of the European Jews, Hedin proved himself a steadfast intellectual supporter of National Socialist Germany. Favorable utterances of him regarding the political success and military capacity of the Third Reich were eagerly received and widely publicized by German propaganda agencies. Though Hedin issued some caveats in a number of cases and did not hesitate to plead for the release of deported Jews and imprisoned Norwegians such as the rector of the University of Oslo, Didrik Arup Seip, the Germans had every reason to consider the distinguished Swede a useful asset for their purpose to deploy a new political order in Europe under National Socialist dominance. There is no doubt that Hedin’s international recognition contributed significantly to the ideological cohesion and imperial goals of Nazi Germany. Regardless of a good portion of naïve gullibility, Hedin acted from conviction when he consented to play his role as prominent figurehead of an ideological alliance between Germany and Sweden that failed to materialize in the political field. Prior to his flirt with Nazi Germany and its Führer – whom Hedin had the privilege to meet four times between 1935-1940 – he maintained an even closer relationship with the second German Empire and its king Wilhelm II. Being a staunch royalist and a lifelong proponent of conservative elitism, the German monarchy was probably the political system that suited his views best. Hedin’s great many of contacts with members of the German élite included encounters not only with Wilhelm II, but with other high-ranking representatives of German imperialism like Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff as well. Hedin’s unfettered support of the German objectives in World War I caused his exclusion from the British Royal Society and isolated him among former friends and sponsors – with the result to invigorate his pro-German leaning even more. This conference on Sven Hedin and his relationship with Germany intends to examine the Germanophile proclivity of the Swedish explorer not as personal quirk but as characteristic feature of an elective affinity that had common ground on both sides. It will be interesting to see how the general vicissitudes of life and politics influenced Hedin’s opinion about the two Nordic countries Germany and Sweden and their mission in the world. A fresh look at Hedin’s personal development in light of changing political circumstances and on the basis of new studies and research appears to be a promising enterprise. The task remains to relate the life and work of an outstanding personality of his caliber more reasonably. Hedin’s particular place in the European occupation with Asia still needs to be figured out appropriately. Eschewing the parochial bias of apologetics and hyper-criticism, the twin enemies of every thorough historiographic endeavor, the symposium just aims at raising the level of the debate on an equally celebrated and contested public figure. A closer knowledge of the nuances and subtleties characteristic of Hedin’s philo-German penchant will help to better appreciate his extraordinary merits in the exploration and mapping of Central Asia.
Nordic Ideology between
Religion and Scholarship
Pagan and Christian Imaginations in
Scandinavian-German Scientific Exchange in the
First Half of the 20th Century
Andreas Åkerlund und Horst Junginger, Forum for German Studies und Department of History, University of Uppsala
Date and Place:
23.08.2010-25.08.2010, University of Uppsala, Universitetshuset (University Main Building), Room IV
The international symposium on “Nordic Ideology between Religion and Scholarship” emphasizes the religious and scientific context in which the idea of the North evolved into a mainstay of extreme nationalism not only in National Socialist Germany but in a number of pro German movements in Scandinavia as well. Starting from the initial observation that the imagination of the North could prosper equally on Pagan and on Christian premises, the apparent indetermination of the Nordic idea in religious regard calls for clarification. The revival of Nordic and Old Norse myths was not restricted to an anti-Christian heathendom where it served as spiritual fundament of a new Pagan religion. Also within the realm of Christianity, especially among Lutheran Protestantism and voelkish German Christians, the idea of a Nordic heritage found a firm rooting. Essential characteristics of both a Nordic Christianity and a Nordic Paganism included the deeply ingrained antagonism against Judaism and Bolshevism. To a lesser extent the British Empire functioned as political antipode helping to consolidate the idea of a Nordic alliance especially in the course of World War I and II.
In addition to the religious dimension of the Nordic ideology, the conference aims at a new scientific occupation with the North that increased considerably in the first half of the 20th century. Only from a narrow-minded religious or anti-religious point of view the amalgamation of science and religion seems to be inappropriate or even mutual exclusive. On the contrary, the correlation between scientific and religious constituents is an indispensable prerequisite for any successful religion in modern times. Therefore disciplines like archeology, Germanic and Nordic studies, ethnography, folklore studies, history and prehistory as well as religious studies played an important role in the shaping of a Nordic worldview. In search for the inner bond of the assumed fellowship of all Nordic men and peoples, a science-based religious perception turned out to be the crux of the matter. Questions of a biological lineage were closely intertwined with questions of a spiritual kinship. But since the natural and biological sciences totally failed to produce any substantial evidence of a Nordic race or of Nordic physical traits, other factors had to constitute the community of the North and to establish a discernible border line between Nordic and un-Nordic. On these grounds a combination of religious and scientific features formed the ideological core of a commonly shared Nordic identity with the ultimate goal to justify theories of a Nordic supremacy and to rationalize a quasi-natural contradiction between people of Nordic descent and their enemies.
The main objective of this conference is to fathom the ideological principles and intellectual depth of European Nordicism. Due to the great many of Nordic mythologems that have gained contour in various fields in the first decades of the last century, we need a reflective interdisciplinarity to deal with the iridescent and multifaceted character of the Nordic idea adequately. It is not easy to apply stable categories to a rather unstable and frayed subject matter developing tenable generalizations in so doing. Therefore we thought it necessary to bring together different methodologies and scholarly approaches in order to overcome the usual phenomenology of glimmering ideas and repulsive behaviors. Only if we widen our perspective and sharpen our methodological tools we will be able to come to grips with the ramifications and heterogeneous character of the Nordic ideology. The question in which manner the situation in Scandinavia coincided or stood at odds with the German understanding of the North still waits to be answered in the context of a broader analysis of politics, religion and culture in Europe. An international and interdisciplinary approach obviously ought to go hand in hand in the case of European Nordicism. It is our hope that this symposium may help to strengthen cross-border networking in both geographical and subject-related regard. Although history does not repeat itself, the reinvigoration of the North as ideological reference point against a threat connected with the East, the West or the South seems to be not purely hypothetical in times of crises.