What is an honorary doctor?
Every year, the last Friday in May, the doctoral degree conferment ceremony is celebrated at Lund University. In a solemn ceremony in Lund Cathedral, the doctoral students who completed their research studies in the past year and successfully defended their doctoral theses at Lund University will have their degrees conferred. At the ceremony, degrees are also conferred on the faculties’ honorary doctors.
Honorary doctor, in Latin doctor honoris causa, is a dignity awarded by a faculty. Honorary doctorates are people who have done something great for the university or society, whom the faculty wants to honor and link to their research community.
Often a honorary doctor is an academic from another university, but just as often the honorary doctors join from outside the academic world. Each year, around 20 honorary doctorates are awarded at Lund University and below you find the honorary doctors of 2023.
Information in Swedish about the honorary doctors
Faculty of Humanities
Faculty of Theology
Faculty of Medicine
Faculty of Science
Faculty of Engineering (LTH)
Faculty of Law
School of Economics and Management
Faculty of Social Sciences
Faculty of Fine and Performing Arts
Text by Helga Heun
Food technology alumna devoted to flavour innovation in México
Hi Mariana! You graduated from the master’s degree in Food Technology and Nutrition in 2012. What have you been up to since your graduation?
Hi! I’ve been working in different Food Industries, but always in the R&D department. I love to innovate and create new things. I am working for Firmenich (Flavor and Fragrance house) as a Food Technologist in charge of the bakery and cereals applications, and innovation for México and Colombia. I work really close with different kinds of food industries, always innovating.
What does your daily routine look like?
I usually balance my working life with my personal life, so almost everyday I try to have breakfast with my 4 year old toddler Isabella, then I head to the office where most of the time I work inside the lab. If possible, I love to have dinner with my husband and my daughter. During weekends we spend time together with our friends and family.
How has your time as a student at Lund University influenced your life?
First of all, Lund University is among the 100 best universities around the world! And YES, it has influenced A LOT! In a good way!!! Arriving first to Sweden, without really knowing the Swedish culture, the cold weather, and a new University, really has changed my life, making me more open to new things, knowing a different way of studying (more self-study in Sweden), and learning things. It’s also an international university so having friends all around the world, knowing a bit more about their cultures, enriched my life.
You are an active alumna in Mexico and serve as one of the board members in the Alumni Mexico Sweden Network. Tell us more about the network and why Lund University alumni in Mexico should join!
Yes!!! I’m the VP for this whole year! It’s been a great way to know more Mexicans that had the opportunity to study in Sweden, and exchange different experiences remembering our time there. Besides that, we want to bring a small piece of Sweden to Mexico, doing different cultural activities involving new people, such as “fika”, Lucia, typical Swedish parties, and also convincing them to go and study in Sweden. Lund University alumni should join! We’re going to have lots of fun! Everyone is very welcome to join!
What do you enjoy the most by being involved in the network for alumni?
Meeting new people and trying to bring a piece of Sweden to Mexico. Giving the Mexicans who has never been there to know a bit more about the Swedish culture.
Being an alumna from Food Technology, what is the weirdest food you have ever eaten?
Actually, I’m quite a picky eater, but here in Mexico we have great “different” food, such as “huitlacoche” which is a corn mushroom, which grows in corn, it’s really good! We do also eat “escamoles” which are the edible larvae or egg ants, they are really exquisite and quite expensive, and last but not least crickets which are crunchy and salty.
Putting environmental and climate issues centre stage
How do we build a society that is sustainable for people and wildlife alike? Alumna Helena Björn has been engaged in environmental issues for most of her life. For the past 16 years, she has been active as an environmental strategist for Lomma Municipality, and she has never regretted her choice of career.
As a child, Helena Björn saw an exhibition in a local library about an oil spill. She was upset, and thought to herself, “how can people do that?” – a thought that has stayed with her ever since. As a teenager, her keen environmental engagement brought her to the organisation Nature and Youth Sweden, where she tried to influence things on a political level, and at around the age of 20 she began her studies in Biology at Lund University. The question was, would she study for a PhD, as both her parents had? When she came across the new subject of Ecotoxicology, which deals with toxins in nature and their effects on our ecosystem, the decision to start her own research was an easy one.
“It is a subject that crosses disciplines, with a somewhat political dimension as we have disturbances caused by humans that affect our environment. It inspired me,” says Helena Björn, who spent several years researching whether the presence of chlorinated fatty acids could be causing reproductive disorders in fish and mammals.
After completing her PhD, she was employed by Lomma Municipality. Apart from a short foray into the music industry, working with statistics and writing contracts for artists, Helena Björn has stayed faithful to Lomma.
“I started out working on coastal water planning, but I didn’t expect to get to stay there for very long. I was offered the chance to continue though, and I realised that the work meant a unique opportunity to work with the entire environmental question in everything from spatial planning, management and exploitation to how environmental and wildlife issues are communicated to both politicians and the public,” she explains.
Lomma Municipality – a trailblazer
Situated in a beautiful location on the shores of the Öresund strait, Lomma is surrounded by beaches and agricultural land. Forecasts show, however, that climate change will affect Lomma, resulting in markedly higher sea levels. As far back as 2007, the municipality was the first in Sweden to take a holistic approach to climate adaptation and marine spatial planning. Since then, analyses and strategies relating to how the town may be affected in the future have been incorporated into the municipality’s comprehensive plan.
The very fact that they had an environmental strategist at all was unique at the time. The municipality, with 25,000 inhabitants, has long had a clear political commitment coupled to the transformation of Lomma harbour from an industrial area to an idyllic small town neighbourhood. For more than half a century, the Eternit asbestos cement factory was one of the town’s largest employers, but its story ended with one of the largest work environment disasters in Swedish history. In the late 1970s, work began on demolishing the factory buildings and removing the asbestos. Today, a new seaside neighbourhood, Lomma Hamn, has been developed. The municipality’s commitment to the environment has also grown, and it now employs several environmental strategists.
What happens if a town does not have fully prepared strategies?
“As an example, there are sea defences in south Lomma today. We delineated a land requirement back in 2006, which meant that when the floods came in 2012, we were able to act more quickly and get straight to work on defending ourselves from flooding.”
Happier being an allrounder than a specialist
Biodiversity, wildlife protection, landscape conservation, climate adaptations or the tendering process for school meals. Helena Björn’s responsibilities are many and varied. She has always cherished the role of allrounder rather than specialist, and she enjoys analysing how things work or do not work and, as an official, actually being able to do something about it.
“I act as a frontier worker, expert, catalyst, coordinator and sometimes ”pain in the backside”. All of this requires a lot of knowledge about an issue that quickly changes over time. There are lots of different roles and the variation is fun.”
Helena Björn has also continued to contribute to various research projects at Lund University and other higher education institutions, and says that there are numerous benefits to being able to move easily between the realms of academia and wider society.
“I have published more articles as a local government official than as a researcher. Acting as a translator and crossing boundaries is probably the thing I like most about my job, since I can see that the work gets taken to another level.”
Meetings are crucial
Dialogue with the residents of Lomma is intensive, something that Helena Björn is thankful for.
“Climate adaptation requires quite a lot of basic scientific knowledge, which is not something that can be taken for granted in today’s society. One of the most rewarding things is when I successfully manage to make these difficult questions more accessible,” says Helena Björn, who actively goes out to meet people.
It could be meetings with pre-schools about wildlife teaching, members of the public who would like to know more about why there is a need to remove invasive plant species, or the special water council, which oversees large landscaping projects together with landowners and farmers.
Helena Björn feels it is important to take into account people’s level of knowledge, attitude and the extent of their understanding, not to assume the role of expert and focus on detailed arguments. Instead, nature and environmental issues are communicated as quality management. Why does the municipality need environmental protection? Residents list that as one of the most important reasons for choosing to move here – being close to nature and knowing that it is going to continue to exist.
