Who’s the Master of None?

 

The misfits ticking off ‘none’ when asked about religious affiliation. An unrecognised chunk of diverging identities: It’s time to ask how the non-religious are recognised in state, law and politics.IMG_8025

How does the state deal with the considerable portion of the population whose practises, beliefs, identities and belongings are other than religious? How is the phenomenon of non-religion (mis)recognised in different religious, social and cultural contexts on national level across the world today?

The emerging research field of non-religion seems to have become an established part of the sociology of religion and other disciplines addressing the varieties of identities associated with what has become to be known as ‘the nones’ within religious studies of various kinds.

In the Anglophone world ‘none’ denotes a survey option declaring ‘no affiliation’ with listed worldviews, e.g. Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist etc. For obvious reasons, the category of non-religion covers a vast variety of identities that one way or the other are hallmarked as ‘other than religious’ to quote Lois Lee’s minimum common denominator for recognizing the nonreligious.

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Image: The Descrier / Flickr

The None Next Door

The lion’s share of available research on nones has been focused on the construction of non-religious identities from below: For instance how individuals come to identify as non-religious. American research in particular has predominantly conceptualised this through apostasy; how people break the chain of memory and join the socio-cultural deviance of having no religion.

As a culturally contingent phenomenon, non-religion is often understood in its dialogue and conflict with the dominant formats of religion in society, hence William Stahl argues that Catholic nones and Protestant nones are different. In addition, non-religious identities appear less defined in societies where religiosity is not socially expected or widespread according to Phil Zuckerman who argues that Scandinavian nones are less prone to identify as atheists when compared to the US, or Greece for that matter.

While apostasy indeed is interesting, it is not a key concept of non-religion in the Nordics where most nones in general are likely to have been brought up without religious guidance and live their everyday lives without expectations of belonging, believing or practicing religion. They are to a large extent what Zuckerman describes as indifferentIn Norway, a large share of the non-religious population is ‘unaffiliated’, i.e. they are not registered in an officially recognised worldview community (e.g. The Norwegian Humanist Association). The unaffiliated is the second largest group in Norway and counts 14% of the population (2012). The largest group are the members of the Church of Norway, which count about 70%. For quite obvious reasons it is difficult to tell what faiths, worldviews, beliefs and identities that are contained under the category of ‘no affiliation’.

Members Only

Interestingly – that can also be said about the members of the Church of Norway, which is largely based on a system that allows automatic enrolments and passive memberships, and more notably a number of involuntarily memberships. First, new-borns are registered as members of the church if at least one of the parents are registered and will remain so from cradle to grave unless opted out by parents as minors or on their own initiative after turning 15. A new online system for registering with and opting out of the church was implemented in 2016. Up until then opting out was a tedious affair involving written letters and the bureaucratic goodwill (sic!) of the local parish. However – for reasons unknown– such procedures have proven to be futile as there is way too many who regardless of their opt-out have remained registered members of the church. According to the Norwegian newspaper VG, as much as 75 000 were involuntarily members of the church in 2005. In the aftermath of the online registration and opt-out form in 2016 more than 41 000 cancelled their memberships, while 3147 persons registered as members of The Church of Norway. During my own interviews of Norwegian nones, conducted in 2017/2018, several of the interviewees (3/10) discovered that they were involuntarily members of the church. It is therefore reasonable to assume that a significant share of the Church of Norway’s members is so without consent.

Another reason for scholars to engage with the membership number in critical fashion is the fact that membership to the Church of Norway has no practical impact on the individual: Not financially; you cannot opt out of the church tax (which you can in Sweden) and there is no other implications of being a member – you are not reminded about such affiliations through newsletters etc. and church magazines, journals and pamphlets are distributed evenly and regardless of the house’s status as members or not. In other words, you can easily be a member throughout your life completely unaware of it.

The only practical difference is that members of the church are entitled to vote in the church elections, which are held simultaneously as general elections in Norway. One of my informants revealed that the ability to push the church in a more liberal direction through the elections was an incentive to remain member despite her general lack of belief and sense of belonging to the Church of Norway. Her passion for equality (sex, gender and ethnic) was instrumental for that choice. We cannot draw solid conclusions from such trajectories, but they nonetheless underscore the suspicion that official membership stats are not reliable sources when mapping religious de facto practice, belief and belonging. The reasons for why nones remain members are diverse, but the main point here is the observation that they sometimes do, whether it is out of indifference, ignorance, or potential of political impact or utter unawareness.

