A renaissance or hype or gospel around Bildung has recently emerged in Europe, especially in the adult education – and more specifically popular adult education – field. A hybrid pre-seminar adjunct to the Finnish adult education research conference (10.-11.2.2022) is organized in Tampere University on 9.2.2022. It invites participants to discuss and debate about the reasons, meanings and implications of the rampant interest in Bildung, especially as Nordic Bildung, while the concept has for long been marginalized in research and policy discourses on adult education.

A spectre is haunting the world of adult education, a spectre of Bildung[1]. It has settled in diverse networks and associations, in private and governmental think tanks, and in design service, management and human resource consulting, which often are backed by publishing companies and foundations. Current examples are Global Bildung network with its European, North and South American branches[2]. Currently, the network launched a Global Manifesto on Bildung[3]. The European network mentions partnering with EAEA, VHS DVV, Ekskäret, #learningplanet and Bildung Academie[4]. All networks are run by the Nordic Bildung-think tank[5], which mentions as its collaborators especially the Danish Adult Education Association DAEA, Fremvirke-foundation, Curiosity Shop AB and the Finnish parliamentary fund SITRA[6]. Another European-wide action is Erasmus+ project Bildung[7] coordinated by EAEA, whose aims and goals follow largely the agenda of the Nordic Bildung and its founders. Many of the previous outcomings are operationally and personally related to a wide range of other trends, connecting adult education and Bildung. Exemplary are diverse movements, associations, companies, and individuals, advocating alternative lifestyles and education, organizational, management and human resource development.[8]

The seminar invites participants to discuss and debate about the reasons, meanings and implications of the rampant interest in Bildung, especially as Nordic Bildung, since the concept has for long been marginalized in research and policy discourses on adult education. There are several features which seem to be shared between the diverse actors and activities. The protagonists seldom represent public sector education, academic research associations or communities. While being graduates from different academic disciplines, they typically characterize themselves as “change agents, social designers, innovation strategists, experience designers, artists, critical thinkers, researchers, scientists, meeting- and conversation designers”.[9] Is this challenging the current landscape of research and professionals of adult education?

While the different initiatives may be located among the multitude of diverse post-materialist, metamodernist, integral, spiritualist ideological currents and sects, the seminar questions their rationale for adopting the vocabulary of Bildung. The Bildung-rhetoric connects to historical figures and interpretations in Denmark and German-speaking countries. However, these appear as ingredients of an agenda for tackling the wicked problems of the current era, such as the environmental crisis, consumerism, individual and social disintegration, spiritual desolation. The promise of salvation through Bildung seems to be justified by showcasing the Nordic societies as its historical manifestation. According to Nordic Bildung this happens “through leaps forward, without the riots and wars, for freedom, for democracy and for human rights, now and in the future. Based on the very best from the cultural evolution around the globe, we will break away from the kind of thinking that has created the major problems facing humanity… develop models and understandings that people around the globe can use in order to create a meaningful and sustainable future…”[10] Yet, the salvation shares features with other gospels and manifestos, such as secular religiousness, inner awareness, deep consciousness, communality, wellness, thrive and happiness, evolution of new humans. These typically require immersive, emotional, aesthetic, sensual experiences, mystic retreats, treatments, and encounters with nature.

In the Nordic context, it may be attractive to interpret the rise of Bildung-gospel as a renaissance of (canonized) intellectual traditions, related to emancipatory political development. However, it might also be part of mushrooming adult education markets and a Global Education Industry, providing tailored, immersive experiences for continuous learning. Yet it can also indicate ethical and intellectual corruption of competition and enterprise universities, forsaking their self-critical mission to cultivate the heritage of Bildung.

The aim of the seminar is to encourage discussion and debate around the Bildung-gospel. There will be short prepared inputs and commentaries in plenaries and small group discussions. The seminar is structured according to following themes:

  1. What is the intellectual content and educational mission of (Nordic) Bildung of the current initiatives of Bildung-gospel?
  2. How does the current Bildung-gospel relate to intellectual and educational traditions of (Nordic) Bildung?
  3. What might be reasons and drives behind the rise of the Bildung-gospel, with what kind of educational implications?

More detailed information about the programme and enrolment to the pre-seminar will be circulated closer to the event, follow also the conference website (https://events.tuni.fi/aitu2022/). Pre-seminar is free of charge and open to all. Discussions continue in a thematic group during the main conference (see participation guidelines from conference website), and hopefully trigger further events around the topic.

Organizing team

  • Anja Heikkinen (TAU, KaHiFi-network, SVV-programme, EquJust-group, VET&Culture-network), anja.heikkinen@tuni.fi
  • Tarna Kannisto (HU, KaHiFi-network), tarja.kannisto@helsinki.fi
  • Jyri Manninen (UEF, SVV-programme, ESREA presidium); jyri.manninen@uef.fi
  • Gabriele Molzberger (BUW, VET&Culture-network, book series Bildung & Arbeit), molzberger@uni-wuppertal.de

KaHiFi: https://www.kasvatus.net/sig-ryhmat/kasvatuksen-historian-ja-filosofian-verkosto/

SVV-programme: https//www.vapausjavastuu.fi/

EquJust: https://equjust.wordpress.com/

VET and Culture: https://vetandculturenetwork.wordpress.com/


[1] Due to the embeddedness in the context of German-speaking Europe, the word Bildung is not translated in English. In Nordic countries, the meaning of words bildning and sivistys are close to Bildung.

[2] Global Bildung Network. Better Bildung, Better Future. https://www.globalbildung.net. [10.10.2021]

[3] Better Bildung, Better Future. A Bildung Manifesto for a Renaissance 2.0. May 9. 2021. https://www.globalbildung.net/manifesto/. [10.10.2021]

[4] EAEA: European Association for the Education of Adults, https://eaea.org/, #learningplanet: https://www.learning-planet.org/en, VHS DVV international: https://www.dvv-international.de/en/about-us/profile, Bildung Academie: https://en.debildungacademie.nl/, Ekskäret Foundation: http://ekskaret.se/.%5B10.10.2021%5D

[5] Nordic Bildung. https://nordic.bildung.org/.%5B10.10.2021%5D

[6] Dansk Folkeoplysnings Samråd: https://dfs.dk/, https://fremvirke.dk/, https://curiosityshop.se/, Sitra: https://www.sitra.fi/en/topics/bildung/. [10.10.2021]

[7] https://eaea.org/project/bildung/. It is coordinated by DVV international, in partnership with EAEA, ERL, VÖV, KVS, SVEB, AONTAS, DafniKEK, DAEA, ACEFIR, PRO DIDACTICA. [10.10.2021]

[8] Such as Perspectiva Organization in UK: https://systems-souls-society.com, Fetzer Institution in US: https://fetzer.org, Metamoderna and Hanzi Freinacht in Switzerland: https://metamoderna.org/hanzi-freinacht/, Info-Portal Orientierungszeiten in Germany: https://www.orientierungszeiten.info/, Gemic company in US, Canada, Finland and Germany: https://gemic.com/.[10.10.2021]

[9] an example from https://curiosityshop.se/. [10.10.2021]

[10] https://nordicbildung.org/vision-mission/ [10.10.2021]