The need to provide sanctuaries for ecosystems
A new comprehensive plan has recently been completed and adopted, in which large areas of the municipality have been excluded from new residential development. The awareness that wildlife will have to move up onto land, since sea levels are rising in the shallows, means that it is necessary to provide space for managed retreat on land. Otherwise, the entire coastline would eventually become a quayside with two-metre-deep water immediately beyond it.
“I worry that we are forgetting what happens beneath the surface. Our eelgrass beds are among the finest on the planet and they are very important for the rest of the marine ecosystem. In lots of ways, they are the nurseries of the sea.”
Lomma Municipality has two marine nature reserves intended to protect and preserve biodiversity in the sea, they serve as a sanctuary for sensitive species and ecosystems.
In total, there are no fewer than 13 nature reserves in Lomma Municipality. Having been tasked by politicians with doubling the area of protected land and sea within seven years, work on protecting biodiversity and recreation areas has been intensive. There is still a lot we do not know about the role of each species in their ecosystem, but the fact that biodiversity is very important to us humans is something that Helena Björn wants everyone to be aware of.
“I worry about the future. At one time I thought I would be dead before there were major changes, but I now realise that these processes are happening much more quickly than we anticipated. Do we have eight years until the point of no return? I realise that we’re not going to have time. The question is, where are we going to end up? Yet at the same time, there are lots of people working on these issues and many who wish to do more – that is encouraging!”
Helena Björn and her husband have found themselves a haven in the forests of Blekinge, where they apply their knowledge to a number of biodiversity projects. It is a place where, Helena says, she feels secure.
“We have somewhere to let off steam here – a spot where I can simply be.”
New diagnostic tool gives hope to the childless
WHO estimates between 48 to 186 million couples face infertility. Half the time it´s due to the male factor. The medical technology company Spermosens, with the Lund inventor and alumnus Kushagr Punyani as founder, can make a difference with the diagnostic tool JUNO-Checked, which assesses the sperms’ ability to bind to the egg cell and then be able to fertilise.
From India to Sweden
As a 23-year-old, Kushagr Punyani, founder of Spermosens, decided to move from India and start researching at Lund University and NanoLund in 2014. In a deserted but beautiful summer-empty Lund, he at first did not experience any culture shock. But as time went on, he learned to appreciate the cultural differences, but also the open atmosphere that existed between researchers.
“We were over 100 researchers in my department at NanoLund and it was a fantastic environment that I had not experienced before. Having all this knowledge gathered and being able to talk openly and easily without hiding anything was very good”, says Kushagr Punyani.
Life as a researcher was a way of life for Kushagr Punyani, as for so many others. The thoughts, both at NanoLund and at home in the apartment, always revolved around his and others’ experiments in microfluidics and the process of working on his dissertation. Microfluidics is about how liquids, when physically limited to micrometer scale, are measured and manipulated. This technology can be used for medical diagnostics.
Already back in 2011 Kushagr Punyani did an internship on contraceptive vaccines at National Institute of Immunology in New Delhi. Contraceptive vaccines use proteins that are similar to the ones important in fertilisation. The vaccines generate an immune response in the organism which then prevents fertilisation and pregnancy.
“It was during this time I started thinking if these proteins are effective enough to prevent pregnancy, they must have a significance in diagnosing and predicting fertility.”
He worked on this research idea during his bachelors and master´s thesis in India at the lab of Prof Sudha Srivastava Jaypee at Institute of Information Technology.
The step to commercialisation
As early as 2014, researchers in the UK had discovered the JUNO protein on egg cells, which plays a crucial role in the sperm and egg cell binding and fertilisation. But the British researchers themselves did not propose that it could be of diagnostic use.
After an hour-long meeting with the Lund-based company Ecozyme AB, they decided which direction to take.
Spermosens first product JUNO-Checked can examine the sperms’ ability to bind to and fertilise the egg cell. The system consists of a measuring instrument and a disposable cassette. After the sperm sample is suitably applied to the cassette, you can see a result within 30 minutes. This means that couples facing infertility can be offered the right kind of treatment at IVF clinics around the world faster and more efficiently.
“The first cassettes were prepared on my kitchen table in my apartment by Prof Sudha Srivastava and it was extremely exciting”, says Kushagr Punyani.
After a successful meeting with investors, medical technology company Spermosens was formed in 2018 and it changed Kushagr Punyani´s professional life. Today, you do not find him in a lab, but his time is spent leading his team, finding the right people to work with and keeping track of financial and corporate developments.
“The transition from being a researcher to a manager was organic and I enjoy my new role. I have the advantage that I know what resources are required because I have been a researcher. My time at NanoLund with research in microfluidics I could never have learnt from a textbook”.
Spermosens believes in a major impact on the market with a product that IVF clinics can buy for a fraction of today’s total cost of a treatment in Europe.
There is also a well-thought-out idea behind establishing the company Spermosens in Sweden.
“There are several reasons why Sweden is an ideal country to work with this. There is a great deal of openness when it comes to collaboration, it is easier to find resources and there is a general acceptance of medical technology. Moreover, Sweden is at the forefront of IVF both in policy and practice”.
How does it feel to be a part of making the dream come true for so many people who long to have a child?
“It is my responsibility to help because I see a great need for the development of IVF treatments and that no one else is on the trail. I feel that Spermosens is my baby”.
TEXT: Bodil Malmström
“My favourite routine was to run from my dorm towards the campus, run through the harbour, then the beach and end up in the forest”
Hi Daniel Esparza! You graduated from the master’s degree programme in Service Management, with a specialization in Logistics, in 2016. What have you been up to since your graduation?
After graduating in 2016, I moved back to Mexico. Since I didn’t have a specific place to come back, I decided to venture and move to Merida, Mexico, where my best friend was living at the moment. He offered me to stay with him until I could get a place of my own. During my stay in Merida, I joined a startup called Playnux within the gaming industry. The aim of Playnux was to introduce the first Mexican video game console into the market. I worked there as the COO for about six months, after that time I decided to step down and search for a different challenge.
Next, I went to live for a couple of months to Oaxaca, Mexico, where my parents live. During that time, I was able to get a couple of job offers in Monterrey, Mexico (the second largest city in Mexico) and where I had lived most of my life. In 2017, I started working as an insurance sales manager within a New York Life consultancy called FISE. I worked there for about a year, where my main task was to teach new sales insurance agents the products and basic selling techniques needed to become a sales insurance professional. After a year I received a job offering to work as a Product Operations Specialist at Grainger Mexico. My time there consisted of working hand in hand with our network of suppliers. Two years later I got another job offering from my current employer (New World Fuel, NWF). At NWF, I function as a Logistics/Key account specialist in charge of several clients within the Fuel commercialization industry
What does a normal workday look like for you?
A normal workday starts by reviewing messages that were left unread the day before, if anything is urgent, then address them. After that it’s time to start the to-do list you planned for the day. The to-do list usually consists in making sure with the Ops team that everything is running smoothly, and deliveries will be made on time. We tend to have a team meeting in the mornings to plan and oversee the day/week.
From midday, we make sure the deliveries are made as planned and make sure that all the documentation is delivered so our finance team can collect and pay for everything accordingly. In the afternoons, the international fuel market closes, and we prepare the prices we are going to offer to our clients for the next day. Fuel prices change every day according to the market and other factors. We send all the prices to our customers, and we make sure the deliveries for the next day have all the correct information and we close any spot sales that could have happened during the day.
What do you think are the biggest future challenges in your industry?
I see three main challenges within my industry (fuel commercialization in Mexico). The first would be the black market (also known as “huachicol”), currently the illegal sale of fuels in Mexico is a big problem within the industry because we cannot compete with those prices and the transportation companies having such low profit margins are tempted to reduce their costs as much as possible. This problem has been reduced and is expected to be controlled if not eliminated, through government policies and regulations.
