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Sweden was pagan before the 11th century, when the country underwent Christianization. Since the Protestant Reformation in the 1530s, the country is Lutheran, with the Church of Sweden (Swedish: Svenska kyrkan) being allowed the status of state church until 2000. As of 2008, 72.9% of the Swedes were members of the church, a drop of 1.4 % compared to 2007. Less than 4 percent of the Church of Sweden membership attends public worship during an average week; about 2 percent are regular attenders.[1 ]

Numerous other religious groups are represented in the Swedish society. The history of the Jews in Sweden can be traced back to the seventeenth century. Due to immigration, there is also a significant number of Muslims, as well as Syriac Christians. Immigration, most notably from Poland and former Yugoslavia, is also the reason behind the fast growth of the Catholic Church in Sweden.


Norse Paganism

Gamla Uppsala, the centre of worship in Sweden until the temple was destroyed the late 11th century.

Before the 11th century, Swedes adhered to Norse paganism, worshipping Æsir gods, with its centre at the Temple in Uppsala. The shape and location of this temple is sparsely documented, but it is referenced in the Norse sagas and Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum, and is also described by Adam of Bremen. It was probably destroyed by King Ingold I in 1087 during the last known battle between the pagans and the Christians.

While Norse mythology as a distinct religion was officially abandoned following the Christianization of Scandinavia, belief in many of its mythological creatures such as "tomtar", trolls and dwarves lived on for long time in Scandinavian folklore.

As of 2009, there exists a small number of practicing neo-pagans adhering to the faiths and customs of Norse mythology, including the nonprofit organization Swedish Asatru Assembly.

Christianization of Sweden

The earliest campaign to Christianize the territories that form what today is the country of Sweden was made by the monk Ansgar (801–865). Making his first visit to Birka in 829, he was granted permission to build a church. In 831, he returned home and became Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen, with responsibility for Christianity in the north. Around 850, he came back to Birka, where the original congregation had been shattered. Ansgar tried to reestablish it, but it only lasted a few years. During the following hundred years, attempts at Christianization would largely fail.

Christianity first gained a hold in Västergötland, some time shortly before or around the turn of the millennium. According to Adam of Bremen, the Christian king Olof Skötkonung, who ruled from c. 995 to c. 1022 was forced to limit Christian activities to the western province. When King Stenkil ascended to the throne in 1060 Christianity was firmly established throughout most of Sweden, although the people of Uppland resisted the new religion.

The last king adhering to the old religion was Blot-Sweyn, who reigned 1084–1087. A national church of Sweden was not organized until the middle of the 12th century, during the reign of Eric the Saint (1150-1160). According to legend, Erik also undertook the First Swedish Crusade, a military expedition aiming to convert the Finns to Christianity and conquering Finland as Swedish territory. (However, no archeological data or written sources seem to support the legend. The diocese and bishop of Finland are not listed among their Swedish counterparts before the 1250s.)

Luther's Seal
 Lutheranism portal

Pre-Reformation Swedish religious leaders----including Bridget of Sweden, founder of the continuously functioning Roman Catholic cloister at Vadstena----continue to be held in high regard by the population as a whole. Her nunnery at Vadstena is one of Sweden's pre-eminent tourist attractions.

Protestant Reformation

The Protestant Reformation in Sweden is generally regarded as a political tool used by the king to secure control over the church and its assets. Shortly after Gustav Vasa was elected king in 1521, he requested that the Pope would confirm Johannes Magnus as Archbishop of Sweden, replacing Gustav Trolle, who had supported the Danish king Christian II and was convicted for treason. When the Pope refused, Gustav Vasa started to promote the Swedish Lutheran reformers Olaus, Laurentius Petri, and Laurentius Andreae. Gustav Trolle was eventually forced into exile, and soon all ecclesiastical property was transferred to the Crown. The ties with Rome were cut, and in 1531 Laurentius Petri was elected the first Protestant primate of Sweden.

