Journal of Religious Education

, Volume 63, Issue 2–3, pp 117–128 | Cite as

‘One needs to be free’: making sense of young people’s talk about religion in multicultural Sweden

  • Anders SjöborgEmail author


This article unfolds patterns of pupils’ talk about religion and Religious Education in upper secondary school in Sweden (age 18–19). At the same time highly secularized and increasingly religiously diverse, Swedish society provides an interesting case for understanding better the role of religion in the contemporary world. A recent and nationally representative survey among pupils in upper secondary school demonstrated the role of the pupils’ religiosity along with background variables such as gender, study program, and parents’ educational level for the pupils’ attitudes towards both Religious Education and religious diversity in society. However, attitudes towards such a complex phenomenon as religion may hardly be fully captured by quantitative survey methodology. Therefore focus group interviews were conducted with in all 45 pupils representing a range of religious traditions and none. The composition of interview groups also catered for aspects such as gender, ethnicity, living region and study programme. Patterns emerging from the analysis suggest that central themes in the pupils’ understanding of religion involve framing themselves as reflexive agents, seeing themselves as free from structures which they argue would hinder them from leading fulfilled lives. This pattern was interestingly recurring both among pupils who saw themselves as religious or believers and among pupils who saw themselves as nonreligious. In their talk about the role of religion in society, in school, and for themselves it was just different things that were seen as obstacles and liberators. These ways of talking about religion reveals sociologically salient configurations regarding how religion is constructed in contemporary Sweden. In this paper findings are discussed using perspectives from post-colonial theory.


Religion School Secularization Individualization Othering Reflexivity 



The research reported in this article was funded by the Swedish Research Council (VR Grant number 2007-8139). This contribution was written within the framework of the multidisciplinary research programme Impact of Religion: Challenges for Society, Law and Democracy, established as a Centre of Excellence at Uppsala University and funded by the Swedish Research Council.


