Study circles were born in
New York in the 1870s. By their peak in 1915, 700,000 people were
participating in 15,000 study circles in the U.S. The idea was
carried to Sweden by union, co-op, and temperance organizers and
by the fledgeling Social Democratic Party to educate their followers.
Study circles flourished in Sweden even as it died away in the
U.S. Today nearly three million Swedes participate in over 300,000
study circles annually, most funded (but not controlled) by the
government with a per-participant subsidy. Swedish communities
have even convened study circles to work through major issues
facing their towns, with study circle participants turning into
activists who then have a significant impact on events.
The U.S. is now blooming with renewed interest in study circles. In 1992, for example, in the small city of Lima Ohio, the Mayor's Office, Ohio State University and a multi-racial Clergy Task Force initiated grassroots study circles on race relations involving hundreds of people. These were so successful that participants created further waves of study circles involving businesses, neighborhood associations and schools -- and the next year created a conference in which 40 community leaders from around the Midwest came to learn how to create community-wide dialogues on race in their own cities, triggering a movement that has now grown nation-wide.