Originally, no changes were made to official church doctrine. Gradually, in spite of popular protests against the introduction of "Luthery", teachings were aligned with continental Protestantism. King John III of Sweden, one of Gustav Vasa's sons, later took measures to bring the Church back towards Catholicism. However, after his death, his brother, Duke Charles summoned the Uppsala Synod in 1593, which declared Holy Scripture the sole guideline for faith, with four documents accepted as faithful and authoritative explanations of it: the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed, and the unaltered Augsburg Confession of 1530.[2]

The move put Charles at odds with the heir to the throne, his nephew Sigismund III Vasa, who was raised in the Catholic faith. Although Sigismund promised to uphold Lutheranism, Duke Charles aspirations to power led to the War against Sigismund, a power struggle that was effectively decided at the Battle of Stångebro in 1598, in favour of Charles - and Protestantism.

During the era following the Reformation, usually known as the period of Lutheran Orthodoxy, small groups of non-Lutherans, especially Calvinist Dutchmen, the Moravian Church and Walloons or French Huguenots from Belgium, played a significant role in trade and industry, and were quietly tolerated as long as they kept a low religious profile. The Sami originally had their own shamanistic religion, but they were converted to Lutheranism by Swedish missionaries in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Liberalization and other faiths

Not until liberalization in the late 18th century, however, were believers of other faiths, including Judaism and Catholicism, allowed to openly live and work in Sweden, although it remained illegal until 1860 for Lutheran Swedes to convert to another religion.

Islam in Sweden

During the eighteenth century, Sweden formed an alliance with the Ottoman Empire. This, coupled with the fact that the Swedish king Carl XII lived under Ottoman protection from 1709 to 1714, made the Swedes interested in Islam. Soon, Sweden granted freedom of worship to Muslims. The Baltic Tatars were the first Muslim group in modern Sweden. The faith arrived in the country primarily through immigration from countries with large Muslim populations (such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Turkey, Morocco, Iraq, Iran and Somalia) in the late 20th century. Although there are no official statistics of Muslims in Sweden, estimates counts 300 000 – 350 000 ethnic Muslims in the year 2000.[3]

Free churches

The 19th century saw the arrival of various evangelical free churches, and, towards the end of the century secularism, leading many to distance themselves from Church rituals. Leaving the Church of Sweden became legal with the so-called dissenter law of 1860, but only under the provision of entering another denomination. The right to stand outside any religious denomination was established in the Law on Freedom of Religion in 1951.

Today, the Swedish Free Church Council (Swedish: Sveriges Frikyrkosamråd) organizes free churches in Sweden, belonging to various Protestant denominations: Baptists, Methodists, Reformed, Pentecostal etc. In total the member churches have around 250,000 members. The largest member church is the Mission Covenant Church of Sweden, with approximately 65,000 members

Religion in Sweden today

Church of Sweden[4]
year population church members percentage
1972 8.146.000 7.754.784 95,2 %
1980 8.278.000 7.690.636 92,9 %
1990 8.573.000 7.630.350 89,0 %
2000 8.880.000 7.360.825 82,9 %
2005 9.048.000 6.967.498 77,0 %
2006 9.119.000 6.893.901 75,6 %
2007 9.179.000 6.820.161 74,3 %
2008 9.262.000 6.751.952 72,9 %

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels seeks to protect this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. The rights and freedoms enumerated in the constitution include the rights to practice one's religion and protection of religious freedom. The laws concerning religious freedoms are generally observed and enforced at all government levels and by the courts in a non-discriminatory fashion. Legal protections cover discrimination or persecution by private actors.[5]

