Joy Ibsen


Enlightenment, Grundtvigian spirit, folk schools, Danish American culture


Who was Nicolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig? how can we describe this very complex person—as an educator, poet, politician, seer, bishop, theologian, philosopher, hymnwriter, or rebel? We can acknowledge the interesting facts beginning with the alignment of the dates of his life (1783–1872) with those of the Age of the Enlightenment, which might explain why he eventually came to deeply distrust rationalism as the definition of truth. he is known as the father of folk schools and even public education in Denmark. extremely prolific, he wrote or adapted fifteen hundred hymns. his multiplicity and depth as a hymnwriter, poet, and thinker, along with his range of depth in philosophical and theological insights while maintaining an active personal, political, and community life, is truly amazing! he was married three times and very involved in the lives of his six children. These are interesting facts, but what was his true significance to Danish Americans? What has been his effect on Danish American culture?