Turning the tables

While acknowledging the importance of the dominant socio-cultural and religious structures for nones ‘on the ground’ it is interesting to turn the tables and ask how they are perceived from above. Emphasising research of non-religion from above is not to say that the perspective from below is ruled out or wrong in any sense. Instead I argue that the numerous ethnographies of nones make a solid foundation for developing research on other societal spheres, such as within law, politics and institutions. This is the intention of the upcoming conference Formatting non-religion in late modern society – Institutional and legal perspectives, which takes place in Oslo September 26-27, hosted by the GOBA project (University of Oslo) and the international research network Eurel.

When establishing knowledge about sociocultural forms of non-religious identities (from below), it is politically and academically interesting to ask how such social formations are recognised, represented and perhaps negotiated from above. Now, this is however not quite straight forward as it sounds, because nones are to a certain extent an academic construct. That is, nones are not necessarily formally recognised as a worldview category, possibly due to the lack of formal organisation. Meanwhile, the lack of such is completely natural as the group consists of a variety of ways of being ‘other than religious’, the diversity amongst nones means that certain fractions may not want to be associated with each other. For example consider the significant difference between the ‘spiritual not religious’ group and New Atheism. The diversity of non-religious identities and group formations might be a challenge for non-religion to be substantially recognised in governmental bodies, law and politics. However, that does not make research on ‘non-religion from above’ less important if we think about the significant number of people who are not formally represented through officially recognised membership to faith and worldview communities.

This is both significant in societies where the minority of nones are persecuted such as Pakistan as well as in the UK where nones form a possible silent majority or even in Norway despite the impression of 70% church membership gives. Both contexts – where nones are numerous and not – make interesting research phenomena of the state’s handling with these identities in politics and law. We can for instance ask how different forms of secularism facilitates politics to serve nones, religious majorities and minorities alike? How non-religious worldviews are considered in public religious education and other institutions where the state is expected to facilitate for freedom of belief and thought? Or what happens with citizenship and sense of belonging when the state supports an established church in a country with an increasing non-religious population?

Non-religion is arguably an academic construct derived form English survey-lingo, which perhaps is difficult to recognise at first glance. Including ‘nones’ when mapping the religious landscape of late modern societies definitely broadens our horizon. As with the example from Norway, including the unaffiliated and critically examining the possibility of nones formally affiliated with the Church of Norway, changes our perception of the religious demography. It would be worthwhile to conceptualise this complexity further in research of politics, law and institutions. Regardless of the lack of fixed definitions, institutional representation and widespread acknowledgement in scholarly discourses and beyond, ‘non-religion’ is an analytical tool that cannot be overlooked by researchers, politicians, state officials and others who seek to understand, facilitate and marshal contemporary plurality of faiths and worldviews.

 

This blog has been co-published with Religion Going Public.


Biography

Erlend Hovdkinn From Doctoral Research Fellow, Faculty of Theology, University of Oslo.PhD Project: ‘From Protestant to Post-Religious? Researching nones in Oslo’.

My academic interests are within sociology of religion, and more specific – nonreligion and secularity. My PhD project addresses nonreligion in the Norwegian context. How does the religiously unaffiliated relate to Norway’s cultural heritage of protestant Christianity? Moreover, what constitutes Norwegian nonreligion, politically, socially, existentially and culturally?

My position as PhD candidate is part of the project Good Protestant, Bad Religion (GOBA, funded by the Research Council of Norway, 2014-2018).

I am one of the editors of the collaborative scholarly blog Religion: Going Public (2016->), and I am writing for the Norway section at EUREL, a database of socio-legal data on religion in Europe.

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10 thoughts on “Who’s the Master of None?

