Sweden’s secularisation process has been going on for about a century, usually pretty quietly, with the anti-Christian polemics of philosopher Ingemar Hedenius marking a brief period of open conflict in the 1950s.
As is the case in most European countries, Sweden’s university system was born in the Middle Ages with the main aim to educate priests. Some of the older ones still have a Faculty of Theology. The other day another one of the National Agency for Higher Education’s evaluations was published. They recently checked out the country’s archaeology departments. Now they’ve done religion studies and theology, which has caused a kerfuffle.
One of the evaluation’s main findings is that the Church of Sweden has too much influence over the universities, and that this influence has grown in recent years. Much of the practical courses in the education of priests used to be organised by the Church. For some reason, this Lutheran Christian body, which was a state church until 1999, then ceded these courses to certain universities.
The Centre for Theology and Religious Studies in Lund is openly divided over the recent report. Its Dean, its Vice Dean and Lund University’s President have protested it in an open letter, while at least three of the faculty have written in to announce their displeasure with the letter of protest. One of the report’s authors has lost her job at the Faculty of Theology in Uppsala.
Meanwhile, KÃ¥re Bremer, the President of the University of Stockholm (a relatively young university where I did my BA and PhD), writes on his blog (and I translate):
The National Agency for Higher Education has performed a far-reaching evaluation of religion studies, history of religion and theology at the country’s colleges and universities. It contains much criticism and questions many things. It appears that the University of Stockholm is the only one of the universities that get’s a clean bill of health. We have the subject of religion studies at the Faculty of Humanities, but no theology. This was actually one of the main points when the university was founded [in 1878], that it would not have any faculty of theology linked to the Church of Sweden. Such a relationship apparently survives at several universities which offer, i.a., so-called “pastoral theology” courses. These, according to the National Agency, are comprised of Bible interpretion, liturgics (divine service) and catechetics (the teaching of religious beliefs) with some training located in the workplace among congregations of the Church of Sweden. I am horrified. [Jag Ã¤r fÃ¶rfÃ¤rad.] Needless to say, the universities should study religion and teach courses about it as an important aspect of society but remain completely separate from the practice of religion and from religious organisations. State-organised higher education must rest upon a scientific basis, and the authority of science and good research practice must be protected (Sweden’s University Law, ch. 1). This means that it is impossible to cooperate with the Church of Sweden or other religious organisations in education and research.
This comes hot on the heels of a report commissioned to evaluate a suggestion by the Minister for Higher Education and Research, that Sweden should offer public training for Muslim imams. An important rationale for the Minister’s suggestion was that home-grown imams would very likely be more liberal and less likely to preach Jihad than the ones Sweden currently imports. Also, they would be better equipped to help integrate Muslim immigrants into Swedish society. The report, however, finds that it wouldn’t be a good idea.