New Article: Enslaved by African angels: Swedenborg on African superiority, evangelization, and slavery by Vincent Roy-Di Piazza, in the journal Intellectual History Review.
This article provides the first extensive study of Emanuel Swedenborg’s (1688–1772) views on Africans and slavery. Although significant scholarship has been devoted to Swedenborg’s influence on the British abolitionist movement in the 1780s-1790s, comparably little has been written on the ideas and context which inspired this influence in the first place. This article explores Swedenborg’s ties to networks and debates about African evangelization, colonization, and slavery during the neglected period of the Swedish Age of Liberty (1719–1772). It shows that Swedenborg was the first Swede to condemn slavery, as early as 1741, explains why he regarded slavery as a divine punishment in the afterlife for European missionaries, and why he presented sub-Saharan Africans as superior, in contrast to the dominant dismissive views of Linnaeus, Bäck, Kant, or Buffon. Like most Lutherans of his time, Swedenborg did not advocate the abolition of slavery, yet within a generation his provocative views about African superiority and spiritual emancipation were used by his followers to articulate their abolitionist agenda. Swedenborg’s millenarian doctrines more broadly re-harnessed biblical traditions about Africa and tropes about the bon sauvage, in a counter-example to narratives about the trope’s decline in the second half of the eighteenth century.