  1. It is fascinating to read your description of the situation in Norway and contrast it with our situation in Canada where “nones” are indeed recognized from the very top. The Canadian Charter Rights and Freedoms (our constitution) promises Canadians freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. There was of course resistance to the concept of freedom of conscience from those concerned with maintaining the perception that Canada was a Christian country but ultimately, our high courts ruled in favour of the “nones”. In 1985, the case known as Regina v. Big M Drug Mart https://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/43/index.do became the landmark decision in guaranteeing freedom of conscience (and therefore freedom FROM religion).

    This recognition of the legal rights of “nones” and freedom from affiliation comes from the longer term history of religious pluralism from the start of colonization and the necessity for secularization to create a functioning political system. Of course the spiritual and religious systems of the indigenous people were actively suppressed but the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches were authoritative in the colonial project. The Roman Catholic church held enormous sway in the French speaking province of Quebec, particularly when the government of France surrendered the colony to English control. The Roman Catholic emphasis on procreation ensured a critical mass of francophones to maintain Quebec’s identity as a French nation within the English colony that would become Canada. Later (in the 1960’s), Quebec experienced what is known as “The Quiet Revolution” when the church lost its hold on the people of the province. (Buchardt: 2017)

    While in Quebec secularization has meant the transition from religious authority to the overthrow of that religion, the history is different in Ontario and spreading west. Upper Canada (now Ontario) experienced religious pluralism from its early days when the English protestants simultaneously imported and waged war on the Irish Catholics in an unsustainable manner. Ultimately, peace came (in part) through the establishment of separate Roman Catholic and public (read mixed Protestant) education systems, each funded through taxation. While the tax is mandatory, citizens of Ontario decide for themselves which system their taxes will support. The public system provides reasonable accommodation of religion through curriculum exemptions and release from class to perform religious rites but there has been no prayer in classrooms since the 1970s. Practical religion is never taught in the public system and Religious Studies is rarely offered as a discipline in the public system..

    This hard-won “freedom from religion” is precious to many Canadians. Even the faithful appreciate their freedom from the religion of others. “In Canada, one notes quite a low level of what one might call religious aggressiveness… culturally it seems, it is generally considered rather impolite and to that degree unacceptable to promote- ‘push’- one’s religion, or even to be too open about showing it” (Beyer 2013c, 303). Indeed, while the statistics suggest that religious “nones” are only a quarter to a third of the population, for most practising religious people in Canada, their public presentation would be that of no religion at all. This sense of religion- or lack thereof as a matter of individual conscience is represented in both culture and law and allows for a diversity of practice that includes government legitimation (indeed protection) of “nones.

    • It is interesting to note how both Josh Bullock and Kate Johnson put some emphasis on how governments view and facilitate the secular, mainly through the recognition of its religious nones and the backing of religious institutions. However I also believe that the government’s role and actions are important in how it can set up the populace’s views on the secular. Let’s extend this notion of secularism and governmental recognition past western societies and into a culturally different country, such as Iraq. Here the concepts of Nordic “Indifference” and secular upbringing are less applicable due to the major influence of religion in the state’s day-to-day life. Which naturally invokes the question of how a religious upbringing would influence the view of the “apostatic” secularism (in contrast to the concept of Nordic Indifference to secularism)? Does a religious upbringing dictate a religious personality? It’s complicated, as there are many examples of non-religious people that came to be despite their religious upbringing. A notable example would be the godfather of Iraqi sociology, Ali Al-Wardi, who endorses his own views of secularism within the nation despite his reported religious Islamic upbringing. Thus the societal frame imposed by the government could play a role as large as upbringing in fostering a sense of the secular (or of religiosity) within individuals.