The second biggest problem is the present “fear” that the Mexican government might revert the energetic reform, to make PEMEX (state owned company) the only authorized fuel distributor in Mexico again. Which would make it impossible for private companies like ours to purchase imported fuel/diesel and commercialize it within Mexico. In my opinion, this is not likely to happen, but it is always a possibility.
Finally, in the long run fossil fuels are going to stop being used all around the world or limited to very small quantities, so a shift toward green energies/fuels will have to be a must.
What are the takeaways from your studies at Lund University that you found most useful in your current career in the logistics industry?
I think Sweden and Lund University have a very unique way of doing things from any other place I have visited or studied in. The no-hierarchy approach during lectures and the grading system are a few to mention. I think working or studying with people with different cultures and backgrounds is one of the most enriching experiences a human being can have. It helps you grow, think, understand, and implement new ideas or processes that you could never have thought of before because of your own limitations given by your culture, country, family, etc. Hence, learning to work with multidisciplinary and multicultural groups is my biggest takeaway of this amazing experience I was able to be part of.
You studied for two years at the Lund University Campus Helsingborg, what are your favourite places and things about Helsingborg?
There are many places in Helsingborg that are truly special, but my favourite routine was to run from my dorm (furutorpsgatan) towards the campus, run through the harbour, then the beach and end up in the forest. For me that’s the most magical and special route to run. Kärnan and Sofiero are also two of my favourite places in Helsingborg. Also, walking around Sofiero in autumn is a unique experience. In general, Helsingborg is a very special city, it has a lot of old buildings and many different restaurants and coffee shops where you can experience the Swedish culinary and the famous Fika. I would describe it as a very cozy town to live in, there are many things to do there. If you are an outdoor person, it is a perfect place to live in.
Being an alum is paying off – exclusive discounts for network members!
We are happy to introduce a digital membership card, as well as exclusive discounts for all Alumni Network members.
This means that as a member, you will receive attractive offers from the University’s cultural centres and exclusive discounts from our partners. New collaborations are added continuously, so it is a good idea to visit your alumni page regularly to view all the latest offers and discounts.
Discount codes are available for:
Lund University Botanical Gardens
Odeum Music Center
Vattenhallen Science Center
Lundagård student magazine
How can I access the discounts?
1. Log in to your alumni page using your email address here. No password is required.
2. Verify your contact details via the email sent to you when you log in.
3. You will now have access to the link called “learn more about the membership card and your alumni benefits”, which includes your exclusive discount codes.
4. Download your digital membership card and save it. You will also receive a confirmation email, containing a direct link to your membership card.
Not yet a member of the network?
To gain access to the offers, you first need to register in the Alumni Network. Register here.
After registering, you will have access to the page showing the discount codes.
Welcome to the Alumni Network, we are delighted that you have decided to join us.
New student finance for mid-career adults
Do you dream about developing your skills, perhaps changing careers or increasing your opportunities in the labour market? Have you heard that there is a new type of student finance available for mid-career adults in Sweden that gives you the chance to further develop skills in your professional field or completely change your career path, while receiving up to 80% of your salary?
A new transition package came into force in Sweden on 1 October 2022. The transition package includes changes to labour laws and a new law about student finance for transition and retraining has been adopted. A new law on transition and skills support in the labour market has also been introduced.
The new student finance for transition and retraining is aimed at adults who have already entered the labour market and want to improve their employability by broadening or deepening their expertise. It is also available for those on fixed contracts and the self-employed.
You can apply for the student finance for transition and retraining for studies of up to one year and receive up to 80% of your salary. You can choose to study full or part-time.
Who is eligible for student finance for transition and retraining and what courses can I study?
You can receive student finance for transition and retraining from the year you turn 27 to the year you turn 62. You must be established on the labour market and have worked for a total of at least 8 years over the past 14 years and at least 12 months of the last 24 months.
The criteria for receiving student finance for transition and retraining can be found on csn.se.
All courses and programmes in Sweden that entitle you to student grants and loans also entitle you to student finance for transition and retraining. This includes courses and programmes at a higher education institution, adult education at upper-secondary level (Komvux), folk high school or a higher vocational education programme. The most important thing is that your planned studies must strengthen your position in the Swedish labour market.
Plan for your dream future and set your goals
1. Find out which transition organisation you belong to
The collective agreement at your place of work governs which transition organisation you should turn to. If your workplace does not have a collective agreement, you should contact the Legal, Financial and Administrative Services Agency (Kammarkollegiet).
List of transition organisations (in Swedish)
2. Plan your studies and apply for a course or study programme
You can plan and apply for studies via antagning.se. If you are unsure about what to apply for or what might suit you, alumni are always welcome to contact Lund University’s study advisors.
3. Apply for student loan and grant for transition and retraining
Apply for student finance for transition and retraining in the form of a grant and/or loan by logging in on csn.se. Please note that if you work for an employer with a collective agreement, you apply for the additional allowance directly from your transition organisation. Keep in mind that you may often be entitled to unpaid leave from your job to study. Ask your employer or your union for more information.
The application period for courses offered in the autumn semester 2023 opens on 15 March and closes on 17 April. Apply on antagning.se
The application period for student finance for transition and retraining for studies that begin between 1 July and 31 December 2023 opens on 1 April. Read more on the CSN website.
Maybe you will join us once again in Lund as a student? If so, welcome back!
Jesus – man or myth?
Some critics argue that two millennia of traditions about Jesus are based on a bluff. Lund historian Dick Harrison examines the historical context that supports the existence of Jesus.
Dick Harrison is professor of history at Lund University and has written over a hundred books about Swedish and international history. He is also a columnist for the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet and writes regularly for the Swedish magazine Populär Historia. Among the wider public, he is known for his regular appearances on television and radio.
Christianity is the world’s largest religion and has meant more for the growth and development of Western culture than any other movement or system of thought. In light of this, making a claim that its founder never existed is an extremely provocative statement. Surely, Jesus is an historical person? Two millennia of traditions cannot be built on a bluff, can they?
The Jesus sceptics argue the sources cannot be taken seriously
Nevertheless, there are voices that claim Jesus has no basis in reality. These sceptics appear every now and again in newspapers and magazines. The arguments give the impression of addressing the sources critically: the sources about Jesus are so vague, so contradictory and from a period so long after the fact that they cannot be taken seriously. Jesus was created, the argument goes, by people of the first church, which needed an historical figure to congregate around.
What evidence is there, according to the sources, that Jesus ever lived?
First and foremost, we must establish how old the first writings about Jesus are. The earliest non-Christian references to Jesus were written by the historians Flavius Josephus, Tacitus and Pliny the Younger, among others, and belong to the decades around the year 100.
Sceptics who argue that Jesus is an invention contend that many of these texts are the result of later additions. For example, Tacitus notes in his Annals that Emperor Nero blamed the Great Fire of Rome in the year 64 on the Christians in the city.
Tacitus explains to his readers that the Christians, “a class hated for their abominations”, were founded by Christus. Christus had been executed by order of Pontius Pilatus during the reign of Tiberius. But did Tacitus write this himself, or was it added later?
The sad truth is, we do not know, and will never know, which details are the result of later revisions. However, claims of falsification and additions still require plausible evidence. It is not enough to simply claim that something was introduced afterwards.
We also have texts produced by Christians to consider. It is unclear when the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke were written, but it is estimated between 30 and 70 years after Jesus’ death. Older still are the Epistles of Paul, some of which date back to the 50s, some twenty years after the crucifixion.
If we assume that Jesus is fictional, he must have been created quickly and have gained widespread acceptance within a generation. People in their fifties had personal memories from Jesus’ time, which made it difficult to twist the story too far.
Nothing in the Pauline epistles suggests that people doubted the historicity of Jesus. When the apostle refers to him, it is in matters of detail, invoking the authority of Jesus. As such, he mentions how Jesus instituted the Eucharist before he was betrayed and died. This in itself is a strong argument for the existence of Jesus.
