Laestadius’ work

  • Linguistics

Laestadius mastered and used several languages in his writings: Latin, Swedish, Sami and Finnish. Most interesting are probably his contributions in the latter two languages. In 1839, he anonymously published the booklet Hålaitattem ristagasa ja satte almatja kaskan (A conversation between a Christian and an ordinary person). This booklet, together with two other publications dating from the 1840s, were the first texts ever to be published in Lule Sami, and Hålaitattem is furthermore the first original work to be written in any Sami language. Laestadius thus played a major role in establishing a written standard in Lule Sami. Another significant aspect is that, unlike many other early texts written in Sami, Laestadius’s use of the Sami language is considered to be highly idiomatic. Laestadius mostly used Finnish in his sermons, he used the Finnish variety spoken in the Torne Valley, which under the name of meänkieli is recognized today as one of the five national minority languages in Sweden. Laestadius’s sermons and his extensive letter correspondence constitute some of the earliest examples of written meänkieli. Laestadius’s work is thus of great interest in the linguistic study of early periods of the history of Finno-Ugric languages in their written form in the North Calotte.

  • Natural Science

Laestadius was an internationally-recognized botanist, a member of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh and a member of The Royal Society of Sciences at Uppsala (Franzén 1973). He undertook his first botanical field trip as a student. Later, The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences paid him to travel to Skåne and Swedish Lapland in order to study and make drawings of plants to illustrate a Swedish botany scientific text. Whilst attending to his pastoral duties, Laestadius pursued his interest in botany, authoring a number of articles on plant life in Lapland. Because of the wide recognition of his knowledge of botany and the Sami, Laestadius was invited to participate in the La Recherche expedition of 1838-1840. Following his participation in the La Recherche expedition, Laestadius became a Chevalier of the French Légion d’honneur, the first Scandinavian to receive this honour. Laestadius made observations of great value within the fields of both natural history and botany, contributing floristic, taxonomic and ecological information regarding vascular plants in northern Scandinavia. For many years he made meteorological notes and recorded the time of arrival of various migrating birds in Karesuando. He was one of the pioneers in flora and plant geography terms in this northern region. He donated 6,500 plants to the La Recherche expedition, and his herbarium at the National Museum in Stockholm consists of 6,000 plants. A number of plant species have been named in his honour, including Papaver laestadianum (Arctic poppy) and Laestadia pinifolia Kunth ex Lessing (one example of a genus of plants in the daisy family).Laestadius also promoted controversial views about the environment’s impact on plant features, including ecological observations regarding the discussion of species and forms to a greater extent than had hitherto been customary.


Laestadiusvalmuen (Papaver Laestadinum)

  • Theology

At the age of 43 Laestadius wrote his pastoral thesis Crapula Mundi, in which he argued against the theological rationalism of the Swedish Enlightenment, and the moral decay of modern culture. The theology of Laestadius has had a great impact on the people of the North Calotte. His sermons were circulated throughout the region. At least 466 of his sermons have been preserved and some of them are still in use today (included within a published annual cycle of short sermons to be read at home). As a clergyman in the northernmost parish of the Lutheran Church of Sweden, Laestadius combined traditional Lutheran theology with a revival perspective and an extended local focus. Laestadius’s contribution includes, for example, expressions such as “Den himmelska föräldern” (‘the heavenly parent’). It is as a theologian Laestadius is best remembered.

  • Ethnology/Mythology

During the years 1839-1845, Laestadius worked on a dissertation on Sami mythology. This was meant to form part of the publication series of the La Recherche expedition, but the manuscript disappeared and it was never published. One part was traced in 1933 in Pontarlier in France, another was discovered in 1946 at the University of Yale in the USA, and in 2001 the final part of the manuscript was found in Pontarlier. In the text, Laestadius declares the mythology of the Sami people to be the equal of any other.

  • Philosophy

Laestadius wrote a dissertation in religious philosophy. This text, divided into three parts, was not published in his lifetime. The name of the work was Dårhushjonet. En blick i nådens ordning (‘The Idiot in the Madhouse. A View of the Order of Grace’). This text provides a critique of philosophical and religious changes in society. On several occasions, Laestadius addresses his arguments to “the self-justifying Philosopher”, who may be understood to be Immanuel Kant. The Norwegian researcher Roald Kristiansen at the University of Tromsø has described Laestadius’s philosophy as a “philosophy of the heart”, since Laestadius argued that the heart was the principal ruler of a human being.

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