      Despite the lack of statistical information on the populace’s religiosity due to Iraq’s current unstable political climate it is noted that currently religious nones are not recognized in any official capacity other than personal. Unfortunately it seems that, with a large portion of the population, secularism is often confused with atheism or total non-religion. This is due to recent self-identified secular governments (such as the Ba’athist regime) having clamped down on various religious activities (such as the celebration of Ashura), fostering a sense of sectarianism (Al-Amin 2016). Contrast this to the Hashemite monarchy, generally considered to be amongst the most secular periods in the country’s recent history, even when King Faisal I denied (due to his claim of religious descent) endorsing the secular (Allawi 2014). However it was not his proclamation but the governmental enforcement that led to the temporal rise of secularism. Joel Thiessen emphasizes the correlation between the rise of religious nones to the presence of religious pluralism within society. This correlates to how secularism could rise within a “non-secular” government. Under Hashemite rule, religious pluralism was notably encouraged and fostered due to a distinct separation of church and state (Al-Ali 2005). While the subsequent regimes’ violent political disturbances caused a decrease in religious plurality ( religious minorities escaping the country under threat of persecution) leading to the noted decrease sense of secularity and increased sectarianism over the coming years. So it could be that the rise of the religious nones is contingent on religiously plural setting (such as in Norway and Canada) which is definitively set up and fostered by governmental laws. It can be argued that while governments must adapt to recognize religious changes of its populace, there exists a model where the populace must in turn (intergenerationally) adapt to the socio-religious environment imposed by its government.

      References:

      Alllawi, Ali. “Faisal I of Iraq”. Yale University Press, 2014, 634.

      Al-Ali, Zaid. “The end of secualrism in Iraq.” Open Democracy. 18 May, 2005. https://www.opendemocracy.net/conflict-iraq/article_2516.jsp

      Al-Amin, Safwan. “The Future of secularism in Iraq.” Atlantic Council. September 14, 2016. http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/menasource/the-future-of-secularism-in-iraq

      Thiessen, Joel. “The Meaning of Sunday: The Practice of Belief in a Secular Age.” McGill-Queens University Press, 2015, 16-17.

    • As Kate Johnson noted in her response to the blog, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does guarantee Canadian’s freedom to practice any religion, and also the right to be free from religion as well. Kate also made an interesting point about secularization in Quebec, where the process of separation between the Church and State in the province had resulted in greater secularity and constituted a transformative shift in the field of mid-20th century Quebec politics. Applying this point to a more contemporary context, recent years have seen an increase in calls for a new wave of secularism throughout Western society. However, such notions of secularism have now come to rise in the face of xenophobic discourse, where immigrant communities are viewed as a threat to the West’s moral (and Christian) imaginary.

      There are a multiple examples of politicized (racialized?) calls for secularism in Western society, however the term secularity is not employed in its traditional sense and usage. By definition, secularity is “the view that public education and other matters of civil policy should be conducted without the introduction of a religious element” (Dictionary.com 2018). In sum, this refers to a view that public institutions should not be overtly informed by a religious dogma supported by the State. This can be viewed as in line with the democratic principles practiced in Canada and throughout the Western world, where constitutional freedoms (supposedly) grant citizens protection from religious discrimination. However, calls for secularism in the West are often now enmeshed with repressive aims to suppress religious minority expression and identity. In this sense, secularism is no longer about ensuring distinct existences for Church and State, but in essence rewriting and circumventing constitutional charters guaranteeing religious freedom (Valiante 2018).

      Islam has become a popular victim of calls for increased “secularity” in the West, where outward expressions of religiosity protected by constitutional charters have become buried in Islamophobic rhetoric that paints affiliated symbols like the niqab, hijab, and burqa as harmful expressions to Western society and should be excluded from constitutional protections. It is unsurprising that Muslims have also increasingly become targets of racialized violence and discourse in the West, where fearing the “Other” has created a specious pretense to legal and moral justifications for suppressing Islamic expression. This has surfaced in the passing of laws throughout the Western world banning or limiting the rights of Islamic expression, (despite such rights being supposedly protected in the respective countries); wherein Quebec, Germany, Austria, and France have all recently seen laws passed promoting “secularity” unjustly effect the rights of Muslim citizens to religious expression (Stack 2017).

      Quebec’s 2017 niqab ban demonstrated explicitly the xenophobic narratives that have come to define contemporary secular legislation, where instead of working to protect “religious nones,” legal frameworks instead punish minority identifiers and serve to police non-Christian bodies (Adams 2017, Molyneux 2016). In Quebec, the infamous Bill 62 law now states only citizens with uncovered faces can receive state services, including being able to ride the bus. This law severely and explicitly impacts the Muslim Quebec community while spares Christian and non-religious practitioners who don’t wear religious head attire. At odds with an argument made in Joel Thiessen’s “The Meaning of Sunday” which states, “regardless of one’s religious or secular identification, Canadians generally believe that tolerance and accommodation ought to accompany religious and cultural diversity,” a large percentage of Canadians do in fact support the Quebec legislation and the de facto limitations on religious diversity and expression it stands for (Thiessen 2015, Abdel-Nabi 2018).

