Women in the Nordic Enlightenment (WHENCE)

The overall objective of WHENCE is to uncover and critically assess women’s intellectual contribution to the Nordic Enlightenment. This investigation includes two further objectives, namely, to change the standard narratives of the development of the Nordic Enlightenment, and to assess women’s role in the emergence of Scandinavian gender equality.

Central research questions

  1. What was women’s intellectual contribution to the Nordic Enlightenment?
  2. How does women’s thought change our understanding of the individual and of society during the early modern period?
  3. What was the impact of early modern women’s thought on the emergence of Scandinavian gender equality?



Spiritual equality in early modern Scandinavian women’s writings

Focusing on the connections between religion and equality, my research project seeks to outline the call for “spiritual equality” as voiced by Early Modern Scandinavian women such as Dorothe Engelbretsdatter (1634-1716), Cille Gad (1665-1711), and Elisabeth Pedersdatter Heeboe (1643-1703). Studying a diverse range of genres such as hymns, psalms, poems, and autobiographies, my project aims to develop an account of how Scandinavian women found resources and ideas in religion used to develop an argument in favor of equality between the sexes. The advancement of a concept of spiritual equality based on religion will be assessed as a reciprocal task between the impact of religion on women’s writing and thinking and, on the other hand, women’s re-appropriation of Scripture in developing a defense of equality and the capabilities of virtue and wisdom. The aim of this project is therefore to uncover the religious underpinnings of the idea of equality in Scandinavia.

Starting date: 1 January 2024

Contact: Martin Fog Arndal (martinarndal@hum.ku.dk)


Nordic feminist enlightenment: Early modern Scandinavian women philosopher’s quest for happiness through education

My project explores the relationship of moral philosophy and feminist thought in early modern Scandinavia, focusing on Birgitte Thott (1610-1662), Charlotta Biehl (1731-88), and Hedvig Nordenflycht (1718-63). I center on their conceptions of happiness, intertwined with arguments for education and moral philosophy, revealing how their ideas bridge Enlightenment and feminist thought. My focus is Thott’s stoic feminism, Biehl’s critique of gender norms alongside her advocacy for intellectual freedom, and Nordenflycht’s poetic expression of philosophical ideas on education and natural human rights.

I wish to shed new light on the philosophical discourse of the period and regions, enhancing our understanding of the interplay between gender, intellectual autonomy, and philosophical thought during the Nordic Enlightenment. Overall, my project aims to understand these women’s philosophical engagement during this era, demonstrating how their ideas meld Enlightenment and feminist thought, ultimately contributing to the development towards gender equality in Scandinavia. Findings will enrich Enlightenment philosophy, gender studies, and the history of feminist philosophy, offering also a conceptual and methodological framework for how to include these women in the history of philosophy.

Starting date: 1 January 2024

Contact: Jelena Bundalovic (jb@hum.ku.dk)


Reason and talent. Women’s intellectual equality

This part focuses on women’s arguments for intellectual equality. It investigates primarily writings explicitly reflecting on women’s intellectual capacities and defending women’s intellectual equality. This project explores the development of various arguments and the philosophical traditions on which these arguments rely. It will also explore the argumentative strategies women used to counter traditional views about women’s deficient reason, talent und understanding.

Starting date: 1 January 2025


Changing the minds of men: women as inspiration for male feminists

This part investigates the impact of women’s writings and their agency on men’s thought about women and gender equality. The focus will be on three male authors who prominently expressed proto-feminist thought in their works. This project will for the first time provide a systematic examination of the impact of female intellectuals on male authors expressing feminist thoughts, thereby making visible women’s role in the the development of feminist thought and in the growing acceptance of gender equality in the learned world.

Starting date: 1 January 2025


Political power. Women’s political thought

This part explores the political thought of women as expressed in journal contributions, political pamphlets, poems, and dedications. The impact of the various text genres will be critically assessed. The project will systematically analyse women’s thought on freedom of speech, democracy, religion, and on women’s political rights and liberties. Special emphasis will be given to arguments for women’s political participation and rights and women’s presence in the political public sphere.

Starting date: 1 July 2025


This part explores the impact of women of the high nobility, especially queens, on the perception of female rule and women in power. It will investigate the writings of queens (correspondences and autobiographies), women’s writings dedicated to queens and laudatory poems, and texts about exemplary female rulers. Complementary, university dissertations addressing female rule will be assessed. Analysing the clash between established gender roles and female ruler, this part will also address questions concerning gender fluidity.

Starting date: 1 January 2026








Kick-off event

University of Copenhagen, 31 January 2024 15:00 - 17:00

Organizer: Women in the Nordic Enlightenment

15:00 - 16:00 Welcome and presentation by PI Sabrina Ebbersmeyer and the research team
16:00 - 17:00 Reception

Reading seminars

University of Copenhagen, 20 February - 5 June 2024

Time and date:

  • 20 February 2024, 13:30-15:00
  • 5 March 2024, 13:30-15:00
  • 13 March 2024, 14:00-15:30
  • 3 April 2024, 14:00-15:30
  • 16 April 2024, 13:30-15:00
  • 1 May 2024, 14:00-15:30
  • 15 May 2024, 14:00-15:30
  • 5 June 2024, 14:00-15:30

More details about the seminar



Name Title Phone E-mail
Arndal, Martin Fog Postdoc +4535333901 E-mail
Bundalovic, Jelena PhD Fellow +4535334258 E-mail
Ebbersmeyer, Sabrina Professor +4535328861 E-mail
Jensen, Pernille Skjold Academic Officer +4535324883 E-mail
Markussen, Cecilie Student FU   E-mail