A Risk or a Resource? : A Study of the Swedish State’s Shifting Perception and Handling of Minority Religious Communities between 1952-2019

Abstract: In Sweden, as in many other European countries, governments and other public authorities increasingly seem to view religious communities as an important resource that should be included in welfare provision and help combat problems that societies are facing, thereby intentionally or unintentionally bringing religion back into the public arena. However, religious communities also seem to be perceived as a risk and a problem that needs to be further regulated and controlled. Given these conflicting signals, the aim of this thesis is to contribute to the understanding of the contradictory and contested perspective of religion in the public realm today by describing, analysing and discussing changes in the Swedish state’s perception and handling of minority religious communities between 1952 and 2019. The point of departure is an assumption that the state has a central role in setting the terms and conditions that both enable and limit what religious communities can do, thus shaping the function and role of religion in the public realm. The studied governments documents have been analysed through a mix-method approach meaning that both an automated content analysis and an idea-analysis have been performed. A theoretical framework including theories regarding the governance of religious diversity and civil society state relations is used to analyse the material. The results show that the priorities of the state have been central in governing minority religious communities throughout the studied time period. Also, although the issue has become a new policy concern in the late 1990s, many of the recent controversies concerning minority religious communities are not new. Rather, such controversies are indicative of an ongoing story of Sweden’s handling of religious diversity. The conflicting view of minority religious communities today seems therefore to be deeply embedded in the inherent tensions of the Swedish social contract.