Religion in Sweden

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Lutheran Christianity is the largest religion in Sweden, with 6.1 million Swedish citizens being members of the Church of Sweden.[1] The high membership figure is mainly due to the fact that until 1996 all newborn children with at least one parent being a member of the church were also made members.[2] Other Christian Churches include the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.[3] Islam is the second largest religion in Sweden, practiced by 5% of the population.[4] The rest of the population are either irreligious or members of other religious groups.[5]

Sweden was Christianized from Norse paganism during a long period, not final until the 1130s. Since the 16th century, Sweden has been predominantly Lutheran. From the Protestant Reformation in the 1530s until 2000, the Lutheran Church of Sweden (Swedish: Svenska kyrkan) was the state church. As of 2016, 61.2%[1] of Swedish citizens are members of the Church of Sweden, compared to over 95% in 1970, and 83% in 2000.[6]

Despite that, religion in Sweden plays a limited role compared to the European average, and even many church members participate in religious activities for only cultural reasons, and do not believe in Christianity. Atheism and agnosticism are widespread in Swedish society. In a Eurobarometer Poll in 2010, just 18% of Swedish citizens responded that "they believe there is a god", although a further 45% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force".[7] In a 2009 Gallup poll, 17% answered yes to the question "Is religion an important part of your daily life?".[8] A survey found that only 15% of Church of Sweden members actually believe in Jesus, while another 15% identified as atheists, and a quarter as agnostic.[9] Less than 4% of the Church of Sweden membership attends public worship during an average week; about 2% are regular attendees.[10] Some scholars consider the nation to be a place where religion is regarded with “benign indifference”.[11]

The history of the Jews in Sweden can be traced back to the 17th century, and there are about 20,000 ethnic Jews in Sweden today, of whom about 7,000 belong to a Jewish religious congregation. Because of immigration in the latter part of the 20th century, there is today a sizeable minority of Muslims (5% of population[12]) and Catholics (2%).


Historical Norse religion[edit]

Gamla Uppsala, the centre of worship in Sweden until the temple was destroyed in the late 11th century.

Before the 11th century, most Swedes adhered to Norse paganism, worshipping Æsir gods, with its centre at the Temple in Uppsala. The shape and location of this temple is sparsely documented, but it is referenced in the Norse sagas and Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum, and is also described by Adam of Bremen. It was probably destroyed by King Ingold I in 1087 during the last known battle between the pagans and the Christians.

While Norse mythology as a distinct religion was officially deserted following the Christianization of Scandinavia, belief in many of its mythological creatures such as "tomtar", trolls and dwarves lived on for long time in Scandinavian folklore.


The oldest evidence of Christian burial sites in Sweden are dated to the 6th century, but they are very few in number.

The earliest documented campaign to Christianize the territory that form what today is the country of Sweden was made by the monk Ansgar (801–865). Making his first visit to Birka in 828-829, he was granted permission to build a church. In 831, he returned home and became Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen, with responsibility for Christianity in the north. Around 850, he came back to Birka, where the original congregation had been shattered. Ansgar tried to reestablish it, but it only lasted a few years.

Christianity first gained a hold in Västergötland, probably due to mercantile ties to the Christian Anglo Saxon kingdoms in England. Remnants of a 9th-century church building has recently been excavated in Varnhem. The diocese of Skara, which is the oldest diocese in Sweden, emerged, due to organizational efforts from the Archdiocese of Hamburg-Bremen, in the late 10th century. According to Adam of Bremen, the Christian king Olof Skötkonung, who ruled from c. 995 to c. 1022 was forced to limit Christian activities to the western province. When King Stenkil ascended to the throne in 1060 Christianity was firmly established throughout most of Sweden, although the people of Uppland, and probably Sodermanland, resisted the new religion.

