Learning to love Lund

Robert La Bua visits Lund and its famed university, Skåne's esteemed home of higher education and Viking mischief.

Learning to love Lund

In a country replete with esteemed institutions of higher learning, nowhere is the pursuit of knowledge more ardent than in Lund, home to Sweden’s second oldest university.

Officially founded in 1666 as the Regia Academia Carolina (yet another place named after King Carl the Somethingth), it was also called Academia Conciliatrix, a name honouring the idea of easing the integration of the lands of Skåne acquired from Denmark (read: get the Scanians accustomed to Swedish control).

The university’s foundation had been based on a monastic school in existence in Lund from the 15th century, indicative of the city’s traditional role as a spiritual and educational centre in the Skåne region.

Today’s Lunds Universitet is the largest institution of higher learning in the Nordic countries and remains one of Sweden’s premier educational institutions, offering an array of courses covering almost the entire spectrum of education from Ache to Zit. The university’s 250 departments and sections function on an annual budget of 3 billion kronor ($455 million), which nearly equals Ingvar Kamprad’s monthly salary.

For those familiar with the British or US-style university campus, with buildings spread over a large area dotted poetically with trees, flowers, and fountains to inspire the inner spirit of students, professors, and cafeteria workers alike, Lunds Universitet’s grounds will look comfortably recognizable. An amalgam of buildings both historical and modern, the university has the feel of a village raised organically to become a strapping nature-boy of knowledge.

Many of the aesthetically pleasing buildings, including the innovatively named University Building (how did they think of that?), were designed by one Helgo Zettervall, the man behind the two-decades-long renovation of Lund Cathedral.

Zettervall’s overactive mind must have become bored waiting around for the cathedral to be finished, so—thankfully—he took on other projects around town as creative outlets for his imagination. He laid out the Universitetsplatsen (almost equivalent to ‘The Quadrangle’) on which the University Building sits, with the intention of creating a harmonious balance of buildings despite the elimination of a harmonious balance of old-growth trees and other vegetation in the process. Helgo, shame on you—but thanks for the pretty edifices you left us.

The Lundagård House, by the way, did not stem from Helgo’s Erector set; it was in fact completed in 1584 as a residence for Denmark’s King Fredrik II; the slope of the lower floors of the tower have earned it the moniker, The Leaning Tower Of Lund.

The university grounds are also home to a liberal sprinkling of statuary honouring various academics who made important contributions to Lunds Universitet, including the poet Esaias Tegnér, whose glorious representation was the first public statue erected in the Lund.

There are other human creations on the university grounds that predate all these buildings, however. From Lundagård House, one can take the Philosopher’s Path to Lundagård Park, where six runic stones gathered from across Skåne lay in repose.

They present thousand-year-old Viking messages to all who stop to read them; most just say for whom they were constructed, but the Gårdstånga Stone #1 mentions the raiding skills of the young men who marauded ships. Those naughty Viking boys were hard to keep down even then.

Many people are unaware of Lunds Universitet’s programmes in English: specifically, the English-language Magisterexamen (Master’s) programmes. There are more than a dozen post-graduate degree courses offered in English at Lunds Universitet, ranging from the expected Masters in European Affairs and Masters of Public Health to the less conventional Masters in Water Resources and the internet-based Masters in Geographical Information Systems.

Needless to say, competition for entry into the programmes is fierce, with applicants from around the world vying for a limited number of vacancies in each discipline. This competition, however, makes for a highly qualified and interesting student body for those who are accepted.

The university, by the way, offers more than classes for students. Anyone can come away with a bit of enlightenment, even after just an hour or two. LU oversees Lund’s Museum of Classical Antiquity, Museum of Sketches, Historical Museum, Zoological Museum (including one of the oldest insect collections in the world—take your ant Betsy along), and Botanical Gardens. Lund Cathedral’s museum is also run by the university, and the university’s planetarium is open to the public for shows every day in summer and other times throughout the year by appointment.

Lund is one of those towns where the synergy works well. A small but well-educated population close to a large city, close to an even larger city and its international airport across the sound, well connected to the rest of the country—seems like an ideal environment to pursue studies or students with equal ardour.

Though the university dominates town life, there is in fact more to Lund than academics. The cathedral is one of the country’s most impressive; it was consecrated way back in 1145. Lunds Konsthall is apt to attract a top exhibit, and the many social scenes around town lend themselves to easy conversation among friends.

With thousands of students composing a substantial portion of the population, the general feeling is laidback and happy, and Ebbas Skafferi is the kind of place that attracts the young and optimistic for a cup of organic coffee or homemade bread. Cosy and eclectic are two words that come to mind in describing this Heritage-protected ‘pantry’. The menu includes lots of options for the dietarily restricted among us.

See also: Robert’s photo gallery


A new kind of funeral? How religious rituals are changing in secular Sweden

Sweden is seeing a sharp rise in burials without a ceremony, writes Anne-Christine Hornborg, professor emerita at Lund University, in this opinion piece first published by The Conversation.