      Thiessen, Joel. 2015. “The Meaning of Sunday: The Practice of Belief in a Secular Age.” McGill-Queens University Press, 5-12.

      Dictionary.com. “Secularism.” http://www.dictionary.com/browse/secularism.

      Valiante, Giuseppe. 2017. “Quebec Passes Bill 62 Forcing Public to Unvocer Faces to Give or Receive Services. The Whig. http://www.thewhig.com/2017/10/18/quebec-passes-bill-62- forcing-public-to-uncover-faces-to-give-or-receive-services.

      Adams, Michael. 2017. “Quebec’s Secularism Reigns Supreme.” The Globe and Mail, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/quebecs-secularism-reigns- supreme/article36727839.

      Molynexu, John. 2016. “Secularism, Islamophobia and the Politics of Religion.” Irish Marxist Review, 2(15): 41-51.

      Stack, Liam. 2017. “Burqa Bans: Which Countries Outlaw Face Coverings?” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/19/world/europe/quebec-burqa-ban- europe.html

  2. I was really interested to read about nonreligious people in the context of political discussions, specifically the question of how nonreligious worldviews are incorporated into the world of state, law and politics. I think the diversity of nonreligious people is essential in the discussion of their presence in politics. This diversity stems from the opposition in which one’s nonreligion is, the reasons for one’s nonreligion or one’s previous experiences with religion. As referenced in the original post, there is much research about how people come to identify as nonreligious and many nonreligious people were raised “without religious guidance and live their everyday lives without expectations of belonging, believing or practicing religion”. This viewpoint is labelled as indifference. In Klug’s description of indifference, he points out that it is not “an intrinsic characteristic of people” (2017, 224) and depends on their circumstances. Although indifference is only one reason that people identify as nonreligious, there is still variability within religious indifference. It’s difficult to think about solutions to the lack of nonreligious opinions in politics because of the diversity of people who fall under this umbrella term.

    One could try to group nonreligious people together in order to give them a voice in the political realm. This would be useful in situations where people are arguing for freedom from religion. For example, during the hearings of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, radical secularists supported the removal of the crucifix from above the seat of the speaker in the National Assembly (2017). In a case similar to this, having all nonreligious people come together as a group would display how many people were for or in opposition of an idea. This would make representation of opinions easier to understand. However, this raises problems within the group of nonreligious people, as there is such a wide diversity of opinions and belief systems. As mentioned above, certain subsets of nonreligious people may not want to be associated with each other. In putting all nonreligious people together to give them a voice, this in turn silences the differences between people in the group and gives the impression that they are all the same.

    On the other hand, hearing all sides of each nonreligion seems extremely inefficient. As referenced earlier, non-religion is often understood through its conflict with a dominant format of religion. Since there are so many dominant formats of religion, including people from each religion as well as their counterparts could make for an unproductive discussion. This could also create more of an opposition between religious groups and people who identify as nonreligious. William Stahl’s argument mentioned in the original post that Catholic nones are different from Protestant nones would support this. The differences between nonreligious people would make it very difficult for them to come to conclusions together, especially in a political setting.

    I’d be interested to hear other suggestions about how nonreligious people could be incorporated into political discussions!

    References
    Klug, Petra. “Varieties of Nonreligion: Why Some People Criticize Religion, While Others Just Don’t Care.” Religious Indifference, 2017, 219-37.
    Burchardt, Marian. “Is Religious Indifference Bad for Secularism? Lessons from Canada.” Religious Indifference, 2017, 83-99.