The last king adhering to the old religion was Blot-Sweyn, who reigned 1084–1087. A handful of local saints (canonized on diocesan level before the centralized process became normative in 1170-1200), folk saints and clerics were allegedly martyred as late as the 1120s, most of them in Sodermanland and Uppland. The reign of Eric the Saint (1150–1160) became afterwards the subject of ideologically driven legendary embellishment. According to legend, Erik also undertook the First Swedish Crusade, a military expedition aiming to convert the Finns to Christianity and conquering Finland as Swedish territory. (However, no archeological data or written sources seem to support the legend. The diocese and bishop of Finland are not listed among their Swedish counterparts before the 1250s). A national church of Sweden was not organized until 1164, when the first archbishop of Uppsala received his pallium from the archbishop of Lund.

Pre-Reformation Swedish religious leaders – including Bridget of Sweden, founder of the continuously functioning Catholic Vadstena Abbey – continue to be held in high regard by the population as a whole. Her nunnery at Vadstena is one of Sweden's pre-eminent tourist attractions.

Lutheran Reformation[edit]

The Protestant Reformation in Sweden is generally regarded[by whom?] as a political tool used by the king to secure control over the church and its assets. Shortly after Gustav Vasa was elected king in 1523, he requested that the Pope would confirm Johannes Magnus as Archbishop of Sweden, replacing Gustav Trolle, who had supported the Danish king Christian II and was convicted for treason. When the Pope refused, Gustav Vasa – although himself a proponent of "Renaissance Biblical Humanism", rather than being a Lutheran confessionalist – started to promote the Swedish Lutheran reformers Olaus, Laurentius Petri, and Laurentius Andreae. Gustav Trolle was eventually forced into exile, and soon all ecclesiastical property was transferred to the Crown. In 1531, Laurentius Petri was appointed by the Crown to become the first Lutheran primate of Sweden, and was ordained by five Catholic bishops without papal assent. The ties with Rome were irreversibly cut in 1536, when Canon Law was abolished.

Originally, no changes were made to official church doctrine, and the episcopal organization was retained. Gradually, in spite of popular protests against the introduction of "Luthery", teachings were aligned with continental Lutheranism. Calvinism was, however, refuted as heresy at the synod of Stockholm in 1565. In order to appease the Holy See, king John III of Sweden, one of Gustav Vasa's sons, took measures to bring the Church to a theological position influenced by George Cassander, but, in the heat of controversy, such a compromise position did not achieve its intent of reunion. However, after his death, his brother, Duke Charles, summoned the Uppsala Synod in 1593, which declared the Holy Scriptures the sole guideline for faith, with four documents accepted as faithful and authoritative explanations of it: the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed, and the unaltered Augsburg Confession of 1530.[13] The Uppsala Synod also reinstated The Swedish Church Ordinance of 1572, which remained in use until 1686.

The move put Charles at odds with the heir to the throne, his nephew Sigismund, who was raised in the Catholic faith. Although Sigismund promised to uphold Lutheranism, Duke Charles's aspirations to power led to the War against Sigismund, a power struggle that was effectively decided at the Battle of Stångebro in 1598, in favour of Charles – and Protestantism.

During the era following the Reformation, usually known as the period of Lutheran Orthodoxy, small groups of non-Lutherans, especially Calvinist Dutchmen, the Moravian Church and Walloons or French Huguenots from Belgium, played a significant role in trade and industry, and were quietly tolerated as long as they kept a low religious profile. The Sami originally had their own shamanistic religion, but they were converted to Lutheranism by Swedish missionaries in the 17th and 18th centuries. Citizens of foreign nations, mainly Russians, were granted freedom to practice Eastern Orthodox Christianity since the Treaty of Stolbovo in 1617. Anglican and Reformed foreigners were granted freedom to practice their religions in Stockholm (1741) and Gothenburg (1747). Similar liberties were granted Catholics in 1781, and an apostolic vicar was sent to Sweden in 1783.

Liberalization and other faiths[edit]

In order to curb Pietism several Royal Decrees and Acts of Parliament were proclaimed in the 18th century, which forbade Swedish citizens to practice any religion besides mandatory Lutheran Sunday Mass attendance and daily family devotions. Without the presence of a Lutheran clergyman public religious gatherings were forbidden. It remained illegal until 1860 for Lutheran Swedes to convert to another confession or religion. From then, and unto 1951, it was legal to leave the Church of Sweden for the purpose of becoming a member of another officially recognised religious denomination. From 1951, it is legal to leave the church, without giving a reason. From 1951 and unto 1977 religious communities (i.e. abbeys, priories, convents and such) were not to be established without the permission of the Crown, but that clause was abolished in 1977.


