Swedish Symbols of Academia and Academic Rites Today

Distinctions and symbols associated with degree conferment ceremonies

The doctoral hat

The hat symbolizes both freedom and power. In ancient Rome, only free men, as opposed to slaves, were permitted to cover their heads. The Swiss legend of William Tell tells of how the oppressed people were forced to bow down to a hat on a pole, where the hat symbolized the ruler. The Swedish doctoral hat, once colourful (they were sometimes green or violet, for example) and available in straight, upturned or three-cornered styles, is now always black, straight, and pleated. The hat denoting a Doctor of Theology (in Uppsala and Lund) has a black bow at the front, while the hats from the other faculties have a gold clasp at the front with the insignia of the faculty.

The crown of laurels

The crown of laurels originated in classical mythology. The laurel was associated with Apollo, and the crown of laurels was the only prize awarded at the Olympic games. In the triumphal processions of the Roman Empire, the crown of laurels symbolized victory, and the Emperor was often portrayed wearing one. During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, laurels came to represent the poet, and was also associated with wisdom. This marked the transition of this symbol to the world of academia, where it is now used, as mentioned above, at the ceremony for the conferment of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

The Ring

The doctoral ring is always made of gold, and symbolizes the loyalty of the individual receiving the degree to his discipline. In the past, the ring was set with precious stones. Now each university and faculty ornaments the ring with its own symbols.

The diploma

Actually, the diploma is a certificate of graduation. In past times, it was important for a person who had been awarded a doctorate to be able to prove it when he travelled abroad by presenting his diploma. Today, the diploma is more like an object of art, and many recipients frame theirs and hang them on the wall. Naturally, each university has its own diploma. Some are in Latin, some in Swedish. 

Other academic symbols

The chain of the Vice-Chancellor

Today, the Vice-Chancellor of each university and college wears a chain on official occasions. The tradition originated in the late nineteenth century, when King Oscar II awarded chains to the universities of Uppsala and Lund. Moreover, the Vice-Chancellor of Lund University wears an old-fashioned, richly ornamented hat at degree conferment ceremonies and other especially solemn ceremonies.

The seal and the coat of arms

Each university and college has its own seal or logotype, used on stationery, printed matter, etc. At Uppsala University, the symbols on the seal, dating from around 1600, have been made into a coat of arms as well. The coat of arms is used on all printed matter from the Office of the Vice-Chancellor prepared for ceremonies and festivities.

The rods and sceptres

Sceptres, symbolising the self-determination the universities possessed until sometime in the nineteenth century, are used at Uppsala, Lund and Göteborg. They are carried by beadles at the head of formal processions, just ahead of the Vice-Chancellor. Sceptres are also used at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm as well as at the new universities in Karlstad, Växjö and Örebro. At Uppsala University, the chief beadle also carries a rod, made in the 1750s as a symbol of the power of the university. Linköping and Luleå also has faculty rods today.

Clothing with symbolic value

The “academic collar”, a tail-coat with embroidery, is common at all Swedish universities and colleges today, the embroidery differing from one university and/or faculty to the next. In Lund and Göteborg there are also special academic suits, whereas elsewhere in Sweden, in comparison with other countries, there is relatively little in the way of colourful, ceremonial garb.

Other symbols in academic contexts

The newer universities have found it important to establish their own identities in the context of tradition, and for this reason, with Linköping being the outstanding example, the symbols of academia have been particularly cultivated. At the older universities symbols such as the book, the rapier and the Bible were used in degree conferment ceremonies of old, but are now a thing of the past.

The main traditions at degree conferment ceremonies

The language of degree conferment ceremonies

In older times, degree conferment ceremonies were always held in Latin, pursuant to international practice. This is still obligatory at Göteborg and Lund universities, while some of the other institutes allow the person appointed to confer the degrees on each occasion, the promotor, to select his language, and still others use Swedish exclusively. English is never the language spoken at degree conferment ceremonies, but honorary doctorates are often presented in English or another modern language.

Parnassus/the dias

Beginning in the Middle Ages, the symbol of the dias to signify the act of degree conferment took hold. The dias symbolizes the mountain of the Gods of Greek mythology, Parnassus. On Parnassus, the individual is awarded his or her honour, and when (s)he steps down on the other side of the “mount”, (s)he then has the right to disseminate academic learning. At the older universities, some kind of high dias is still used, but the actual ceremony varies substantially from one university to the next.

Salutes and fanfares

Salutes are still rung to celebrate degree conferment ceremonies at several universities, while others now use trumpet fanfares for the purpose.

The participants in the degree conferment ceremony

The promotor

A promotor is appointed by the university or the faculty to confer the degrees on any given occasion. (S)he must have been awarded a doctorate, although not necessarily at the faculty in question. As a rule, the promotor is also a professor.

Jubilee doctor

As mentioned above, a jubilee doctor is an individual who was awarded a doctoral degree fifty years earlier. He or she is invited back to his or her old university for a celebration and a tribute of gratitude.

Honorary Doctorate

In principle, the degree of doctor honoris causa is conferred upon an individual who has acquired equivalent knowledge and insights in a given discipline in some way other than the traditional ones. Prominent individuals in the cultural sphere, Swedish or foreign, are examples of the kind of people who may be awarded an honorary doctorate. It may also be awarded to an outstanding scientist from another country with whose university the Swedish university collaborates. There is considerable difference amongst the Swedish universities in terms of the grounds on which honorary doctorates are awarded.

It may be emphasized, however, that in Sweden only the universities and their individual faculties have the right to determine who is to receive honorary doctorates. Neither the government nor any other authority may, or would wish to give guidance on this matter, or to apply pressure to have any individual awarded an honorary doctorate.

Doctor juvenis

This is the Latin term, still in use (plural, doctores iuvenes) for an individual who has completed post-graduate education and publicly defended his doctoral thesis, at the ceremony when the degree is conferred upon him or her. It should be stressed that today - as opposed to in the past - it is voluntary to attend the degree conferment ceremony. Other formal terms for individuals awarded a doctorate in this way translate literally into English as “doctor who has completed the degree programme and examination” or “young doctor”. The Latin terms used for individuals who are going to have degrees conferred upon them at a ceremony are: promovendus (masculine), promovenda (feminine) and promovendi (plural). The corresponding terms applied after the degree conferment ceremony are: promotus, promota, and promoti.

The crown bearers

This custom began in early nineteenth century Lund, but is also used in Göteborg today. The crowns of laurels to be awarded to the promovendi at the faculty of philosophy are carried into and held at the ceremony until the moment of conferment by a number of young girls and boys.

Last modified: 2024-01-19