Who reads the Bible in Norway?
A recent report on Bible use provides some answers.
"Norwegian society has become less religious," says Tore Witsø Rafoss at the Institute for Church, Religion and World View Research (KIFO).
He has researched who and how many people read the Bible, how Norwegians' Bible use has changed over time, and how it is connected to religious beliefs and religious communities.
Rafoss’ study shows that about half the people in Norway do not believe that the Bible is the word of God. But does this mean that the other half of the population is Christian?
"Fourteen per cent of Norway's population are confessing Christians," says Rafoss.
This group typically consists of “those who are personal Christians and often attend religious services and church meetings," he explains.
Then we have the common Christians that researchers call cultural Christians or traditional Christians. These are people who view themselves as Christians, but rarely go to church or read the Bible. In Norway, 30 per cent of the population identify as cultural Christians.
These figures appear in a new report that KIFO conducted in cooperation with the Norwegian Bible Society.
Who reads the Bible the most?
So is being Christian connected to reading the Bible?
Yes, according to the report. Eleven per cent of Norwegians say they read the Bible weekly, and 74 per cent of them are professing Christians.
People who read the Bible have different perceptions about where it comes from and who wrote it. For example, only four per cent believe it is "the actual word of God." Most people who read the Bible believe it is "inspired by God."
And then there are those who do not believe either of these options, but who read the Bible as a historical document or out of sheer curiosity. However, this group constitutes only two and a half per cent.
Young boys read more than young girls
Rafoss used surveys to conduct his study, including KIFO's survey of 4000 Norwegians who answered questions about their religion and beliefs. He then analysed the quantitative data by counting, systematizing and comparing the answers. This enabled him to find out how many people read the Bible and what they believe in.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it turns out that Norwegians have become less religious.
"But what actually came as a surprise was that young men read more than young women do. In fact, twice as many men as women under age 25 are reading the Bible," says Rafoss.
This comes to about 15 per cent of men and seven per cent of women under the age of 25 who read the Bible weekly.
Nerding out on the Bible
“In general, women have been more religious than men and older people have been more religious than young people. These are two trends that have been going on for a long time in Norway,” says Rafoss.
But now, young men under the age of 25 read the Bible more. And the researchers can only speculate why.
"Women and men express their faith differently. Women often participate more in fellowship activities, and find it more important to attend worship and meetings. They’re more active and involved in outreach," said Rafoss.
“Men however, tend to nerd out more on the Bible. Maybe they sit at home and read more. They like to study Bible verses and quote and refer to them.
Meeting young Muslims
Another hypothesis is that young Christian men meet young Muslims who have a much stronger relationship to their faith and who know more about their own religious book, the Quran.
"Christian men may want to understand their own faith better as society is becoming more multireligious," says Rafoss.
He and his colleagues are planning a larger survey that can provide better answers as to why people read the Bible, not just who does. And then we may also find out why young men read the Bible now more than before.
"Although we’ve become less religious in Norway, religion is more prominent in the media now than it has been for a long time," said the researcher. Rafoss would like to know more about who is reading the Quran and what they believe in.
Swedes and Danes read the Bible less
Christians with the highest education level read the Bible the most, according to the new report.
Among Scandinavian countries, Norway is where people read the Bible the most and where the Bible is most important.
- Tore Witsø Rafoss: Nordmenns bibelbruk [Norwegians’ Bible Use]. KIFO Report 2017. ISBN 978-82-92972-44-1.