Church of Sweden[14]
Year Population Church
1972 8,146,000 7,754,784 95.2%
1980 8,278,000 7,690,636 92.9%
1990 8,573,000 7,630,350 89.0%
2000 8,880,000 7,360,825 82.9%
2005 9,048,000 6,967,498 77.0%
2006 9,119,000 6,893,901 75.6%
2007 9,179,000 6,820,161 74.3%
2008 9,262,000 6,751,952 72.9%
2009 9,340,682 6,664,064 71.3%
2010 9,415,570 6,589,769 70.0%
2011 9,482,855 6,519,889 68.8%
2012 9,555,893 6,446,729 67.5%
2013 9,644,864 6,357,508 65.9%
2014 9,747,355 6,292,264 64.6%
2015 9,850,452 6,225,091 63.2%
2016 9,995,153 6,116,480 61.2%[1]

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels seeks to protect this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. The rights and freedoms enumerated in the constitution include the rights to practice one's religion and protection of religious freedom. The laws concerning religious freedoms are generally observed and enforced at all government levels and by the courts in a non-discriminatory fashion. Legal protections cover discrimination or persecution by private actors.[15]

In 2000, 82.9%[10] of Swedes belonged to the Church of Sweden. By the end of 2016, this figure had fallen to 61.2%.[1] The percentage of Swedes belonging to the Church of Sweden is decreasing yearly by more than one percent.

The Church of Sweden services are sparsely attended (hovering in the single digit percentages of the population).[16] The reason for the large number of inactive members is partly that until 1996, children became members automatically at birth if at least one of their parents was a member. Since 1996, only children that are baptised become members. In 2009, nearly 72,000 Swedes left the Church of Sweden.[17] Some 275,000 Swedes are today members of various free churches (where congregation attendance is much higher), and, in addition, immigration has meant that there are now some 92,000 Catholics and 100,000 Eastern Orthodox Christians living in Sweden.[18] Because of immigration, Sweden also has a significant Muslim population. As many as 500,000 are Muslims by tradition[19] and between 80,000–400,000 of these are practicing Muslims. (See also Islam in Sweden)

Eight recognized religious denominations, in addition to the Church of Sweden, raise revenues through member-contributions made through the national tax system. All recognized denominations are entitled to direct government financial support, contributions made through the national tax system, or a mix of both. Certain Christian religious holy days are national holidays. School students from minority religious backgrounds are entitled to take relevant religious holidays.[15]

No recognition or registration is required to carry out religious activity. Religious groups that want to receive government aid may apply for it. The Government considers the number of members in the group and its length of establishment, but applies no specific criteria.[15]

Education about all major world religions is compulsory in public schools. Parents may send their children to religious charter schools, all of which receive school vouchers, provided they adhere to government guidelines on core academic curriculum.[15]

The Office of the Ombudsman against Ethnic Discrimination investigates claims of discrimination "due to race, skin color, national or ethnic origin, or religion." Discrimination on religious grounds is illegal, including discrimination in the work place and in the provision of public and private services.[15]

According to the Eurobarometer Poll 2010,[7]

  • 18% of Swedish citizens responded that "they believe there is a god".
  • 45% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force".
  • 34% answered that "they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, god, or life force".

According to the Eurobarometer Poll 2012,[7] the religions in Sweden are the following

  • Protestants 41%
  • Orthodox 1%
  • Catholics 2%
  • Other Christian 9%
  • Buddhist 1%
  • Other 3%

The remainder of the population is irreligious, either atheists (13%) or agnostics (30%).

According to a Demoskop study in 2015 about the beliefs of the Swedish showed that

  • 21% believed in a god (down from 35 percent in 2008).
  • 16% believed in ghosts
  • 14% believed in creationism or intelligent design [20][21]

Phil Zuckerman, an Associate Professor of Sociology at Pitzer College,[22] writes that academic sources have in recent years placed atheism rates as high as 85%, while other sources report that only 17% of respondents self-identified as "atheist".[23]

Sweden ranks high along with Germany, France, Japan, South Korea, the Czech Republic, Estonia and the Netherlands on having a large number of citizens who have no religion. An article on Sweden's official website asserts that just three out of 10 Swedes state that they have confidence in the church.