No one suggested that the religious founder was fictitious
It is notable that Roman writers mentioned the Christians already at this early stage. It was uncommon for Roman authors to report on religious groups in the provinces, unless they were engaged in rebellion and war, which suggests that by the year 100 Christians had become so numerous and visible as to merit attention. Although Christians at this time were perceived as troublesome by both Jews and Romans, no one claimed that the founder of their religion was fictitious.
Those who wish to argue that Jesus did not exist must rely on several assumptions
Another argument for the existence of Jesus comes from the principle of argumentation known as Occam’s razor, after the Franciscan William of Ockham, who developed it in the 14th century. The principle is that the strength of a hypothesis increases as the number of assumptions needed to advance it decreases.
The more you have to explain away, the worse the hypothesis.
Those who wish to argue that Jesus did not exist must make several assumptions. Above all, they must assume a series of sinister intentions on the part of the first Christians. They must have wanted to make the real founder or founders of the movement invisible, which they did so effectively that no source material survived. Then they must have decided to lie collectively to create another figurehead instead.
So, first the movement grew, then the original founder or founders were eliminated, then they needed a fictional founder, made one up and called him Jesus. Not only that. They invented a whole life for Jesus with family, relatives and friends. They had him go on trips and give speeches in named towns that were known to people who lived when the texts were formulated. And everyone believed them.
Such a story requires so many logical twists and turns that it seems unlikely. And the sources themselves give no support to this kind of speculation. Anyone who wants to make a case for a fake Jesus has to argue that all the Gospels and early Christian traditions are false and instead rely on an unprovable intention and an unprovable decision.
Jesus sceptics usually rely on an e silentio argument
Jesus sceptics also use an e silentio argument, that is, an argument “from silence”: since writers active in Jesus’ own time never mention him, he probably did not exist.
But e silentio arguments ignore how the written culture of the ancient world worked. Writers were opinion-formers who only highlighted specific essentials that were vital to the purpose of the text. According to the Gospels, which go out of their way to emphasise the importance of Jesus, his movements were mainly confined to parts of the peripheral region of Galilee, apart from his arrest and execution in Jerusalem, all of which took place in the space of twenty-four hours.
If even the Christians themselves did not believe that Jesus was more prominent than that, it is highly unlikely that the Romans and Jews perceived him as a major problem in the 30s. Hence, they did not write about him.
Added to this are all the contradictory and problematic statements in the Gospels. Here are some examples out of the pile:
- The timing for Jesus’ birth is fuzzy. It is not possible to find a time when the named regimes (emperor, governor and king) and their censuses coincided.
- Jesus is said to come from Nazareth, although some prophecies link the Messiah to Bethlehem, leading to a digression about Joseph and Mary travelling south so that Jesus could be born in the right place.
- Jesus was mainly active in Galilee, on the outskirts of the Jewish territory, and not in the centre, Jerusalem.
- Jesus suffers a shameful death on the cross, contrary to what would be expected of a Messiah figure.
- The traitor Judas dies in two different ways (in Matthew and in the Acts of the Apostles).
- The first people to testify to the resurrection of Jesus are women, among them Mary Magdalene, even though women’s testimony had no legal value in the society of that time.
If the Christians invented Jesus and his actions, why did they not do a better job?
Why complicate things with Nazareth, the crucifixion and the traitor Judas? Why let Mary testify to the resurrection instead of Peter, or John? The easiest way to explain these problems is that unfortunately, the evangelists had to relate to well-known truths that could not be papered over. They sought to explain away inconvenient circumstances and find theological interpretations in the many embarrassing elements of the story of Jesus’ life and death.
All of the above means that we can conclude Jesus once lived. This requires far fewer assumptions and excuses than the other hypotheses, and is in line with what we know about the historical context. It is highly likely that Jesus came from Nazareth, was active in Galilee, got into trouble with the authorities in Jerusalem and was executed. There is nothing odd about this account. What is truly remarkable is how, after his death, the sect around the person of Jesus developed into an exceptionally successful world religion. But that is another story.
Text: Dick Harrison
Do you want to read more?
Dick Harrison’s book Jesus has just been published in Swedish as part of the Dramatic World History series.
Working through guilt and growing as a person
Meet Ulrica Fritzson, a former prison chaplain who has long felt frustrated that convicts who have committed serious crimes have no outlet for processing their guilt. This led her to Lund University, where she started researching a way out for criminals.
When the worst happens, when a person hurts or kills another, there is no room for dialogue and reconciliation – whether for the perpetrator, the victim, or the family. But then what? How does someone move on with their lives and mend what has been broken?
Ulrika Fritzson has pondered life’s big questions ever since she was a child, but the idea of becoming a priest was far from obvious. Growing up in an atheist home with a father who worked as a car salesman and a mother who was a housewife, the path to university studies and then the Church of Sweden was long and unfamiliar. It was only in high school that the priesthood called. As a student at Lund, it gradually became clear that the world was not as complicated as Ulrica Fritzson had imagined.
“I have never regretted my choice of profession. To be able to interact with people on issues such as how to keep living when someone they love dies, or what happens when you have children, and then to have access to stories from the Bible that interpret life, our existence, it’s amazing.”
Reconciliation heals broken relationships
Ulrica Fritzson worked as a therapist at a crisis centre where she met and helped people who have been exposed to violence as well as those who have perpetrated violence, in intimate relationships. For a long time, she also worked as a prison chaplain. There she met inmates who had committed the worst of crimes and were tormented by the fact that there was no space for them to process their guilt. Guilt towards the victim, even in the case of murder, guilt towards the victim’s relatives, as well as guilt towards their own loved ones for tearing their family apart.
On a holiday to Cape Town, she visited a notorious prison and became deeply fascinated by its reconciliation programme, which created a dialogue between inmates, their families, and victims of crime. The programme did not emphasise forgiveness, but for the offender to confront and take responsibility for their own existential guilt and to feel that there was hope they could go on to live as a good person after their sentence was complete.
“The impetus for me to start my research was not a longing for an academic career, but rather, I felt so strongly that I wanted to bring the tools I had seen in that South African prison to Sweden.”
With research funding from the Church of Sweden Research Department, she conducted 21 in-depth interviews with convicted offenders who had gone through a reconciliation programme.
I heard terrible stories of victims who wanted the convicted person to rot in hell, and at the same time I understood that the inmate felt some kind of liberation. Being confronted with the reality of the situation and the consequences of their actions put the inmate in touch with their own human capacity and enabled them to take responsibility.
For all the inmates interviewed, the programme was a life-changing experience, everything became visible and rose to the surface. The research and her meetings with convicts also gave Ulrica Fritzson a direction for her future work, out of which the non-profit association, The Reconciliation Group, was founded in 2011. The group organises reconciliation weeks, support for relatives, training courses and lectures and is currently active throughout Sweden.
“I am cautiously hopeful that humans are fundamentally good in the deepest part of their being, and I believe that more and more as I meet people who have committed the most horrible crimes. If we allow ourselves to actually search and ask for the human, somewhere deep inside the human does emerge.”
Not enough places
It is a tough, six-day programme that inmates have to apply for, but often there are too few places. Many people want the opportunity to heal themselves by taking responsibility for their actions and making amends to those they have hurt. In the Swedish reconciliation programme, the focus is first on the convict and their families. The first, crucial step is for the inmate to admit their guilt to their loved ones. Meeting the victims of their crime is a delicate process that must be approached with care and comes much later in the process.
Today Ulrica Fritzson works as a diocesan theologian for Skara Diocese, and two weeks a year she meets inmates during a reconciliation week together with, among others, prison chaplains, drug and alcohol therapists, and prison officers.
