Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) claimed to be an eyewitness to the Apocalypse. Called to be “Servant of the Lord,” he wrote eighteen works in which he defined a new Christianity. While he never formed a church, he distributed his books widely throughout Europe. They stimulated some people to found new religious organizations, some to write in new poetic and literary forms, and others to revolutionize sculpture and painting. These artists found in Swedenborg’s works a vibrant source of a new aesthetic vision. The elements of Swedenborg’s theology that helped to shape that new aesthetic are presented here, as well as the application of different aspects of it in the works of three artists: the English sculptor John Flaxman (1755–1826); the French Symbolist painter Paul Gauguin (1848–1903); and American sculptor Lee Bontecou (b. 1931). Each artist attempts to capture the spiritual reality that Swedenborg portrayed as existing behind and within the natural phenomenal world.
The Swedenborgian Church, also called the New Church, was established in South Africa among English-speaking settlers in 1850. It is based on the theological writings of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). Swedenborg's "new" Christianity emphasizes, among other things, the internal meaning of the Bible, life after death, and the special spiritual qualities of black Africans. These field notes are based on a trip to South Africa in August 2000, and examine how the two primary types of Swedenborgian churches are adjusting to post-apartheid South Africa today. The English-speaking New Church is associated with the General Church of the New Jerusalem headquartered in the United States. Also affiliated with the General Church are a number of Zulu and Sotho congregations. The General Church has a hierarchical structure, a male priesthood, and primarily white leadership. One of the English-speaking societies has a school from preschool through eighth grade, and a Zulu-Sotho congregation sponsors a preschool. The New Church was established among black Africans independently from the General Church in 1909. Today that group is called the New Church of Southern Africa. It is congregationally structured, has a male priesthood, but a strong Women's League