At the end of 2008, 72,9%[1 ] of Swedes belong to the Church of Sweden, a number that is decreasing by about one per cent every year, and Church of Sweden services are sparsely attended (hovering in the single digit percentages of the population).[6] The reason for the large number of inactive members is partly that until 1996, children became members automatically at birth if at least one of their parents were a member. Since 1996, only children that are baptised become members. In 2009, nearly 72,000 Swedes left the Church of Sweden, considerably more than in 2008 when 50,504 Swedes left the Church of Sweden [7]. Some 275,000 Swedes are today members of various free churches (where congregation attendance is much higher), and, in addition, immigration has meant that there are now some 92,000 Roman Catholics and 100,000 Eastern Orthodox Christians living in Sweden.[8] Due to immigration, Sweden also has a significant Muslim population. As many as 500,000 are Muslims by tradition[9] and between 80,000 - 400,000 of these are practicing Muslims. (See also Islam in Sweden)

Eight recognized religious denominations, in addition to the Church of Sweden, raise revenues through member-contributions made through the national tax system. All recognized denominations are entitled to direct government financial support, contributions made through the national tax system, or a mix of both. Since the population is predominantly Christian, certain Christian religious holy days are national holidays. School students from minority religious backgrounds are entitled to take relevant religious holidays.[5]

No recognition or registration is required to carry out religious activity. Religious groups that want to receive government aid may apply for it. The Government considers the number of members in the group and its length of establishment, but applies no specific criteria.[5]

Religious education covering all major world religions is compulsory in public schools. Parents may send their children to independent religious schools, all of which receive government subsidies, provided they adhere to government guidelines on core academic curriculum.[5]

The Office of the Ombudsman against Ethnic Discrimination investigates claims of discrimination "due to race, skin color, national or ethnic origin, or religion." Discrimination on religious grounds is illegal, including discrimination in the work place and in the provision of public and private services.[5]

According to the most recent Eurobarometer Poll 2005,[10]

  • 23% of Swedish citizens responded that "they believe there is a God".
  • 53% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force".
  • 23% answered that "they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force".

Phil Zuckerman, an Associate Professor of Sociology at Pitzer College writes of several academic sources who have in recent years placed atheism rates in Sweden between 46% and 85%, with one source reporting that only 17% of respondents self-identified as "atheist".[11]

Sweden ranks aside with France, South Korea, Japan, Czech Republic and the Netherlands on having a large minority or even majority of its citizens who have no religion. Independent of these statistics, it is generally known that Swedish society, collectively, is comparatively secular and non-religious.[12]

See also


  1. ^ a b Church of Sweden statistics
  2. ^ N.F. Lutheran Cyclopedia, article, "Upsala, Diet of", New York: Schrivner, 1899. p. 528-9.
  3. ^ Åke Sander (2004), “Muslims in Sweden”, in Muhammad Anwar, Jochen Blaschke and Åke Sander, State Policies Towards Muslim Minorities: Sweden, Great Britain and Germany, Berlin : Parabolis; pp.218-224
  4. ^ (Swedish)Svenska Kyrkan Statistiek pagina Medlemmar 1972-2008 excel file
  5. ^ a b c d e "International Religious Freedom Report 2006 - Sweden". U.S. Department of State - Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. 2006. Retrieved 2007-05-20.  
  6. ^ Church of Sweden, Members 1972-2007, PDF document in Swedish
  7. ^ In- & utträden 2003 - 2009 pdf
  8. ^ Statistics about free churches and immigration churches from Swedish Wikipedia - in Swedish
  9. ^ Swedish Newspaper - in Swedish
  10. ^ "Eurobarometer on Social Values, Science and technology 2005 - page 11" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-05-05.  
  11. ^ Zuckerman, Phil (2006). "Atheism—Contemporary numbers and Practices". in Michael Martin. The Cambridge Companion to Atheism. Cambridge University Press -. pp. 47–50. ISBN 0521842700.,M1. Retrieved 2007-11-15.  
  12. ^ Celsing, Charlotte. Are Swedes losing their religion?. The Swedish Institute, 1 September 2006. Retrieved 19 February 2007.

External links



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