“It’s one of the best things I do in my professional life. To see a person in a state of grief and panic, someone who can’t find the words or the space to heal – to step in and make a difference is one of the most exciting things I do.”
Ulrica Fritzson carries many powerful memories of encounters she has had. One was with a man we will call Stefan. Some years ago, he was in Kumla Prison serving a life sentence for murder.
“By the time we got there and told him about the programme, he had already raked, ploughed and fertilised the soil of his own mind so many times in a panicked hope that there would be some chance for him to live a life beyond his crime, to become human.”
At the beginning of the week, the convicts submit the addresses and phone numbers of relatives they wish to invite into the process. Stefan’s list contained 15 names.
“I called and called, but no one wanted to come. ‘Who does he think he is, we don’t want to forgive, he can forget it.’ Then a click on the other end of the phone.”
In court, he had explained away and minimised his role in the murder and that was the last the relatives had heard from him. They had been forced to live on with shattered lives and now they didn’t want to see Stefan. Ulrica Fritzson managed to reach some of his relatives and explain that the aim was not forgiveness but reconciliation.
“After a long conversation, some of the relatives called back and were ready to meet Stefan. It took six months before the meeting was organised in the prison. The relatives were nervous and scared of Stefan, but when the meeting was over, a sense of relief spread through them all that they had been able to put into words the weight they had been carrying inside.”
Deeply human process
Ulrica Fritzson hopes that the political debate on criminal justice will move away from ever harsher sentences and punishments. Of course, there is a need for boundary-setting institutions, but there is also a need for something more.
“We turn people into objects and think that good will come if we lock them up behind bars. We have to have a penal system, of course we do, but we must also care about what happens to people once inside prison. Who are we letting out?”
Ulrica Fritzson is convinced that the desire and need for reconciliation exists within all of us when we have harmed others. Whether one is religious or not.
“I can dress it up in Christian terminology if I’m a Christian, but if I’m a Jew or a Muslim or a Hindu, I can present it in that religious context too. Reconciliation is a deeply human thing that goes beyond religious boundaries.”
The Reconciliation Group
The Reconciliation Group is a non-profit organisation working for reconciliation and against crime and substance abuse. The Reconciliation Group works with state, municipal and voluntary organisations, law enforcement agencies and faith communities working on crime prevention and community safety. The group organises the intensive reconciliation week, reconciliation weekends, family support and lectures.
How I learned Swedish during my Master’s studies
In this post, Reynir Ragnarsson, intern with the Alumni & Employability team autumn 2022, reflects on his journey toward becoming a fluent Swedish-speaker.
Reynir studies the Master’s Programme in Strategic Communication at Campus Helsingborg. He is originally from Iceland but has lived half of his life in the US.
The only way to learn any language, is to fully immerse yourself in it
Prior to moving to Sweden in the summer of 2021 to begin the Master’s Programme in Strategic Communication, I decided one very important thing; that when I moved, I would not merely exist there as an “outside observer” living a separate life from locals and only mingling with other international students, but really live there as a member of that society. Because the way I see it, what is the point of studying in another country if the intention is not to see and experience that country’s culture and people? Although making connections with fellow international students is great, I figured that if I were to only socialise with other newcomers, I risked finding myself in a “bubble” without any connection to the larger society. Naturally, the only way for me to do that was to be able to speak the language, and so I decided to learn Swedish.
I can’t say exactly when I committed to learning Swedish because it was very much an on-and-off process, but by using the app Duolingo a few minutes a day, reading Swedish news, and consuming Swedish media, I gradually began to understand Swedish. After about two years I could understand everything and speak about 80-90%. However, I never took a single class in Swedish, I simply immersed myself in that world.
No formal lessons and no SFI
Of course, it must be said that as an Icelander I had a bit of a head start in learning Swedish as compared to someone from a romance-speaking country, since both Icelandic and Swedish belong to the so-called “North Germanic language group” along with Danish and Norwegian, which all ultimately stem from the same “old Norse language” that was spoken in Scandinavia some 1000 years ago. Nevertheless, despite our common origins, Icelandic is not mutually intelligible with Swedish in the same way that Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian are to each other. An Icelander would not be able to understand a Swede any more than a Dutchman would if neither had any experience with the language.
Regularly exposing myself to the language through informal means (watching a Swedish TV series with Swedish subtitles for example) was therefore one way to become familiar with words and how they were pronounced, alongside five minutes of Duolingo during my daily commute or lunchbreaks. I wouldn’t say I have any better grasp on language-learning than the average person, but I did have a strong desire to be able to communicate with Swedes in Swedish as soon as possible, and that proved to be the most important factor.
When I was in high school, for example, I took three years of Spanish. But despite that, I learned more Swedish in a year from Duolingo and consuming Swedish media than I ever did in my three years of formal Spanish classes. The main reason is precisely that…that it was just classes. In my mind I was simply doing what needed to be done to get a certain grade, but in my heart I hadn’t decided that I wanted to learn Spanish and thus no matter how much homework we did, it was doomed from the very start.
You can read thousands of books on how to swim, but eventually you must get in the water
A common thing that I hear from other international students is that they are in fact very knowledgeable in Swedish and can understand a lot, but somehow, they hesitate to put into practice what they’ve learned when the time comes to actually speak Swedish. Even when they’re in a situation where they should be able to hold a conversation, somehow the idea that their pronunciation or vocabulary is not “100% fluent” leads them to abandon speaking in Swedish altogether, and just switch to English for convenience’s sake. The great irony of this is that if you never accept that you will speak a bit different in the beginning of your journey, then you will of course never get to that point of sounding fluent. You simply must accept that the first Swedish words to come out of your mouth will naturally not sound like a native-born “Stockholmer” and you will have an accent, but once you’ve said those words enough times, they will begin to sound more natural. The good news, however, is that in my experience, even when you just attempt to speak the language of the country you are in, people will not only appreciate it but be overjoyed! Even if it is just one or two words, they appreciate the fact that people outside their own culture would make such an effort, and this in turn can open the doors to eventual friendships (which many people often complain is hard to find in Sweden). But to this I say it’s just a matter of leaving the comfort of “the bubble” and mustering up the courage to jump into the deep end of the pool and testing out what you’ve learned.
One of the early benefits of my newly acquired Swedish knowledge, was that I was able to find my student apartment in Helsingborg, which was actually cheaper than the apartments being marketed to international students. But here was the thing…my future apartment was only being advertised in Swedish and thereby most international students wouldn’t even have known about it from their Google searches. The unfortunate effect of this trend is that Swedish students will often live in one building that is composed of mostly other Swedes and international students will live in another that is almost exclusively international students, with very little chance for mingling. Perhaps it’s no wonder that many foreigners find it hard to meet other Swedes, but I sincerely believe that the language of the place you are in is the key to all the doors which might otherwise be locked to you: making friends, getting a job, and simply living there rather than existing as a “permanent tourist”. So next time you’re at the bar, try saying “en öl tack” instead of “one beer please”. Consider this: an accent is often perceived as attractive!
For many, studying abroad is also an opportunity to establish themselves in their host country to be able to work there after their studies. This was one of my other strong motivations for using my time as a student to learn Swedish. That way, when I graduated and was ready to enter the labour market, I could just as well begin my career in Sweden and my options would not be limited to English-speaking positions. As a preemptive measure to this possible future, I decided to test out my Swedish capabilities in a professional setting by applying to a Swedish-speaking internship position. Naturally I was quite nervous about doing a job interview entirely in Swedish, since speaking Swedish in a job setting is a lot more intimidating than within an informal social setting. Nevertheless, my employers were not put off by my accent and offered me the position. This experience ultimately helped me even more by giving me time to get used to writing emails, partaking in meetings, and speaking with colleagues entirely in Swedish. Had I not done my internship, I maybe would have lacked the confidence to apply for such jobs in Sweden, but after my time as an intern at the External Relations Department within Lund University I feel confident about beginning my career here!