  1. Bäckström, A. (1999). När tros- och värderingsbilder förändras. En analys av nattvards- och husförhörssedens utveckling i Sundsvallsregionen 1805–1890. Stockholm: Verbum.Google Scholar
  2. Berglund, J. (2013). Swedish Religion Education—objective but marinated with Lutheran Protestantism? Temenos, 49(2), 165–184.Google Scholar
  3. Bexell, O. (2003). Folkväckelsens och kyrkoförnyelsens tid. In L. Tegborg (Ed.), Sveriges kyrkohistoria. Stockholm: Verbum.Google Scholar
  4. Church of Sweden. (2015). Svenska kyrkan i siffror (The Church of Sweden in numbers). Retrieved October 2, 2015, from
  5. Esmer, Y. R., & Pettersson, T. (2007). Measuring and mapping cultures: 25 years of comparative value surveys, International Studies in Sociology and Social Anthropology. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
  6. Giddens, A. (1991). Modernity and self-identity. Self and society in the late modern age. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Grimmit, M. (1973). What can I do in RE?. Great Wakering: Mayhew-McGrimmon.Google Scholar
  8. Gustafsson, G. (2000). Tro, samfund och samhälle: sociologiska perspektiv. Örebro: Libris.Google Scholar
  9. Hartman, S. (2007). The development of the Swedish Educational System. In M. Carlsson, A. Rabo & F. Gök (Eds.), Education in multicultural societies: Turkish and Swedish perspectives (pp. 257–265) (Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul Transactions 18). London: I. B. Tauris.Google Scholar
  10. Klingenberg, M., & Sjöborg, A. (2015). Religion i ungas vardagsliv. In M. Lövheim & M. Nordin (Eds.), Sociologiska perspektiv på religion i Sverige (pp. 69–89). Malmö: Gleerups.Google Scholar
  11. Knauth, T., & Körs, A. (2011). The ‘contextual setting approach’: a contribution to understanding how young people view and experience religion and education in Europe. British Journal of Religious Education, 33(2), 209–223. doi: 10.1080/01416200.2011.543604.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Löfstedt, M. (2011). Religionsdidaktikmångfald, livsfrågor och etik i skolan. Lund: Studentlitteratur.Google Scholar
  13. Lövheim, M. (2012). Ungas religiositet: tidigare forskning och nya frågor. In M. Lövheim & J. Bromander (Eds.), Religion som resurs? Existentiella frågor och värderingar i unga svenskars liv (pp. 77–106). Skellefteå: Artos.Google Scholar
  14. Lövheim, A., & Axner, (2015). Religion och medier. In M. Lövheim & M. Nordin (Eds.), Sociologiska perspektiv på religion i Sverige (pp. 143–160). Malmö: Gleerups.Google Scholar
  15. Lövheim, M., & Linderman, A. (2015). Conceptualizing the public in mediatized religion. In T. Hjelm (Ed.), Is God back? Reconsidering the new visibility of religion. London: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  16. Niemelä, K. (2015). ‘No longer believing in belonging’: A longitudinal study of Finnish Generation Y from confirmation experience to Church-leaving. Social Compass, 62(2), 172–186. doi: 10.1177/0037768615571688.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Nordmark, N., & Johansson, H. (2010). Linnea anmälde våldtäkt—pojken hyllades. Uppdrag Granskning, Sveriges Television, 3 mars 2010.Google Scholar
  18. Pettersson, T. (2006). Religion in contemporary society: Eroded by human well-being, supported by cultural diversity. Comparative Sociology, 5(2), 231–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Pettersson, T., & Esmer, Y. (2005). Vilka är annorlunda? Om invandrares möte med svensk kultur, Integrationsverkets rapportserie. Norrköping: Integrationsverket.Google Scholar
  20. Said, E. W. (1978). Orientalism (1st ed.). New York: Pantheon Books.Google Scholar
  21. Sjöborg, A. (2012). Centralt eller perifert? Ungas kontakter med religion i vardagen. In M. Lövheim & J. Bromander (Eds.), Religion som resurs? Existentiella frågor och värderingar i unga svenskars liv (pp. 107–129). Skellefteå: Artos.Google Scholar
  22. Sjöborg, A. (2013a). Aiming for the stars? State intentions for Religious Education in Sweden and pupils’s attitudes. In A. Jödicke (Ed.), Society, the State and Religious Education Politics (pp. 69–84). Würzburg: Ergon Verlag.Google Scholar
  23. Sjöborg, A. (2013b). Religious Education and Intercultural Understanding. Exploring the role of religiosity for upper secondary school students’ attitudes towards RE. British Journal of Religious Education no., 35(1), 36–54. doi: 10.1080/01416200.2012.717015.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Sjöborg, A. (2015). Dealing with religious diversity: The aims and Realities of Religious Education in Sweden. In M. G. Martino (Ed.), The state as an actor in religion policy (pp. 119–132). Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  25. SST. (2013). Official website of the Swedish Commission for Government Support to Faith Communities. Retrieved October 7, 2013, from
  26. Statistics Sweden. (2013). Statistics Sweden. 2013. Population statistics 2013. Retrieved October 7, 2013, from
  27. Swedish Schools Inspectorate. (2012). Mer än vad du kan tro. Kvalitetsgranskning. Rapport: Skolinspektionen.Google Scholar
  28. Von Brömssen, K. (2003). Tolkningar, förhandlingar och tystnader. Elevers tal om religion i det mångkulturella och postkoloniala rummet, Diss., Göteborg: Göteborgs universitet.Google Scholar
  29. Von Brömssen, K. (2009). Time and ‘the other/s’, scientism, and gender-statements: Discourses on religion in a Swedish ‘multi-cultural’ school. In L. Roos & J. Berglund (Eds.), Your heritage and mine. Teaching in a multi-religious classroom (pp. 94–106). Uppsala: Swedish Science Press.Google Scholar
  30. Von Brömssen, K. (2012). Elevers möten med religion i gymnasieskolan. In M. Lövheim & J. Bromander (Eds.), Religion som resurs? Existentiella frågor och värderingar i unga svenskars liv (pp. 131–156). Skellefteå: Artos.Google Scholar
  31. Von der Lippe, M. (2012). Young people's talk about religion and diversity: A qualitative study of Norwegian students aged 13–15. In R. Jackson (Ed.), Religion, education, dialogue and conflict: Perspectives on religious education research. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  32. Welzel, C., & Inglehart, R. (2015). World Cultural Map. Retrieved October 31, 2015, from
  33. Witkowsky, M. (2010). “Man vill va’ lite fri!” En kvalitativ studie av gymnasieelevers tal om sig själva och andra i ett samtal om religion och religionskunskap [‘You just want to be free!’ A qualitative study of upper secondary pupils’ talk about themselves and others in a conversation about religion and Religious Education. Bachelor’s Thesis, Sociology], Uppsala: Uppsala universitet.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Australian Catholic University 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Uppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden

Personalised recommendations