The terrorist attacks of July 22nd served as an important, but tragic backdrop for this year’s Norway Seminar. The annual seminar gathers those who teach Norwegian at American universities and colleges. The theme for this year’s seminar was “Norwegian identity and integration”.
The first Norway Seminar was held in 1981, and since then, with the exception of one year, it has been an annual event. This year’s seminar was organized by the University of Minnesota in collaboration with the Royal Norwegian Consulate General in New York. Its role as organizer provides the Royal Norwegian Consulate General with a great opportunity to keep in touch with the many Norwegian communities that can be found at different educational institutions in the U.S. While the seminar measures the current interest in Norwegian language and culture, it also provides the professors and teachers with an updated picture of Norwegian society.
The Norway Seminar 2011 was held in Minneapolis and it coincided with the Norwegian Royal visit to the Midwest. Thus, the participants also had the opportunity to be present at the October 16th gala dinner with Their Majesties King Harald and Queen Sonja as honorary guests.
The lectures at the seminar are usually conducted in Norwegian and the lecturers are most often brought in from Norway. This year however, two of the lecturers were foreigners residing in Norway, while two were Norwegians living abroad.
Nina Witoszek, who is originally from Poland and Ireland, has lived in Norway for decades and is a professor at the University of Oslo. Her lecture was based on her book “Verdens Beste Land”, and she discussed the image of Norway as a utopia where the ideals of equality, freedom, wealth, and justice are almost completely realized. Curt Rice, originally from Minnesota, is married to a Norwegian and is a professor and vice-chancellor at the University of Tromsø. In his lecture, Rice focused on the Norwegian model of forced integration, affirmative action, and the rule of law. This model is heavily debated in Norway and incomprehensible to Americans. He emphasized the fact that the academic community still has a long way to go regarding gendered integration. – Of the PhD students 50 percent are women, on the associate professors level 40 percent are women and only 20 percent of professors are female, he argued.
The Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgård has lived in Sweden for the last ten years. In his lecture at the Norway Seminar he considered the image of Norway as a country of almost complete innocence, and he claimed that we are in fact our own enemies and that the stranger cannot be considered one. Dr. Jan-Paul Brekke is well-known within the academic community and he is also a prominent figure in Norwegian television. He resides in New York but his work is based in Oslo. His topic of discussion was “Migration, integration, and multiculturalism in Norway”. He highlighted the fact that many communities both inside and outside of Norway glorifies a past when everything was less complicated and immigration and multicultural challenges were non-existent. –This is the vision of the past, Brekke said.