  3. It is interesting to note how both Josh Bullock and Kate Johnson put some emphasis on how governments view and facilitate the secular, mainly through the recognition of its religious nones and the backing of religious institutions. However I also believe that the government’s role and actions are important in how it can set up the populace’s views on the secular. Let’s extend this notion of secularism and governmental recognition past western societies and into a culturally different country, such as Iraq. Here the concepts of Nordic “Indifference” and secular upbringing are less applicable due to the major influence of religion in the state’s day-to-day life. Which naturally invokes the question of how a religious upbringing would influence the view of the “apostatic” secularism (in contrast to the concept of Nordic Indifference to secularism)? Does a religious upbringing dictate a religious personality? It’s complicated, as there are many examples of non-religious people that came to be despite their religious upbringing. A notable example would be the godfather of Iraqi sociology, Ali Al-Wardi, who endorses his own views of secularism within the nation despite his reported religious Islamic upbringing. Thus the societal frame imposed by the government could play a role as large as upbringing in fostering a sense of the secular (or of religiosity) within individuals.

    Despite the lack of statistical information on the populace’s religiosity due to Iraq’s current unstable political climate it is noted that currently religious nones are not recognized in any official capacity other than personal. Unfortunately it seems that, with a large portion of the population, secularism is often confused with atheism or total non-religion. This is due to recent self-identified secular governments (such as the Ba’athist regime) having clamped down on various religious activities (such as the celebration of Ashura), fostering a sense of sectarianism (Al-Amin 2016). Contrast this to the Hashemite monarchy, generally considered to be amongst the most secular periods in the country’s recent history, even when King Faisal I denied (due to his claim of religious descent) endorsing the secular (Allawi 2014). However it was not his proclamation but the governmental enforcement that led to the temporal rise of secularism. Joel Thiessen emphasizes the correlation between the rise of religious nones to the presence of religious pluralism within society. This correlates to how secularism could rise within a “non-secular” government. Under Hashemite rule, religious pluralism was notably encouraged and fostered due to a distinct separation of church and state (Al-Ali 2005). While the subsequent regimes’ violent political disturbances caused a decrease in religious plurality ( religious minorities escaping the country under threat of persecution) leading to the noted decrease sense of secularity and increased sectarianism over the coming years. So it could be that the rise of the religious nones is contingent on religiously plural setting (such as in Norway and Canada) which is definitively set up and fostered by governmental laws. It can be argued that while governments must adapt to recognize religious changes of its populace, there exists a model where the populace must in turn (intergenerationally) adapt to the socio-religious environment imposed by its government.

    References:

    Alllawi, Ali. “Faisal I of Iraq”. Yale University Press, 2014, 634.

    Al-Ali, Zaid. “The end of secualrism in Iraq.” Open Democracy. 18 May, 2005. https://www.opendemocracy.net/conflict-iraq/article_2516.jsp

    Al-Amin, Safwan. “The Future of secularism in Iraq.” Atlantic Council. September 14, 2016. http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/menasource/the-future-of-secularism-in-iraq

    Thiessen, Joel. “The Meaning of Sunday: The Practice of Belief in a Secular Age.” McGill-Queens University Press, 2015, 16-17.

  4. Your comparison between the study of nones in America vs. Norway was incredibly interesting to consider. America is undoubtedly a religious country, with Christian ideals pervading politics, legal systems and social matrices. As illustrated by your point that most American research has focused on apostasy, the process and act of disbelief, it can be seen that the context of a person’s non-religiosity is determined by the religious landscape around them. In this case, the landscape posits that Christianity is the norm, and nones are deviants from it – this is true regardless of individual religious Americans’ reactions, which can range from incensed to indifferent. American studies of nones exemplify the difference between conceptualizing something as a non-choice (as in Norway, where many people are raised non-religiously) and an active choice to abandon a religion they grew up in. Study of nones in Norway would not revolve around a framework of opposition, abandonment and recruitment because their (non-)religious identities are not seen to exist as the ‘other’ to a dominant worldview; rather, simply one part of the whole. Indeed, the pervasive nature of Christianity in the United States is such that an argument could be raised that a non-religious state inherently favours the beliefs of none groups such as atheists.

    This is not to say that church and state are not intertwined in Norway. The entire example of the Church of Norway is fascinating. Considering automatic enrolment and the number of people that aren’t even aware that they are members is at once ironic – what was I saying about ‘non-choices’ and being born into religion? – and revealing of how little of a day-to-day impact the Church has on citizen’s lives. Ostensibly, the Norwegian state pushes religion even more blatantly than America and yet the former is considerably less religious than the latter; on a practical level, this lack of involvement is more important to the study of nones than Church membership statistics.

