Luther College community reflects on Nordic values during COVID-19 pandemic

Luther College

Photo courtesy of Luther College
Luther College is a private liberal arts college in Decorah, Iowa. Established as a Lutheran seminary in 1861 by Norwegian immigrants, the school today is an institution of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Decorah, Iowa

A unique project has recently wrapped up at Luther College where students and alumni were asked to reflect on how Nordic values are being used during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maren Johnson, assistant professor and director of the Torgerson Center for Nordic Studies, was looking for a way to connect current students with alumni who share a passion for the Nordic region.

“Nordic Studies is thriving at Luther, with nearly 90 students in our classes, 18 of whom are majors,” Johnson said. “During this time of social isolation, I wanted to find a way to build community among current and former students.”

Nordic Studies is the in-depth study of the Nordic region (Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland). The discipline examines how the literature, history, language, politics and culture inform and shape norms and values present in the region today.

Johnson invited people to identify some important Nordic values and social norms, and how they saw them being used to address the coronavirus crisis.

“Graduates from multiple decades responded. One alum witnesses the Nordic value of janteloven, the cultural code of humility and selflessness, in the hospital where he works. Several are discovering more fully the value of friluftsliv, or purposeful, immersive time outdoors, while being confined to the indoors has raised the importance of koselig or hygge which is embracing a ‘cozy’ way of life with a focus on contentment and wellbeing in one’s living space,” said Johnson.

As a clinical psychologist and educator, Timothy Baardseth (2000), said he is inspired by colleagues and staff at his hospital and graduate school as they embrace the egalitarian value that no person is either better or worse than anyone else.

“Their willingness to place the needs of their patients and students in front of their own is awe-inspiring,” wrote Baardseth. “I believe that the egalitarian spirit of the janteloven will ultimately be an underlying societal factor that helps us to overcome these tumultuous times.”

Trust was another common theme in the responses. In the Nordic region, there is trust among people and trust in public authorities and institutions. Equality, including gender equality, was mentioned as well by Ingrid Urberg (1984).

“The contributions of all members of society across a myriad of job sectors are necessary for a functioning and healthy community,” wrote Urberg. “This focus on equality and the practice of social solidarity has resulted in a robust and valued universal health-care system, which is serving the Nordic region well during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

To read all of the responses, visit

The Torgerson Center for Nordic Studies honors Luther College’s legacy as the first college in the United States founded by Norwegian immigrants. Its mission is to foster connections with today’s Nordic region through innovative programs and partnerships. It is the only endowed undergraduate Nordic studies center in the United States.

Luther College is home to more than 1,900 undergraduates, who explore big questions and take action to benefit people, communities, and society. Their 60+ academic programs, experiential approach to learning, and welcoming community inspire students to learn actively, live purposefully and lead courageously for a lifetime of impact. Learn more at

This article originally appeared in the June 12, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.