  • Only 1 in 10 Swedes thinks religion is important in daily life.
  • About 4 out of 10 (44.1%) children are christened in the Church of Sweden.[24]
  • Just over 3 out of 10 (33.7%) weddings take place in church.[24]
  • About 7 out of 10 (74.3%) Swedes have Christian burials.[24]
  • Islam has around 130,000 adherents in Sweden (more according to Muslim sources).[25][26]



Church of Sweden[edit]

Uppsala Cathedral is the seat of the Church of Sweden.

The Church of Sweden (Swedish: Svenska kyrkan) is the largest Christian church in Sweden. The church professes the Lutheran faith and is a member of the Porvoo Communion. With 6,116,480 baptized members,[1] it is the third-largest Lutheran church in the world after the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania.[27] Until 2000 it held the position of state church. As of 2016, 61.2% of Sweden's population belonged to the church. However, only approximately 2% of the church's members regularly attend Sunday services.[28]

The Church of Sweden, by law,[29] is organized in the following manner:

  • It is an Evangelical Lutheran community of faith manifested in parishes and dioceses. The church also has a national organisation.
  • It is an open national church which, working with a democratic organisation and through the ministry of the church, covers the whole nation.

The primate of the Church of Sweden is the archbishop of Uppsala, currently Antje Jackelén.

Catholic Church[edit]

Adherents of the Catholic Church in Sweden account for 2% of the population.[30] Most adherents are of Slavic (Poles, Croats), Latin (Chilean or other Latin Americans), or Middle Eastern (Assyrian) origin.

Free churches[edit]

The 19th century saw the arrival of various evangelical free churches, and, towards the end of the century secularism, leading many to distance themselves from Church rituals. Leaving the Church of Sweden became legal with the so-called dissenter law of 1860, but only under the provision of entering another denomination. The right to stand outside any religious denomination was established in the Law on Freedom of Religion in 1951.

Today, the Swedish Free Church Council (Swedish: Sveriges Frikyrkosamråd) organizes free churches in Sweden, belonging to various Protestant denominations: Reformed, Pentecostal etc. In total the member churches have around 250,000 members. Baptists, Methodists and the Mission Covenant Church of Sweden merged in 2011 into a new denomination: Uniting Church in Sweden. It is the largest member church in the Swedish Free Church Council, with approximately 65,000 members. One of the Baptist denominations, Evangelical Free Church in Sweden, has remained an independent denomination outside this merger.

Eastern Orthodoxy[edit]

Eastern Orthodox Christians in Sweden are divided between several canonical jurisdictions (Greek, Russian, Serbian and others). Serbian Orthodox Church has several parishes in Sweden, under jurisdiction of Serbian Orthodox Eparchy of Britain and Scandinavia.[31]

Jehovah's Witnesses[edit]

According to the 2015 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, there are 22,730 active members in Sweden, and 36,270 people attended their annual memorial of Christ's death. This number includes active members and guests.[32]

Germanic Heathenism[edit]

Members of Forn Sed Sweden holding a sacrifice.

Germanic Heathenry, the contemporary continuation of ancient Germanic religion, is represented by various organizations, including the Nordic Society of the Ese (Nordiska Asa-samfundet), the Swedish Forn Sed Assembly (Samfundet Forn Sed Sverige) and the Community for Nordic Faith (Samfälligheten för Nordisk Sed). The Nordic Society of the Ese, despite being the most recently founded amongst the three (it was founded in 2013), has quickly grown to become the largest Heathen organization in Sweden.[33]


The Baltic Tatars were the first Muslim group in modern Sweden. The faith arrived in the country primarily through immigration from countries with large Muslim populations (such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Turkey, Iraq, Morocco, Iran, and Somalia ) in the late 20th century.

