Chronicle Nr. 1

Religion and its “other”?

There is plenty of research about religious life and religious organizations – but we know far too little about the nonreligious majority of Sweden. In her chronicle, Susanne Schenk, PhD student in cultural sociology, calls for more thorough research about what values are defined as nonreligious, and why.

A quite large number of articles, including my own abstract for the ISSR conference in Turku 2013, start with “Sweden is often described as one of the most secular countries in the world”, many times with reference to the separation of church and state, the educational system, religious change or the shared understanding that religion is regarded as a private matter. In addition to that, Swedes are on the top of statistics when it comes to percentages of people who are described as nonreligious or characterize themselves as such.

But what do those statistics actually tell us? What do we actually know about this nonreligious Swedish majority? Trying to embed my own research on humanist organizations in Sweden in a description of the Swedish context, caused so far more questions as it could contribute to a profound understanding of the nonreligious majority in Sweden.

In recent years groups of international scholars, connected through networks like the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network (NSRN), are trying to get a grasp of what nonreligion and different nonreligious ways of life entail in different socio-political, cultural, historical and religious contexts around the world. Their work shows that being nonreligious can have very different meanings, ranging from religious indifference to various forms of religious critique. What can be stated for a lot of different regions of the world can also be assigned to the Swedish context: There are a lot of research projects about religious ways of life as well as different religious organizations but there is still a gap when it comes to research about nonreligion and secularity within the Swedish context. How do nonreligious people relate to questions of ethics, equality and justice? What values do nonbelievers share and believe?

What exists, is insightful research that explains why and how certain values change on the backdrop of social, political, religious and historical change. What is still missing, are explanations why some values are framed as nonreligious or secular within special contexts.

The before mentioned statistics were many times used to show the decline of religion. It sometimes lacks a differentiated analysis of what is hereby defined as “nonreligious”. Where, for example, do people who think of themselves as nonreligious draw the boundaries between traditional religious belief, religious affiliation, superstition, individual spirituality and homeopathy? We need more thorough research to get to the bottom of phenomena like the “nonreligious majority” within the Swedish population.

Susanne Schenk, PhD student in cultural sociology at Leipzig University, research associate in the Emmy Noether-Project “The Diversity of Nonreligion” at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, and visiting researcher at CRS.

Chronicle Nr. 2

Retreat from multiculturalism?

Political leaders throughout Europe seek to outdo each other in rejecting multiculturalism as a misguided approach that should not be allowed to shape future policies. Also in the scholarly debate, multiculturalism is subject to massive critique.

We should however be careful to distinguish between two different aspects of ongoing policy trends, which are often clumped together as representing a ‘retreat from multiculturalism’.

The first aspect has to do with a move away from ‘official multiculturalism’, understood as specific policy measures targeted at immigrant minority groups in order to affirm and support their ethnic identities.

Examples of multiculturalism in this sense include both active state support to specific ethnic institutions such as schools, pre-schools and home for the elderly and the allowance of exemption rights for members of religious or cultural minorities from common law and regulations.

The second aspect instead represents a shift from rights to obligations. Before, new arrivals’ access to rights was generally seen as a necessary tool, enabling the individual to attain integration and to move down the path to full citizenship.

Now the rights instead tend to be regarded as an end in themselves; something that immigrants must earn through individual achievements and efforts, in terms of fulfilling various integration and citizenship tests and requirements.

The distinctionis essential in order for us to appropriately understand current policy changes. The first aspect indeed represents a possible move away from multicultural recognition of ethnic and religious minorities’ special group rights.

The second has rather to do with whether or not people with legal residence in a state’s territory have access to equal individual citizenship rights, regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion or cultural background.

Karin Borevi, PhD in Political Science, Researcher within Impact Programme (Theme 5, Welfare Models, Organisation and Values)

Last modified: 2022-02-21