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Scandinavian Studies Program Comes to the Kennedy Center

As the heart of international study on BYU campus, the Kennedy Center is pleased to announce that Scandinavian Studies will be joining our academic programs beginning in Fall 2023. The program offers a minor for interested undergraduates on campus.

"Scandinavian Studies is a great program,” says Quinn Mecham, Associate Director for Academics and Research at the Kennedy Center. “It has a very strong culture and enthusiastic students. We’re excited to have it here at the Kennedy Center.”

Scandinavian Studies at BYU

The Scandinavian Studies program has been, until this move, part of the Department of Comparative Arts and Letters, but in its long history at BYU, it has been located in several different places.

“The first Scandinavian language class at BYU was beginning Norwegian taught in 1960 in the Department of Languages,” explains Chip Oscarson, an associate dean in Undergraduate Education at BYU, who was previously the director of the Scandinavian Studies program. “In 1968, the Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages was organized as part of the creation of the College of Humanities, and new offerings in Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish literature were added. It was not until 1975 that the Scandinavian Studies minor organized the curriculum.” More Scandinavian language classes were added over time.

“In 2000, the administration of the Scandinavian Studies minor was transferred from Germanic and Slavic to the newly formed Center for Language Study,” Dr. Oscarson says. “In 2007, the minor and all the Scandinavian language and culture classes were transferred to Humanities, Classics, and Comparative Literature,” which is now called the Department of Comparative Arts and Letters.

One notable figure associated with the program during this time was Steven Sondrup, a professor of comparative literature. Dr. Sondrup was one of the leading scholars in the country on Scandinavia. Under his editorship, Scandinavian Studies, the flagship academic journal in the field, was published at BYU from 1991 to 2013.

All of this makes clear that BYU has a long history with Scandinavia and Scandinavian Studies, something that Kennedy Center Director Stan Benfell attributes, at least in part, to the heritage value that Scandinavia has for many at BYU and in surrounding communities: “Huge numbers of our students and people who live in Utah have heritage that goes back to Scandinavia,” he says. “Many have family members who were immigrants from Scandinavia at some point.”

He points out, “Many places that have important Scandinavian Studies programs are the Midwest, where there are a lot of Scandinavian immigrants, like the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin. And then BYU does as well.”

Nate Kramer, an associate professor of Comparative Arts and Letters and the current Scandinavian Studies faculty coordinator, offers further insight as to why people at BYU and beyond are interested in the region: “Scandinavia punches well above its weight on the global stage and has done so for centuries,” he says. “As far back as the Vikings, Scandinavia was a significant and important player in international affairs. One might mention here as well the significant cultural influence it has had through emigration to the US and other places, as well as important contributions in literature, music, design, architecture, philosophy, and more. Today, Scandinavia has become a go-to resource for innovative green technologies, sustainability projects, gender equality, progressive social programs that are the envy of the world, etc. And with all of the Nordic countries located in the top ten of the world’s happiest countries, Scandinavia has a lot to offer in terms of study and academic interest.”

Scandinavia Comes to the Kennedy Center

The move to the Kennedy Center has been in the works for many months. “Scandinavian Studies is an area studies program, and this is usually the home for those kinds of programs at the university,” says Dr. Benfell, “and so it fits in that way. This is the place where international things happen on campus.”

“Our move to the Kennedy Center will give us greater visibility at the university level,” says Dr. Kramer, “which will give us greater visibility to students who might be interested in Scandinavia for one reason or another who wouldn't have thought of minoring in Scandinavia. The move will also strengthen some of our existing program offerings like internships and study abroad programs.”

The nature of the Kennedy Center is another benefit of the move, as the Scandinavian Studies program undergoes a change in its focus. “Scandinavian Studies has historically been focused on the study of language and literature,” explains Dr. Mecham. “While that will continue, their involvement in the Kennedy Center will give them a chance to expand their interdisciplinary focus."

“The move will mean some changes to our current curriculum offerings, which I think will only benefit our current and future students,” says Dr. Kramer. “As a program housed in the College of Humanities and with faculty with strong humanities backgrounds, the Scandinavian Studies program has been heavily invested in the teaching of history, culture, literature, film and other humanities fields. We have courses, for example, on the Vikings and Viking sagas, on Hans Christian Andersen and Søren Kierkegaard, on Scandinavian film, on Danish/Finnish/Norwegian/Swedish literature, and on Nordic design, as well as other kinds of humanities topics related to Scandinavia. With our coming over to the Kennedy Center, we are looking forward to expanding our offerings in other fields like political science, geography, economics, media studies, environmentalism, international studies, and newly emergent fields like trust and happiness studies. Many of these hopes depend on the possibility of collaborating with colleagues in these fields within the Kennedy Center and without.”

Dr. Benfell confirms that a big advantage of the move is that “it puts the program in a place that has other, similar kinds of programs, and we hope that students there will benefit from that context and that interaction with other students.”

Dr. Kramer agrees: “The real beneficiaries, we hope, will be the students themselves, with expanded offerings and connections to the resources the Kennedy Center has to offer. Our hope is that by expanding the course offerings in Scandinavian Studies, students will better see the important place Scandinavia occupies on the world stage and its truly international and global significance.”