In 2009 a report made a statement that there are 450,000 to 500,000 Muslims in Sweden, around 5% of the total population, and that the Muslim Council of Sweden reported 106,327 officially registered members.[4]


The Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities estimates about 20,000 ethnic Jews in Sweden pass the halakhic criteria. Of those, about 7,000 are members of a Jewish religious congregation.[34] Stockholm has the largest community and boasts a primary school, kindergarten, library, a bi-monthly publication (Judisk Krönika) and a weekly Jewish radio program, but Malmö, Gothenburg, Borås, Helsingborg, Lund, and Uppsala all have Jewish communities as well. Synagogues can be found in Stockholm (which has 2 Orthodox and 1 Conservative synagogue), Göteborg (an Orthodox and a Conservative synagogue), Malmö (an Orthodox synagogue) and in Norrköping (although the Norrköping community is too small to perform regular services).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Svenska kyrkan i siffror Svenska kyrkan
  2. ^ Wendy Sloane (1995-10-04). "Sweden Snaps Strong Ties Between Church and State". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2016-03-07. 
  3. ^ Arentzen, Thomas (2015). Ortodoxa och österländska kyrkor i Sverige (PDF). Stockholm: SST. ISBN 9789198061192. 
  4. ^ a b International Religious Freedom Report 2009 : Sweden, U.S. Department Of State.
  5. ^ Crabtree, Steve (August 31, 2010). "Religiosity Highest in World's Poorest Nations". Gallup Global Reports.
  6. ^ Swedes depart church in droves
  7. ^ a b c Eurobarometer Biotechnology report 2010 p.381[better source needed]
  8. ^ Crabtree, Steve (August 31, 2010). "Religiosity Highest in World's Poorest Nations". Gallup Global Reports. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ a b Church of Sweden statistics
  11. ^ Steinfels, Peter (2009-02-27). "Scandinavian Nonbelievers, Which Is Not to Say Atheists". New York Times. Retrieved 2013-03-08. 
  12. ^ Religion - SWEDEN.SE Archived February 11, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ N.F. Lutheran Cyclopedia, article, "Upsala, Diet of", New York: Schrivner, 1899. p. 528–29.
  14. ^ Church of Sweden: Svenska kyrkans medlemsutveckling år 1972-2012 Svenska kyrkan
  15. ^ a b c d e "International Religious Freedom Report 2006 - Sweden". U.S. Department of State - Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. October 26, 2009. Retrieved 2010-07-19. 
  16. ^ Church of Sweden, Members 1972-2007, PDF document in Swedish
  17. ^ In- & utträden 2003 - 2009 pdf
  18. ^ Statistics about free churches and immigration churches from Swedish Wikipedia - in Swedish
  19. ^ Djup splittring bland Sveriges muslimer Sydsvenskan, 9 feb 2006. (Swedish)
  20. ^
  21. ^ökningen-2015.pdf
  22. ^ Phil Zuckerman profile
  23. ^ Zuckerman, Phil (2006). "Atheism—Contemporary numbers and Practices". In Michael Martin. The Cambridge Companion to Atheism. Cambridge University Press -. pp. 47–50. ISBN 0-521-84270-0. Retrieved 2007-11-15. 
  24. ^ a b c Döpta, konfirmerade, vigda och begravda enligt Svenska kyrkans ordning år 1970-2016 Svenska Kyrkan
  25. ^ Celsing, Charlotte. Are Swedes losing their religion?, 1 September 2006. Retrieved 20 February 2010.
  26. ^ Baptized, confirmed, married and buried according to the Swedish Church Direction years 1970-2014 [1] Retrieved 3 November 2015
  27. ^ Member churches The Lutheran World Federation
  28. ^ "Liturgy and Worship", Church of Sweden Archived April 22, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  29. ^ "SFS 1998:1591", Riksdagen
  30. ^ [2]
  31. ^ Serbian Orthodox church of Saint Sava consecrated in Stockholm
  32. ^ 2012 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses. Retrieved January 9, 2014.
  33. ^ Jacob Zetterman. "Asatron frodas i en nationalistisk miljö". Dagen, 18 November 2016.
  34. ^ "Antal judar" Judiska Centralrådet (in Swedish), visited 21 feb 2010

External links[edit]

Media related to Religion in Sweden at Wikimedia Commons