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Resumé af Jákubbjørg Lambaas speciale

Specialetitel: En analyse af religionens rolle i William Heinesens forfatterskab | Syddansk Universitet

My thesis

The thesis elucidates and investigates the writings of William Heinesen and contributes to new understandings by examining the authorship of the Faroese born writer, and how Heinesen portrays the Faroe Islands and Faroese nature, culture and religion in the 20th century. The thesis is written in Danish, and the Danish thesis statement was; “På hvilken måde spiller religion en rolle i William Heinesens forfatterskab med særligt henblik på dogmatiske og individuelle forestillinger”, which can be translated to “How does religion play a part in William Heinesens authorship with particular focus on dogmatic and individual conceptions”. The thesis gives an insight in Faroese circumstances that can be compared to Danish and Greenlandic circumstances, and can be seen as the first step to investigate the cultural and religious differences as described in literature in the Kingdom of Denmark. The thesis contributes with new insights in how authors portray culture and religion, and how the writings can be representative for cultural and religious circumstances in the respective writers contemporary times. The thesis furthermore contributes to the research field between religion and literature, and literature as representative for religion, which is often overlooked in the religious scientific field. The empirical data of the thesis consist of the novels Blæsende Gry (1934), Noatun (1938) and Moder Syvstjerne (1952), and chosen novellas from the collections Det Fortryllede Lys (1957), one novella from Gamaliels Besættelse (1960), and lastly Laterna Magica (1985).

William Heinesen was born in the Faroese capitol Tórshavn January 15th 1900. He grew up in Tórshavn and moved to Copenhagen when he was 16 to study, as was and still is usual practice among the Faroese youth. He moved back to the Faroe Islands in 1932 and stayed there until his death on march 12th 1991. He published four poetry collections from 1921-1934, but according to Heinesen himself; poetry alone couldn’t feed his family (William https://kvf.fo/sending/william?sid=139224, 2022). In 1934 he published his first novel Blæsende Gry, which portrays a newly founded society on the island of Trymø, and this novel was received well among both Faroese readers and foreign readers, and thus Heinesens literary career had truly begun. William Heinesen is seen as a multicultural author, because he was Faroese born but wrote in Danish. This is particularly interesting, because the Faroese written language is rather young, and up until 1948 the Danish language was used in public institutions, also as the teaching language in schools. Because of this, William Heinesen didn’t see his Faroese language as good enough to publish. This is an example of the Kingdom of Denmark’s impact on language and authors, both in the Faroe Islands and in Greenland, and William Heinesen can be seen as one example out of many, that have been impacted this way, and this linguistic challenge of writers is related to the whole of the Kingdom of Denmark.

Heinesens whole authorship is characterized by use of religious themes, and the chosen texts of the thesis can represent the authorships whole religious aspect. The thesis firstly describes the relationship between religion and literature, then gives an introduction to William Heinesen as an author, and lastly analyzes the aforementioned novels and respective novellas to give an answer to how religion is expressed throughout the authorship, and whether or not this reflects reality in any way. The authorship is representative for understandings of institutionalized religion, folk religion, the numinous, and the cosmos. The earlier works of Heinesen portray the Faroese people and their attitude towards institutionalized and official religion, and the latter works move more towards the personal and individual, which shows a more natural and lived religion. Heinesen claimed that he was a religious person, but not according to sectarian norms (William https://kvf.fo/sending/william?sid=138648, 2022). This dilemma is sporadically reflected in his portrayals of certain characters in his writings, but through all the analyzed literary works of Heinesen, the good is portrayed as a moral law; the Faroese societies are described as dependent on solidarity and utilitarianism, and this is historically correct according to scientific studies like for example the “Færøerne mellem religiøs vækkelse og sekularisering: En nordisk undtagelse bliver til” (í Skorini, H., Albinus, H. & Sølvará, H.A., 2022).

Analysis of the material, the results and conclusion

Throughout the thesis, the term religion is used about all imagined beings and phenomena associated with these beings and therefore there isn’t made any distinction between institutionalized religion and folk religion. The methodological and theoretical foundation of the work is purely hermeneutic because research literature about religion in the Faroe Islands is limited, and research literature about religion in Faroese literature is near not existing, and therefore the aim of the thesis was to present and discuss this based on a hermeneutic analysis of one of the most treasured Faroese authors in a religious scientific point of view.

The analysis of the empirical data was through and through hermeneutic, where I focused on the religious themes and analyzed the portrayal of these themes and then compared to relevant scientific theories. To give a better understanding of the writings of Heinesen, I chose to give an insight in his life and works. The documentary William (shown in Faroese television: www.kvf.fo) from 2022 and the interviews in Hartmann-Petersens Samtale med William Heinesen from 1975 are good sources to get an understanding of Heinesen as both a professional writer and a religious person, and to see whether or not his portrayals were influenced by his own convictions. Based on my choosing of empirical data and the supporting material, I was able to conclude that Heinesens portrayals were solely built on his watching of the Faroese society, the people and the societal changes in the 1900s, and that both Heinesens watching of the Faroese society and his portrayals in the authorship were true to historic circumstances; the documentary Gud Signi Føroyar (also shown in Faroese television: www.kvf.fo) and the article “Færøerne mellem religiøs vækkelse og sekularisering: En nordisk undtagelse bliver til” in Økonomi og Politik amongst other supported this conclusion.

