I’m a Believer – But I’ll Be Damned if I’m Religious : Belief and Religion in the Greater Copenhagen Area : A Focus Group Study

University dissertation from Centrum för teologi och religionsvetenskap, Lunds universitet

Abstract: This book is a contribution to the discussion about religion in contemporary Western society, characterized by the privatization of religion. The concept religion is not easily operational and does not carry meaning or implications that remain valid or consistent over time. It must be re-substantiated in order to remain descriptive and operational. This book’s ambition is to explore a means of re-substantiating the concept of religion. Data created in focus groups on 1) What does it mean to be a believer today, and 2) Can one be more or less religious shows that religion as a concept pertains to five distinct aspects; belief, routinized religion, religion-as-heritage, practice and tradition. While these aspects are in themselves not novel, it is interesting that these aspects do not pertain directly to a common core. Beliefs emerge as highly personal emotions and reflections that reside in the inner life of each individual and are developed cognitively through life experiences. Beliefs are actualized ad-hoc in respect to context. Routinized religion pertains to the religious system and institution, the organization to which one can belong. Certain practices also belong in this domain, such as sermons, the Eucharist, etc. These practices are perceived as alien by most focus group participants. There are practices that are embraced by all participants, namely traditions. They are acknowledged to have originated in a routinized religious context but have become devoid of religious content to most of the people, who participate in them. They are upheld for the affirmation of social life and shared heritage. This is where the wider religion-as-heritage comes in. It signifies the cultural history, the norms, values, perceptions, etc. that are shared by people, whose heritage lies in that given church or religious organization. Indeed the processes of privatization are conducive to segregating belief from religion. Belief is relegated into the inner minds of individuals, whereas religion is entrenched in institutions and denominations in a pluralized market. The increasing gap between these two spheres gives rise to a social domain in which traditions and heritage become shared ways of establishing bonds and affinities and staging belonging in respect to other kinds of traditions and heritages. For this reason it is assuredly the case that religion in the conventional mode, what this book calls packaged religion, is bound to decline, whereas unpacked religion, where several aspects perform different functions in respect to the individual and society is more descriptive of the norm in Danish society.