What is Bildung?

Folk-bildung is a strange word in English:

The first part refers to being of the people or popular, perhaps even folksy, and the word is the same in the Scandinavian languages as in English.

The second part is a German word and there is no English word for the phenomenon.

Bildung is the combination of cultivation, enculturation and moral, emotional and personal development. It is character formation, cultural heritage and developing a moral backbone all in one. Bildung is consciousness and conscience, awareness and responsibility, and it is a life-long learning process and maturation of our mind.

Bildung is both the content and the process, and one is never done.

The concept of Bildung was first explored by the German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder in 1774. In the decades that followed, philosophers and authors like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Wilhelm von Humboldt, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel kept exploring the phenomenon and so did the Swiss philosopher of pedagogy, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi.

Our theoretical foundation

In their book, The Nordic Secret – A European story of beauty and freedom (Fri Tanke, Stockholm, 2017), Lene Rachel Andersen and Tomas Björkman compare Bildung to current developmental psychology in adults and reach the conclusion that:

  • Bildung and ego-development/developmental psychology overlap regarding the exploration of:
    • our sense of self
    • our meaning-making
    • consciousness and conscience
    • moral development etc.
  • Developmental psychology has peer-reviewed models and methods that allow psychologists to assess people’s ego-development but developmental psychology has no meaningful ways of promoting ego-development
  • Bildung is about enculturation and how our inner world grows as we encounter pushbacks from life and culture.
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