“I started my master’s in 2010 and was supposed to graduate in 2012. But, like many of my cohort, things didn’t quite go to plan.”
Hi Sveta! You graduated from Lund University with an MSc in Global Studies in 2014, what have you been up to since graduation?
I started my master’s in 2010 and was supposed to graduate in 2012. But, like many of my cohort, things didn’t quite go to plan. So instead of graduating then, I took some time off from studies to work, hoping I’d get a better idea of what I wanted to do for a career once I graduated. I moved to Chicago for a role developing international programmes at a local college and that turned out to be the best decision I could have made career-wise. I then returned to Europe, wrote and defended my dissertation, and finally graduated in June 2014. While in Chicago, I got excited about a career in academia.
In June 2014, I moved to London to pursue a career as a higher education professional. My first role was at Regent’s University London, a small private university, which I loved, before finally arriving at what I thought would be my ‘final destination’ – I landed an international role at the London School of Economics and Political Science. For the following 3+ years, I managed international alumni engagement for the School, travelling the world on work assignments and meeting countless interesting people and notable alumni of the LSE.
In 2018, I was ready for a new challenge, so went into the private sector, taking up a marketing role at EY, where I spent another 3 years. Before long I needed another challenge so, when I was offered the chance to lead the global alumni programme at Clifford Chance, I jumped at the opportunity. It has been a fascinating journey transitioning from academia to professional services, they are similar in many ways but also with their quirks.
Outside of work, I’ve been in constant explorer mode in London, a city which continues to amaze me even though it’s been my home for over eight years. I also travel a lot – all my vacation days have been abroad (except for lockdowns!).
Today you work as Global Marketing Manager at Clifford Chance in London, can you tell us about your normal workday?
‘Normal’ is a word that has a different meaning today than it had a few years ago. Our working setup is a hybrid one, where we spend time in the office alongside working from home with a high degree of flexibility, all depending on the projects at hand. As Clifford Chance is a global law firm, I lead global programmes, working closely with senior stakeholders in our 30 offices around the world. It’s a varied role in which I spend many hours each day in calls and meetings with colleagues and lawyers to develop engagement strategies for a range of global audiences: staff, clients, alumni, and potential recruits. I also spend a lot of time researching and strategizing new programme developments, as well as sourcing and creating original content to engage, inspire and influence the firm’s audiences.
How have your studies at Lund University influenced your life?
The time I spent during my master’s degree, both in class and outside of it, facilitated building the global life I had been dreaming of since I was a kid growing up in a village in Moldova. I spent the second year of my degree as a visiting scholar at Tec de Monterrey in Mexico City, a wonderful and fascinating experience which changed my worldview and my life trajectory in many ways. The most memorable moments from those years are the ones I spent with my friends. Some I met on my programme but even more outside of it: volunteering with the student union, mentoring incoming exchange students, living and partying in the “korridors”. I still keep in touch with many dear friends from Lund, though we’re all dispersed around the world.
During the pandemic you founded Wovid Diaries, a platform to inspire and empower women during the challenging times of Covid 19. What was your biggest take-away from this project?
I got to work with an amazingly impressive group of women and I really enjoyed getting to know them and building Wovid Diaries together over 2020 and 2021. We were based in different parts of the world and I’d only met one of the core team members before, so building this project from scratch as a fully remote team showed me how with the right team and motivation, you can achieve something great. I also gained a renewed sense of confidence, which has helped me personally and professionally.
You have been working in London since 2014, do you have any favourite spots in this big city that you would like to share with us? And, what’s your advice for someone who is relocating to London from abroad?
I love London and have so many favourite spots all over the city. As I’ve lived most of the time in north London, most of my spots are firmly based north of the river (Londoners will understand). I love long walks around the canals in Angel and Camden, as well as going to Hampstead Heath and Primrose Hill for panoramic views of the city. My favourite places for food, drinks and partying are in Angel, Camden Town and Covent Garden. I also love Holland Park (west) and walking along the Thames river at Southbank. This walk along the Southbank with views of the London skyline reminds me a bit of the Chicago Riverwalk, which is one of my all-time favourite places in the world.
For advice about moving to London, I recommend reading my article about being a Londoner, a summary of key lessons I learned in my 8+ years here.
If you could do anything in the world as your career, what would you do?
When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut but in 5th grade, I realized I had no math skills and dropped that idea. In high school, I listened to a lot of the BBC World Service programmes so I thought being a war correspondent would be a great job, one that would mix my interests in history, geography, international affairs, and speaking many foreign languages, and, meant I could travel the world. After my first experience living and working in San Francisco in 2008, I realized that I wanted to keep travelling the world so whatever was going to facilitate that globetrotting lifestyle was my goal.
The reason I chose the Global Studies programme at Lund was that I was hoping it would help me pursue an international organization career. Like many of my classmates, I was aiming for the UN and similar organizations because my interests and skills would be a great fit in complex international settings. Alternatively, location scouting would be a great gig – I would love to travel to remote, little-known places to explore the wonders of our planet. Explorer mode on, adventure-seeking and always on the move – it would fit my personality perfectly.
When Spanish flu ravaged academia
When thinking about viruses in a university context, we perhaps mainly associate them with medical or scientific research. Or possibly, in a more everyday context, with how raging seasonal influenza strains and suchlike can lead to temporary increases in sick leave and leave to care for a sick child among university staff. However, certain viruses can affect a university more fundamentally, something that the Covid-19 pandemic of recent years – with staff working from home, the rapid transition to online teaching and cancelled doctoral conferment ceremonies – has taught us. But the coronavirus Sars-cov-2 was certainly not the first of its kind. Just over one hundred years ago one of its older relations, the influenza A(H1N1) virus, struck Lund University – and not least its students – hard.
From the history books we know the influenza A(H1N1) virus as Spanish flu. This is actually a misnomer, stemming from the fact that the first cases reported in the press were in Spain – where, among others, the King and members of the government were taken ill – in May 1918. However, by that time the virus had probably begun to spread in several other countries in continental Europe, but the ongoing press censorship during World War I had kept a lid on the news. The morale-sapping effect of a pandemic potentially threatening both troops and the civilian population was too much of a risk for it to be reported on openly. Spain on the other hand was neutral and still had a free press. The exact origin of the virus – which science only succeeded in identifying long afterwards – is still unclear however, but one theory is that it was taken to Europe by the American troops who began arriving after the USA entered the war. Once on these shores, it would prove to be a considerably more lethal weapon than all the human weapons with which the Central and Allied Powers had waged war against each other since 1914. And during the summer of 1918 it spread like wildfire, not just across war-torn Europe, but also to Africa. South America and Japan were also affected, but it is thought probable that the virus spread there from the USA.
A strange characteristic of Spanish flu was that – in contract to most other influenza strains – it did not primarily strike the traditionally “weak” groups such as young children, the elderly and the infirm. Rather, Spanish flu struck hardest against seemingly healthy young adults, mainly those aged between 20 and 40. The reason for this is still unknown, but one theory is that the virus caused the sufferer’s immune system to turn on itself. In other words, the stronger your immune system, the higher the risk of becoming seriously ill.
Professor Thunberg changes his mind
In Sweden, the first case of Spanish flu was noted in Skåne, namely in Hyllinge, in the summer of 1918. Ironically, this was not due to Skåne’s proximity to continental Europe. Hyllinge’s “patient zero” was a local man who had returned home at midsummer after a spell working in Norway, where he had contracted the disease (which in turn is thought to have come to Norway by ship from Scotland). Soon, some 50 local people had been taken ill. The district medical officer in Bjuv, Carl Dilot, was somewhat bemused by the rapid spread of infection, but even so made the assessment that it was just a matter of common influenza. There was consequently no cause to be overly concerned.
