This article discusses the extent and conditions of Jewish participation in Swedish society c. 1870-1900. Whereas earlier research on Jewish history in Sweden had pictured this period as a time of peaceful integration, recent studies have stressed the continuities of cultural representations of ‘the Jew’ as essentially different from ‘the Swede’. Taking the city of Gothenburg as an example, this article offers a new approach by discussing the role of conflicting national and urban elements within liberal self-identification. With regard to urban identities, attitudes of toleration and religious pluralism went side by side with the liberal representation of Gothenburg as being different – different from its rural hinterland, but also from the capital Stockholm. These images of Gothenburg as being exceptionally progressive and open-minded facilitated Jewish participation in the city’s communal politics and associational life. On a national level, however, the ambiguities of Swedish liberal thinking persisted: An increasingly politicised discussion about national identity from the 1880s onwards reveals that the protagonists of Gothenburg liberalism had far greater difficulties in including Jews into their vision of the Swedish nation than the imagined liberties of Gothenburg city culture would suggest.

issue 03 / July 2012 by Christoph Leiska