The results of my analyses show that the literary works of William Heinesen are representative for the understanding of culture and religion and religions importance for the Faroese people in everyday life and in times of changing. The religious perspective of the writings shows an eclectic religious view and a plethora of religious imaginations that have lived for centuries in the Faroe Islands. Heinesen was able to portray the lived religion of people and the institutionalized religion, and managed to portray peoples (real and historic) attitude towards both folk religion, the institutionalized religion and the new religious movements, that arose in the late 19th century and start 20th century. The Faroe Islands have been predominately Lutheran-protestant since the Reformation, and the religious monopoly of the church was challenged in the early 1900s, when new religious movements like the Brethren moved across the Atlantic Sea and established themselves in the Faroe Islands. These new religious movements weren’t received well at first but still managed to establish and then seemingly thrive during times of crisis. The introduction of religious freedom with the constitution from 1849, as well as the abolition of the royal monopoly trade in 1856 brought economic, demographic and cultural changes in the Faroe Islands, and the change from a solely agricultural society to an industrial fishing society led to centralization and significant population growth in the new fishing towns. This centralization challenged the small towns, both in economic crisis and in sickness, and this is where religion is elucidated in Heinesens works. 75% of the Faroese inhabitants are members of the church today, and the number was even higher in the 1900s. The folk religion and the institutionalized, Lutheran-protestant religion are described as living and thriving in syncretism amongst the Faroese people, where the imagined supernatural creatures like the huldufólk and niðagrísur are used as scapegoats and the ones who get blamed for (imagined) shameful experiences among the people, like for instance sexual encounters and imagined cowardice, and the Lutheran-protestant church is especially used for rites of passage and in times of crisis. One of the old fertility rituals is even described in details in the novella Grylen and we see the church’s resistance toward this “heathen practice” and how the word shame is used in the polemic preaches against this ritual, but the people still perform and participate in this ritual to secure next year’s harvest. The new religious movements though, like the Brethren and the Salvation Army, are criticized by the people because of their condemning sermons about sin and salvation and their practice, but the Lutheran-protestant church does not get off so easily; it is portrayed as rigid and as an artifact of old times because it did not follow the great upheavals in society, probably because it, as financed by the state, had no economic need to optimize itself. Despite these factors, the lived everyday religion of the Faroese people is portrayed historically correct as eclectic, where folk religion and institutionalized religion live in syncretism.

Furthermore my analyses showed that the new religious movements were more active regarding the Faroese language, because they were the first ones to translate hymns, prayers and the Bible to Faroese, where the Lutheran-protestant church still recited both rituals and biblical texts in Danish. The sociological change in the Faroe Islands was thus a cultural revolution that brought with it a showdown against religious monopoly. William Heinesen was able to depict this and everyday life and everything that belongs to it – also religion and the fabrication of religion –in its versatility too. He managed to portray a diversity of religiosity in the Faroe Islands through his watching of his surroundings. His works of fiction represent, as fiction, historical religious changes in the 20th century sociological changes, but the individual religiosity is also depicted and assigned a special value. Where traditional genre writers of the time seem preoccupied with plot, Heinesen is preoccupied with his portrayals of people and the way they fit into their world.

The hermeneutic analyses were compared to scientific theories and documentaries of relevance, and I was able to conclude that the writings of Heinesen in deed are representative for cultural and religious circumstances, the Faroese people’s attitudes toward religion and the syncretism of different religions in the 1900s, and that the relationship between religion and literature certainly is overlooked in scientific research. William Heinesens portrayals of the changing times in the Faroe Islands and the Faroese people are representative of reality and scientific studies, but Heinesen also depicts a reality where there is room for finding inspiration in myths and realism, social criticism and infinite imagination and modernity at the same time. William Heinesen is one of the greatest Faroese writers of our time and an important interpreter and representative of life on the Faroe Islands in the 20th century.

The Kingdom of Denmark and the relevance of my thesis

My thesis is, as mentioned before, a first of its kind and contributes with new scientific data in the research field between religion and literature. My contribution in relation to the Kingdom of Denmark is in relation to authors in the respective countries of the Kingdom and religion and literature; I am able to provide new scientific data and new insights to authors of the Commonwealth, and provide an insight in the literary works as being representative for historic and contemporary circumstances.

The thesis is a stepping stone for further investigations in both religious studies and studies in literature, history and anthropology. The thesis can furthermore be used as inspiration for further investigations; for instance how hermeneutic analyses can show how literature is representative for circumstances or not, and how supplementary theories can be linked to a hermeneutic approach. My thesis gives an insight in historical, cultural and political ties in the Kingdom of Denmark, and can function both as a stepping stone and solely for inspiration to further scientific studies regarding the great diversity portrayed in representative literature. The younger generation gets the opportunity to fully understand how complex religion, especially the use of religion in everyday life in the 1900s, is, and this is furthermore certainly relevant to the understanding of religion today where we are able to see rediscoveries of and new interest in folk religion and imagined beings and phenomena associated with these beings in the Kingdom of Denmark.

Specialet er indstillet til specialekonkurrencen 2022.

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Senest opdateret 16. november 2022