A similar assessment was also made initially by another medical expert, Torsten Thunberg, professor of physiology at Lund University. For several years he had been publishing a popular science journal called Hygienisk Revy, and its changing position on Spanish flu is indicative of how views on the virus would gradually alter. When Thunberg first wrote about the flu – one paragraph in the journal’s July edition – it was still under a slightly joshing headline “If the Spanish runny nose was life-threatening …”, and even though he noted that the infection “seems to be irresistible in its trajectory” he suspected that some of the reported cases were probably only “common mucous membrane catarrhs with a bout of fever”. But Thunberg did note that the “the Spanish runny nose does not seem to be a serious illness”, even though it could possibly “take a more serious turn” regarding “the elderly, infants and the infirm” so that “there could even be one or two deaths as a result”. However, even with “such an innocuous illness” Thunberg stated
[…] those who are ill have an obligation to keep away from healthy people. They should not without a valid reason be out in their neighbourhood and should not shake hands. They should preferably stay at home in isolation. And, above all, they should keep away from infants and the elderly.
This was in July and, as we saw above, Thunberg’s assumption about the primary at-risk groups was incorrect. The August edition of Hygienisk Revy did not mention Spanish flu at all. At the same time, the number of those taken ill nationwide was rising, particularly in Norrland and Skåne, and when the September issue of Hygienisk Revy came out, its first four pages were devoted to Spanish flu.
Thunberg now noted that they were dealing with a “a very infectious disease, spreading through airborne and direct contact”, in which one problem was that “many of those who are sick have such mild symptoms that they are not confined to bed”. Bedrest and self-isolation were what the professor primarily prescribed: “the person who is ill shall take to their bed and stay there until they are completely free from fever and any cough has gone”. He also realised that this was difficult achieve, as ordinary people’s impatience and the financial implications of being away from work presented obstacles. In addition, there was the fact that “life in modern society” in itself tended to mix “people with each other”:
The crowds of people in modern big cities and communication systems within and between communities, mean that such a disease that is now raging has the most favourable conditions for transmission to almost every home in our country.
One person who utilised this modern communication system during the summer was an alumnus of Lund University, Per Håkansson. He completed his doctoral degree in organic chemistry in Lund in 1873 and later became known as a manufacturer of vinegar and his own patented disinfectant, Salubrin. His company was based in Eslöv, but in early July 1918 he was compelled to travel to Stockholm on business, even though he felt somewhat unwell. Shortly after arriving, he felt considerably worse and died at his hotel after just a few days. The former Lund student Håkansson had thus not only become Sweden’s very first death caused by Spanish flu – he may very well have been the one who spread the disease to the capital.
Jubilee in the shadow of a food shortage and pandemic
Just over two months later, the traffic was going in the other direction. Now there was a large number of well-known people and dignitaries heading for Lund. The reason for this was that on 27 and 28 September, Lund University was to celebrate its 250th anniversary with great pomp. The original intention had been, as with previous jubilees, to schedule the celebrations at the end of the spring semester, but, as Vice-Chancellor Johan C. W. Thyrén stated in his review of the academic year 1918/19, “certain considerations, particularly the difficult conditions for supplying provisions” has meant the event had to be rescheduled for a later date. The conditions were a result of the war, which was now in its fifth year, bringing rising costs and shortages of most things – including the white velvet used in the student caps that was imported from England. The latter, however, was a minor concern for the students compared with the food shortage. Browsing through the Lund newspapers from 1918, the headlines about, and prior to, the jubilee are almost overshadowed by headlines about “the students’ food issue”. And, on top of this, Spanish flu now struck forcefully just weeks before the jubilee – and this against a student population already partially weakened because of the food shortage.
One of those afflicted was Thorild Dahlgren, a student of many years with multifarious involvements in student life (among other things, he was one of those who worked to resolve the above-mentioned “food issue”). In that autumn semester of 1918, he had got to the stage where he was ready to submit his doctoral thesis in mathematics Sur le théorème de condensation de Cauchy. The thesis defence was scheduled for 21 September, the very last date to be in time for the doctoral degree conferment ceremony during the jubilee celebrations the following week. With four days to go, Dahlgren fell ill with Spanish flu. When there was just one day to go and he was still ill, he was offered a further three-day deferral, something that he, however, declined. He later justified this in an article about his memories of student life:
I was sufficiently clear of mind to make the following argument: “either I am worse on Tuesday than I will be tomorrow, Saturday, and then I have completely missed the chance of achieving the objective, or I am better on Tuesday than I will be tomorrow, Saturday, in which case I might as well defend the thesis tomorrow”. [ – – – ] On Saturday, I got up immediately before the thesis defence, dressed myself in the compulsory tailcoat, got a cab for the short distance from Vinstrupsgatan 9, where I was living, to the University, performed a feeble defence of my thesis and after a three-hour break was back in bed.
Dahlgren was one of the lucky ones. Not only did he recover, but he did it in time to receive his laurel wreath at the Faculty of Philosophy’s jubilee doctoral degree conferment ceremony on 27 September. The Swedish royal family was not so lucky. King Gustaf V’s youngest son, Prince Erik, died of Spanish flu the day before Dahlgren’s thesis defence. Due to this, the royal couple cancelled their planned participation in the University’s jubilee. However, the event was not completely without royal lustre, as the King’s brother Eugen and the crown prince couple Gustaf Adolf and Margareta – the Duke and Duchess of Skåne – attended, although Margareta marked the recent death in the family by wearing mourning dress.
Despite the unfavourable circumstances, the festivities seem to have gone well and according to plan. The press referred to “an outstanding celebration”, “an impressive festive occasion” and “a resounding day of rejoicing in a celebratory atmosphere and sunshine” and thought that “those visiting the city have certainly taken only good memories home with them”. The question is how many of them – after two days of festivities, ceremonies, formal speeches and the general mingling of hundreds of local and visiting celebrators – took the virus home as well?
Certain parts of the jubilee programme had been under threat from the raging infection. For example, the students, through the Academic Society, were to contribute with a special production of the student cabaret Gerda – written in 1886 and subsequently considered to be one of the major classics in the spex genre – but were then suddenly faced with a drastically decimated ensemble. The Society’s then archivist Tusse Sjögren wrote:
[…] suddenly Prince Axel, the White Knight, the conductor, the prompter and a couple of small roles were replaced with others. But it worked. Einar Ralf, who was called in to sing in Father Berg’s jubilee cantata, took over Axel’s velvet cap and the always willing Otto Groothoff at LD [Lunds Dagblad] was surprised on the morning of the performance, taken to the Society and played the White Knight excellently after only one day of song and script rehearsals.
Some explanation of the above may be in order. Einar Ralf was at that time a student at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Stockholm and conductor of the Stockholm Academic Male Chorus but had studied law and been involved in student life in Lund in the early 1910s. He became known subsequently as a concert singer, choirmaster and choral teacher. “Father Berg” refers to Alfred Berg, the University’s then director of music, who became an honorary doctor at the jubilee in 1918. Finally, Otto Groothoff was a journalist, theatre critic and playwright. After hastily filling in, he seemed to have acquired a taste for performing in student cabaret, as he could be seen in the role of the Pharoah in Uarda in 1919 and 1923.
Despite everything, the student cabaret went ahead. As a finale to the jubilee celebrations, the students also planned to organise two balls, an official event at the Academic Society and a more unofficial one at the Grand Hotel. The city’s Healthcare Committee appealed at the last moment for these to be cancelled. However, the plea went unheard, at least regarding the official ball at the Academic Society, which was attended by 500 guests. They had promised that the dancing itself would be “restricted to a minimum”, but there is perhaps reason to question the extent this was adhered to. In any case, the city decided to put its foot down more emphatically only a few days later rather than just make a request. In a situation where the press was reporting around 50,000 people infected and one thousand deaths nationwide, the Healthcare Committee in Lund decided to ban theatre performances, concerts, dance events (including dance schools) and “other similar entertainment conducive to creating crowds” from 30 September until further notice. A similar ban on showing films at cinemas had been previously introduced. When asked by the press whether the jubilee festivities had contributed to the spread of infection, Lund’s chief medical officer, Rydberg, diplomatically replied that “it’s too early as yet – and altogether difficult – to make a statement about this”.
