The aim of NOREL is to provide an outline of the changing role of religion in the Nordic countries since the late 1980s with the emphasis on the role of religion in the public sphere.

A large comparative study on religion from the 1980s led by Göran Gustafsson suggested a privatization of religion. Profound transformations have taken place in this area, as religion has become more visible in the public sphere. The transition from large degrees of homogeneity to diversity are viewed in light of changes in other areas of society, such as migration, multicultural composition of society, a growing orientation towards the economic market, a subjective turn in the general culture, and new roles for women in society, the work place, family, and religious institutions.

The format developed in Gustafsson’s comparative study was to focus on three selected years, namely 1938, 1958 and 1978. By drawing on this format, we will focus on three selected years, 1988, 1998, and 2008. This strategy will provide a basis to draw comparisons between some findings in Gustafsson’s study and the proposed study. The purpose is to contribute to excellent research on the changing role of religion in the public sphere in the Nordic countries.

The NOREL project highlights four thematic areas:

  1. State and religion
  2. Religion and politics
  3. Religion and the media
  4. Religion and civil society

In Gustafsson’s comparative Nordic study, several common indicators on the role of religion in the public sphere were used. The use of such well-defined indicators facilitated an interesting comparative analysis. We will examine and see which indicators that can still be used in the new project. Using some of the same indicators will provide us with the opportunity to conduct comparative analyses to the 1980s. In addition, new indicators will be included.

The study is based on a wide range of quantitative and qualitative data. Many existing surveys describe the populations’ religious beliefs and practices, as well as attitudes to immigration, minorities and other relevant information, and these will be used. In addition, qualitative data will be collected for this particular study. The NOREL project will have a broad methodological approach.

The findings will be interpreted within social science theories on civil society and social capital. A lot of research has been conducted in the Nordic countries in this area, but not regarding religion. In particular, we want to distinguish between bridging and bonding social capital and see what type of social capital is produced within different religious communities, both majority churches, free churches, and immigrant religious communities. In addition, theory on religion and politics (integration and conflict), the role of religion in the public sphere, and gender will be applied and developed. Normative issues will also be relevant as a consequence of the descriptive study. How should the state, the majority churches and the religious minorities relate to the findings of this study? In this way, the aim is that this study will contribute to a more informed debate in the respective countries.

The main research is conducted by senior researchers from all the five Nordic countries, as well as two-three doctoral students.