Pietism and German Stereotypes

Pietism lives!

Maltauschen soup
The Swabian staple Maltauschen, which “came about when Swabian housewives wanted to reuse every last morsel and adapted Italian ravioli” – Creative Commons (Roland Geider)

In German stereotypes as reported on by The Economist… H/T John Lawyer for pointing me to an article on the cultural origins of the “Swabian housewife.” Invoked by German chancellor Angela Merkel and described by the premier of the state of Baden-Württemberg as “the starting point” for the German approach to fiscal management, the cliche of women who combine hyperfrugality with “tinkering creativity” may be rooted in a religious movement that has had a presence in Württemberg since the 18th century:

These traits stem from Pietism, thinks Andrea Lindlohr, a Green member of the state parliament. Pietism, which is to Lutheranism as Puritanism is to Anglicanism, dominates the psychological landscape of Swabia. (“We’re the Piet Cong,” jokes a real housewife.) It crops up in some surprising contexts, such as a minor controversy attacking Harry Potter novels for their embrace of superstition. But its main effect is to prize hard-working lives, with debt (Schulden in German) frowned upon as akin to guilt (Schuld).

This Swabian cultural cocktail is seen as so successful that it colours German attitudes to the euro crisis. Germany’s prescription of austerity is most associated with Mrs Merkel. The daughter of a Lutheran pastor, she even gave a speech to the Pietists of Swabia last year. Her finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, is a native of Baden-Württemberg. Though technically from Baden, whose people consider themselves bons vivants beside Württemberg’s Swabians, he still preaches to southern Europeans a good Pietist gospel of saving, hard work and self-improvement.

For more on Merkel’s use of the “Swabian housewife” and its religious roots, see this September 2012 article in The Guardian.

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