Handwashing and toothbrushing – but no cancelled lectures
Despite the local measures in Lund and other places, October was the worst month yet. The epidemic reached its peak with almost 10,000 deaths in Sweden in one month. In these circumstances, the Healthcare Committee in Lund made a plea on a matter in which they clearly did not consider they had the remit to issue a ban. The Committee wondered “if it wasn’t the case due to the epidemic that lectures and exercises at the University should be restricted to the greatest possible extent”? The matter was discussed at the University’s then next-highest governing body, the Lower Consistorium, on 15 October. To get an idea of the epidemic’s spread, the Lower Consistorium had before the meeting requested information from the student nations on the current number of sick students. The highest number was reported by Lund Nation (18) followed by Kristianstad (6) and Småland (5). The figures were considerably lower at the other student nations in terms of both numbers and percentages, and at some there were no current cases of illness at all to report. It can be mentioned as an interesting detail that Malmö Nation stated it could not provide any reliable figures at all “as a large number of the nation’s members live at their homes in Malmö and, if they fall ill, they are cared for there”. Malmö Nation was at that time virtually the only student nation whose members were not mainly living at their place of study but commuted to lectures. On the other hand, Malmö was the student nation that reported most deaths, five, among its members “from complications of influenza”. Otherwise, only Gothenburg Nation reported a single death.
In the following discussion, a range of views were expressed by those present. Astronomer Charlier deemed that “a difference must, of course, be made between lectures where there is a large audience and those where only a few students have registered”. Anatomist Broman’s view was that “numerous lecture halls are far too small and cramped for the number of students who were now attending lectures” and recommended that in these cases “a request should be made to those students who do not need to take part in courses and exercises now, to defer these until the epidemic in question was over in the city”. Lawyer Björling stated that it should “be sufficient if the University authorities ensured that lecture halls were disinfected after the end of each day’s lectures”.
Ultimately, the Lower Consistorium, despite the Healthcare Committee’s plea, decided not to cancel any teaching sessions, but to follow Björling’s proposal about disinfection plus “lecturers with large audiences would be assigned the large lecture halls (I and VI), and possibly the auditorium”. Lastly, information notices were to be put up with the following wording, of which at least the first two points feel very familiar from a modern Covid-19 perspective:
Due to Spanish flu, students are advised to
1) stay at home in cases of feeling unwell, a cold or fever, and not to go to lectures, courses or exercises due to the risk of exacerbation and the spread of infection;
2) wash hands often and always before meals and when returning home after being outdoors;
3) brush teeth carefully and use mouthwash before and after every meal and in the evenings.
The notice was signed by John Forssman, at that time deputy vice-chancellor and professor of general pathology, bacteriology and public healthcare. Contemporary events suggest Forssman was perhaps responsible for the third point, concerning mouth hygiene. A few weeks earlier the press had reported a discovery made by Forssman in his parallel capacity as a physician at Lund Hospital.
At the department for sexually transmitted diseases, patients were on two wards. On one of them almost all the patients had contracted Spanish flu, while on the other there was only one. The difference between the patients on the two wards was that the one with least infections was for patients suffering from syphilis, who had therefore “to avoid complications from the mouth” been prescribed “to […] use mouthwash and carefully brush teeth after every meal and in the evenings with a 1% solution of hydrogen peroxide”. Forssman therefore found that “in all probability, it is this care of the mouth and teeth that has given the syphilis patients protection against the infection, which can hardly be thought to penetrate in any other way than via the mouth or nose”. Whether Forssman’s conclusion stands up in terms of more recent research findings is beyond the author of this article’s capacity to judge, but perhaps a reader with medical expertise can answer this?
The student death toll
Regardless of toothbrushing, disinfected lecture halls and handwashing, Spanish flu claimed more lives in Lund’s academic world, and not least among the students. At that time, deaths among the teaching staff and students as well as others with University connections were reported regularly in both the university directories published each semester and the University’s academic year reports. A look at the University directory for the autumn semester of 1918 (which obviously came out quite a while after the semester started) reveals that the list of deaths since the previous issue began with elderly people – honorary members of student nations and similar – during the late autumn, but from the beginning of September, the names of ordinary young students begin to appear. By the time the directory was printed in mid-October, no less than ten such names had been added to the list, i.e. a somewhat higher figure than that reported at the Lower Consistorium’s meeting around the same time. And there would be more. In the academic year report for 1918/19, the total number of student deaths during the entire academic year had risen to 20, of whom 15 had died during the autumn semester. Admittedly, the exact cause of death is not stated, but Spanish flu can be ascertained as the main culprit from a comparison with the number of deaths in the academic year immediately before and after: five in 1917/18 and four in 1919/20. The number of deaths among students was thus at least four times as many during the worst year of the pandemic. And as the number of students in the last years of the war was around 1,300 to 1,400, 20 deaths represent a mortality rate of around 1.5%.
The figure for deaths among Lund students was of course small compared with the number of dead nationally and internationally. The Swedish central bureau of statistics, Statistiska centralbyrån (SCB), reported 28,922 proven deaths due to Spanish flu in the years 1918 och 1919, but also added a further 6,000 “probable” cases. Based on the Medical Board’s figures, which show a total of 516,013 confirmed cases of infection, this means that almost 7% of those infected died. Calculated according to Sweden’s population at the time, this represents a mortality rate of around 0.6%. Even with the proviso that we do not know the exact cause of death for all of the 20 deceased Lund students in 1918/19, there is much to suggest that the percentage of deaths within this group was considerably higher than the national average – an assertion that is reasonable considering that the infection struck the young harder than the population as a whole.
Globally, the figures were almost inconceivably high, especially as research in more recent times has revised the previous calculations – of just over 21 million deaths between 1918 and 1920 – to between as many as 50 and 100 million worldwide. So from this perspective, perhaps 20 deaths among Lund students can be seen as a small part of a global tragedy.
Archivist at the University Archive
Thorild Dahlgren: “Anteckningar från studentår 1907–1918” in Gerhard Bendz (ed): Under Lundagårds kronor – Tredje samlingen (Lund 1955).
“En intressant iakttagelse om sjukans spridning” in Svenska Dagbladet 26 September 1918.
Nils-Olof Franzén: Undan stormen – Sverige under första världskriget (Stockholm 1986)
Lunds Dagblad, various issues September 1918
Lunds Kungl. universitets katalog, höstterminen 1918 (Lund 1918)
Lund University Archive: Kansliets arkiv 1666–1930/31, volume A 2 B:47 (Minutes of the Upper and Lower Consistorium 1918).
Per T Ohlsson: 1918 – Året då Sverige blev Sverige (Stockholm 2017).
Ture Sjögren: 10-tals student (Academic Society Yearbook 1993; Lund 1994).
Wikipedia (Swedish version), the articles “Spanska sjukan” and “Spanska sjukan i Sverige”.
Fredrik Tersmeden: “Post festum jubilæum – Något om eftermälen och konkreta lämningar från Lunds universitets tidigare jubileer” in Årshögtiden. Lund University 26 January 2018 (Lund 1918)
Torsten Thunberg: “Om spanska snuvan vore livsfarlig…” and “I ’Spanska sjukans’ tecken” as well as “Skolorna och spanska sjukan” in Hygienisk Revy no 7 and no 9 1918 respectively.
Johan C W Thyrén: Lunds universitets årsberättelse 1918–1919 (Lund 1919)
Torbjörn Wester: “När mannen från Oslo tog sin tids pandemi till Skåne” in Sydsvenska Dagbladet 26 April 2020.