15 November 2023

Commemorative Lecture by Centre Director Mette Birkedal Bruun

Friday, 10 November, Centre Director Mette Birkedal Bruun was invited to give the honourable Commemorative Lecture at the annual Commemoration Ceremony at the University of Copenhagen.

Ever since the University of Copenhagen was founded in 1479, its foundation has been celebrated with a big festive annual event.


Mette Birkedal Bruun gave the lecture entitled: From Monks to GDPR



Data protection laws and human rights conventions concerning the right to privacy are rooted in a rich and intricate web of historical preconditions. These preconditions concern the boundaries drawn between individuals and communities in different situations as well as ideas, terms and experiences related to, e.g., self, home, dignity, freedom, intimacy and property. At the Danish National Research Foundation Centre for Privacy Studies, we study some of these preconditions. We examine legal regulations of property and personhood, architectural framings of spaces and boundaries, religious notions of withdrawal from the world as well as social norms and practices regarding individuals and communities. In the lecture, I offer a glimpse of some of the religious dimensions of historical privacy studies.


As a church historian, I study the Christian tradition in its historical contexts. In the lecture I present a particular thread in this history by tracing examples of historical interpretations of a single sentence from the Gospel of Mathew, “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Mt 6.6, New Revised Standard Version). In their appropriation of this bible verse, historical authors and practitioners pondered what it means to “go into one’s room and shut the door”. Is it a material room? Is it an inner, mental room? What happens in this room? And how is it furnished?


This long tradition for religiously motivated withdrawal is one strand of the complex network of meaning that the term privacy carries (explicitly and tacitly) in the Western tradition alongside and intertwined with meanings generated in, e.g., legal, architectural, art historical, literary, social and political traditions. When we understand the nature of this baggage, we begin to understand that today’s privacy regulations rest on Western notions of privacy that may seem alien to people with other cultural roots.