“Tell the Minister not to talk about God:” a comparative study of secularisation in Protestant Europe
Kasselstrand, Isabella Linda Katarina
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Secularisation is at the centre of a vibrant debate in the sociology of religion. In the last two decades, literature has started to challenge old predictions and interpretations of the future of religion, but few studies present a detailed contextual examination of religious change in contemporary societies. Offering a comparative analysis of Scotland and Sweden, two nations in the relatively secularised Northern Europe, this thesis argues that diverse historical and political trajectories shape distinct patterns of religious beliefs and practices. Scotland and Sweden are two secularising nations characterised by historically dominant Protestant churches, but which nonetheless differ largely in their experiences of religious decline. In order to discern and differentiate key aspects of religious change in each nation as well as to explore contextual meanings of religion, a mixed methods approach was adopted, comprised of secondary quantitative data analysis as well as in-depth interviews. Data analysis identified and highlighted broader patterns and individual understandings of religious beliefs as well as three dimensions of religious belonging: church attendance, religious identification and membership, and participation in rituals. Results show that on measures of religious beliefs and church attendance, Sweden appears further secularised than Scotland. Arguably, Sweden has seen rapid and relatively early secularisation, with important social structural and political changes that occurred in the second half of the 19th century. With noticeable generational differences, data on Scotland point towards the mid-20th century as a crucial time of religious decline. Additionally, the remaining functions of the national churches differ considerably in the two nations. A majority of Swedes identify with the Church of Sweden, which serves a largely secular purpose as part of a cultural heritage and as a provider of life cycle ceremonies. By contrast, the Church of Scotland has maintained a stronger commitment to religious doctrine in a nation that is more religiously diverse. The findings ultimately draw attention to the importance of context in the study of diverse and complex processes of religious change. As a result, they reveal limitations to attempts in the contemporary sociology of religion set out to generalise and dichotomise European trends of religious belief and belonging.