    I would argue, however, that there is space for another conceptualization of nones’ formal association with the Church. Norway exemplifies how nationality, community and religion can be viewed as intertwined for (aware and consenting) members of the Church, but not exclusively in the sense of true/false patriotism as can be the case in America. If someone in Norway attends a church service, does the rituals of recitation, singing, etc., they can do so not because they see it as a spiritual boon but rather as a social one. They can engage in these practices to reinforce feelings of national belonging, because they do not view the multiplicity of their behavior and beliefs as paradoxical. In this way it could be possible for a Norwegian to be simultaneously religious (if at least in action) and non-religious (outside the service) and thus secular and non-secular spaces exist within, between and betwixt one another. This would be a difficult thing to accomplish in current-day America, as the dominant paradigm for religion and non-religion is one of strict, hierarchical binaries.

    I am curious to know the statistics and nature of study concerning nones (e.g. what percentage identify as atheists, indifferent, etc.) in other parts of the world, such as countries like China, Australia, Israel, and South Africa.

  5. This post presents some compelling ideas surrounding how religious nones are positioned in increasingly secular societies across the world. Specifically, Phil Zuckerman’s argument that “Scandinavian nones are less prone to identify as atheists when compared to the US”, prompted some questioning of my own. Is it intolerance of the ‘unaffiliated’ in the United States that encourages the perception of religiously unaffiliated people as Atheist? I relate this idea to Hovdkinn’s point about non-religion often being understood in its dialogues and conflict with the dominant formats of religion in society; religious nones become defined by their lack of religion, rather than their own set of beliefs. Take Norway; where the unaffiliated are the second largest group in society at 14%, and based on Hovdkinn’s we can assume the proportion of unaffiliated people is much larger. This figure is misrepresented due to the opt-out system used in Norway. I suspect that the acceptance of religious nones in Norwegian society allows this group to identify themselves independent of the dominant religious body, the Church of Norway. Whereas in the U.S., religious nones are more prone to identify as atheist, because that set of beliefs is in direct conflict with the dominant religion. Nones are more often labeled as atheists because this is the way they are understood in the context of Christianity in the United States. If we believe that the way people are understood by society largely determines the way they self-identify, we might say that intolerance of religious nones gives rise to more atheists, who are those with disbelief rather than a lack of belief. The designation ‘unaffiliated’ offers little information regarding the beliefs those people hold, while the designation ‘atheist’ suggests a sure disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods. A 2006 study by researchers at the University of Minnesota found that 47.6% of Americans distrust Atheists, saying that they would not trust their child to marry one. (https://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=1786422&page=1) This figure is greater than that for other often discriminated groups in the U.S., such as African-Americans (33.5%) and Muslims (27.2%). Trying to pinpoint the cause and effect relationships here is confusing because it could also be true that there is an innate tendency towards Atheism in United States.

    Another point raised in this post brings up an interesting discussion. Hovdkinn tells us that official membership stats are not reliable sources when mapping religious de facto practice, belief and belonging. This is evidently true in Norway, with the Church of Norway membership numbers, and I suspect it also true for other Christian organizations, and amongst self-reporting Christians more generally. While anecdotes may have limited value in our discussion, I will say that I can certainly attest to the lackluster nature of religious affiliation for many in North America. Too many times have I heard from my peers that they are Christian; only for them to never once attend church or show any signs of religious practice or belief. The opt-out policy in Norway represents what Christianity has become in Western countries for many; something we are unconsciously members of until we opt out.

  6. After reading through this blog post and Kerry’s comment on this it, a personal anecdote came to mind that helped form my opinion on this topic and further think critically about it. For the second question that she posed, “Why is there a shift in the amount of people who are classifying themselves as Religious None’s, while still having a religious affiliation?”, I have a personal experience that may help answer this question. I was raised Catholic by my parents, attending church every Sunday for the majority of my younger life and enrolled in a Catholic high school, in which each year we had a mandatory class focused on religion. This environment is not substantially different from the opt-out environment that the author explains is existent in Norway. As a result of this, even though Canada does not have the same policy on this topic as Norway, my experience in a similar environment can provide insight as to what that’s like and potentially how its impacting the shift toward Religious None with religion affiliations.

