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Christianity in the Twentieth CenturyA World History$
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Brian Stanley

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691196848

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691196848.001.0001

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Contrasting Patterns of Belonging and Believing

Contrasting Patterns of Belonging and Believing

Scandinavia and the United States

(p.102) Chapter Five Contrasting Patterns of Belonging and Believing
Christianity in the Twentieth Century

Brian Stanley

Princeton University Press

This chapter analyzes the strikingly divergent trajectories of Christian belief and practice in Scandinavia and the United States. All Scandinavian countries in the twentieth century experienced a decline in regular church attendance that appears to have been consistent throughout the century, and that may have begun as soon as religious compulsion was lifted in the nineteenth century. This protracted decline mirrored the slow waning of orthodox Christian belief, but this was not a decline from a previous golden age of faith; rather there seems every likelihood that the adherence of many Scandinavian people to Christian faith had been quite tenuous ever since the region was first evangelized. Yet the Scandinavian countries also illustrate in a pointed way the possibility that in certain conditions, stable patterns of religious belonging can exist almost independently of personal religious belief. Meanwhile, the United States in the twentieth century was by some criteria a more “secular” nation than Sweden or Denmark. The American state from its inception has refused to give any religious body privileged status before the law. In consequence, religion in the United States has always been divorced from the apparatus of government and public institutions to a much greater extent than in the Scandinavian nations, and in the course of the twentieth century, that divorce became more absolute in certain spheres, notably in the universities, public education, and the media.

Keywords:   Christian belief, Scandinavia, United States, Christian faith, religious belonging, religious belief, religion, government institutions, public institutions

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