A new kind of funeral? How religious rituals are changing in secular Sweden
Are traditional funerals a thing of the past? Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB Scanpix/TT

The number of people who bury their dead relatives without any official ceremony is increasing rapidly in Sweden, up from less than two percent a decade ago to eight percent this year. In many big cities, the bodies of about one in ten deceased people are transferred directly from the hospital to a crematorium, with the ashes often scattered or buried by staff in anonymous memorial parks.

According to The Swedish Funeral Home Association, which released the data, such burials are extremely rare in other countries. Although according to new data from the UK's largest funeral director, Co-op Funeralcare, they are also on the rise in the UK – with one in 25 funerals being direct cremations, perhaps inspired by the late musician David Bowie.

One explanation for their popularity in Sweden could be that it is one of the most secular countries in the world, and often resists tradition. But with the majority of young people in 12 European countries reporting they have no faith, could it take off elsewhere too? And does it mean that rituals in general are on their way out?

A crematory in Sweden. Photo: Anna Hållams/TT

In Sweden, the number of regular churchgoers has been declining for some time and continues to do so. It seems like traditional church rituals don't attract modern, secular people, who may experience them as meaningless.

Take weddings. Traditional church ceremonies are reliable: if you accept and follow the rules and the authority of the ceremonial leader, the marriage will be established. But such rituals are often experienced as formal practices and lacking in personal touches.

While some wedding couples still get married in church – often for aesthetic or historical reasons – the majority of Swedes today opt for non-religious weddings. This can sometimes be in nature or in more spectacular places.


Obituaries offer another insight into how Swedes are moving away from religion. Today, the symbols used in obituaries to refer to the deceased are most often indexical signs rather than the traditional cross, which originally signalled eternal life. A teddy bear can be used when the deceased is a child, a sailing boat for the sailor, flowers for a nature lover and so on.

And funerals have been changing for some time. While the majority of funerals are still carried out by the church, some opt for non-religious ceremonies. In many western countries today, pop songs or ballads that the deceased loved are often played rather than traditional, religious hymns. A historical popular Swedish funeral song was based on the image of heaven as “a town above the clouds”, with “beaches drowned in sunshine”.

But that message doesn't appeal to the modern person. Non-religious people don't pin their hopes on an afterlife. It is the life here and now that must be fulfilled. This is reflected in a song from the popular Swedish movie As It Is In Heaven which is now also frequently played at funerals: “And the heaven I thought existed… I will find here somewhere… I want to feel that I have lived my life.”

Clearly, the rise of secularism is linked to a rise in individualism – in the absence of a god and an afterlife, we and the now become increasingly important. So just as we can see in both weddings and funerals, modern rituals focus increasingly on the individual.

A Swedish high school graduation. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

For example, in Sweden the celebration of A-level graduation (high school) is becoming an increasingly important ritual. Non-religious naming ceremonies for babies are also becoming more popular, at the expense of traditional baptism. In 2000, 72 percent of Swedish babies were baptized compared to 42 percent in 2010.

This shift to individualism is backed up by research. The US religious studies scholar Catherine Bell stated that new rituals also tend to be more private than public. “Doctrines and ethical teachings are downplayed in favour of language that stresses highly personal processes of transformation, realization, and commitment,” she wrote in the book Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions.

This has also been commodified in the form of coaching and lay therapy (that is, therapy not based on school medicine or traditional church counseling), as I have shown in my research. In these new practices, a person's “inner potential” or “authentic me” is to be identified and liberated by self-certified entrepreneurs.

This pursuit of “human inner capital” is pervasive in management courses, media and talk shows, and has become a spiritual movement of sorts. It generates new practices – or new rituals of self improvement such as daily affirmations – that can also influence the performance of traditional ceremonies.

With these new, individual-centered rituals, focusing on the present life rather than the hereafter, it is not surprising that many Swedes are buried without any ceremony. There are often requests for the ashes to be spread in places that the deceased had been connected to, like the sea.

In many of these cases, the deceased had requested such a burial – sometimes because they didn't want to create extra work for their relatives. In other cases, it is a financial decision, or the relatives could not agree on what ceremony ought to be used. Sometimes there are no relatives – Sweden has the highest number of people living alone in the world.

But how likely is it that this type of funeral will become standard practice – in Sweden or elsewhere? It's probably unlikely to happen anytime soon. Many mourners feel the need to mark the end of a life somehow – something that fits with individualism, too. That said, it is likely that non-religious funerals and private ceremonies will become more common than traditional funerals in increasingly secular countries in the years to come.

Research has also shown that the internet is offering a new way of mourning, giving eternal life to the dead via Facebook for example. This enables others to send birthday greetings or share memories of the dead on the day they died – a sort of ceremony.

It is clear that in spite of secularization, modernity, and individualization, rituals are not disappearing, they are just changing forms and adapting to new contexts.

Article by Anne-Christine Hornborg, Professor Emerita of History of Religions, Lund University. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.