    In this environment, I essentially didn’t have a choice of how I wanted to classify myself religiously, I was Catholic. There was significant pressure from my parents and high school friends as they were all Catholic. This coupled with the general pressure that religions put onto people to become believers in their ideology (Beyer 2013c, 303) was too much for me to withstand and I gave in without truly internally believing. As time went on and I graduated from high school, moving away from my parents and my religious high school, I started to learn more about other religions through the internet and other friends. This led me to classify internally as Religious None internally but with a religious affiliation publicly. I think that my experience is a prime example for why there is a shift towards this religious identity. Children are raised in these environments where they don’t know anything else and are pressured into believing but once they are exposed to other religious belief systems they open themselves up internally but not externally, creating the religious none with religious affiliation identity.

    As a result of this example, a critical question that can be asked in response to this blog post is how religions can create a more open environment where there is no pressure to believe. Under current circumstances, where religious identities are arguably being pushed on people, there is a negative bias created against that religion simply because of the fact that it was pushed onto people without giving them a fair chance at coming to a personal classification on their own (Thiessen, 2015). I believe that removing this negative bias, could increase adoption of religious belief systems and slow the shift towards Religious None’s that have religious affiliations. By minimizing this confusing religious identity, I think this will in part solve the question posed by the author of how to recognize these non-religious in state, law and politics.

  7. I’d like to thank Christopher Caffrey for raising the somewhat uncomfortable, and undeniably controversial issue of Quebec’s so-called niqab ban in relation to the espoused secularity of Canadian political culture. I am reminded of a quotation in Kate Johnson’s earlier comment:
    “In Canada, one notes quite a low level of what one might call religious aggressiveness… culturally it seems, it is generally considered rather impolite and to that degree unacceptable to promote- ‘push’- one’s religion, or even to be too open about showing it” (Beyer 2013c, 303).
    Perhaps we can imagine a relationship between this supposed lack of “religious aggressiveness” and the hostility with which outward expressions of (particularly Islamic) faith can be received. Beyer seems to depict the former as a negative value—that is, as something that Canadians do not do. The framing seems to suggest that this characteristic of Canadian culture is inherently tolerant: religion in the public discourse is an unfilled vessel, a space left intentionally empty. But we can just as well frame this “emptiness” inversely, as a positive social more, as something Canadians do, and therefore as not an empty space at all. When reconceptualised like this, it becomes easier to reconcile the tension between a (supposedly) secular culture and the highly visible expressions of faith that distinct religious garb constitute. The latter, in the collective imagination of “secular Canadians”, seems to be impinging on the totality of the former. The vessel, it turns out, is quite full—with “secularity”.
    It would be foolish to regard secularity as a benign force or negative space. It is for good reason that Lois Lee goes to pains in defining near-identical and (often, in colloquial usage) interchangeable terms, such as secularity, non-religion, irreligion, atheism, etc (2015, 203-4). Secularity is not simply the absence of religion—whatever religion is! Regardless, and for better or for worse, secularity is a construct that comprises something; it is replete with positive values, mores, norms, and plays a measurable role in the Canadian cultural setting. The example of Quebec’s so-called niqab ban is only evidence to this end.
    The secularization thesis has been kicked around for a long time. It is not without its flaws, detractors and apostates, and I do not wish to promote it outright. However, it concerns me, and should concern scholars generally, that secularity be associated with religious tolerance—indeed, with tolerance in general. It is not difficult to imagine a totalitarian secularism; one need only glance at the former Soviet Union, or the People’s Republic of China, for lessons in religious intolerance, in the name of secularity. As such, I dispute Mr. Caffrey’s claim that secularity “can be viewed as in line with the democratic principles practiced in Canada and throughout the Western world”. Secularity is associated with democracy strictly by coincidence, or convenience. Not even “tolerance” (which is neither secularity nor a required component of it) is a prerequisite for or necessarily a bedfellow of democracy, as a certain mid-century German example makes plain. Incidentally, this regime also espoused secularity; its relationship with religion was, shall we say, tumultuous.

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