It could easily be maintained that until the first decade of the 20th century the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iceland was the religion of the state. Since the mid 16th century reformation, the Evangelical Lutheran Church had been the established Church in this island country, which essentially was a Danish colony. Up to the 20th century, the aim of the nation-state building process in Iceland really was the liberation of the nation from the Danish Authorities, particularly the Danish Administration within in the country. The facts that the language of the church was Icelandic, and that the clergy in Iceland in practice represented the local parish people in their dealings with the authorities, were in this context decisive regarding the over-all role of the church in society as a whole. Indeed, this state of affairs is the reason for the strong political position that the National Church maintained until the last decade of the 20th century. The goldenage of the Old Icelandic Commonwealth and the literary heritage that flourished, because of the early adaptation of Christian culture to the Old-Nordic language, became the corner stones in the myth of the Icelandic nationhood and hence were immensely important, indeed, for the common civil religion of the nation up to the present time. The strong position of the National Church during most of the 20thcentury may be explained by both the homogeneity of the population and the social roleof the National Church in the political nation-building process, which resulted in Iceland’s becoming an independent state, though in a royal union with Denmark, in 1918,and then a Republic in 1944 (Pétursson 1990).
The acceptance of the constitution for Iceland in 1874 entailed that the Evangelical Lutheran Church maintained its privileged position as a National Church, but also the constitution introduced the concept of a freedom of religion. During the 20th century, different Christian denominations began to make their appearance in the religious landscape of the country. Roman Catholicism was reintroduced and has, since 1895,been continuously operational in the country. The Roman Catholics established aprimary school, which they operated until 2008, and also they contributed extensively to the development of modern medical services in Iceland (Torfason 1997; interview with Ólafur Torfason).
The relatively easy surfacing of different Christian denominations in Iceland was made possible by the influence of liberal theology and the respect for religious freedom stipulated in the constitution. Because of immigration the plurality of the religious situation increased greatly towards the end of the 20th century. In its final decades Islamic and Buddhist communities emerged in Iceland. This article deals with the changing position of religion in the public sphere and focuses on the relations of religion and state in Iceland. As previously mentioned, the Icelandic constitution requires the state to support and protect the National Church, but at the same time it guarantees religious freedom within the country.
The research questions addressed here are: To what extent does this mean integration or differentiation of religion in general, and the National Church in particular, from the state and the public sphere? To what extent do the state and the National Church live up to the principle of religious freedom and equal rights of other religious associations? By analysing the Christian themes in the Icelandic civil religion, we also try to broaden the view on religious legislation within the Icelandic state. Civil religion is here understood as the expression of the national myth as it appears in the public-sphere and in legislation (Bellah 1967; Björnsson 1984; Pétursson 1984; Björnsson and Pétursson 1990).
The underlying theoretical approach is prompted by the sociological controversy on the issue of pluralisation and secularization within modern societies. In the Nordic project on religion and social change in the years from 1930 to 1980, which focused on specific indicators of religious change, it became obvious that theories concerning secularization, although they provided some helpful insights, were inadequate in accounting for religious change and the development in religion and state relations (Gustafsson 1985). The data used in this article is mainly legislation, official statistics media debates, and parliamentary debates, material from church meetings and surveys and the author’s interviews with key people and players in the field in question. In the above-mentioned study of the indicators of religious change in the Nordic countries during the period 1930–1980 the focus was on the composition of the different indicators as they applied to three years, each with an interval of two decades: that is 1938, 1958 and 1978. To some extent the following presentation is a continuation of this method, as it focuses on three years, each with an interval of one decade: 1988, 1998 and 2008. For this study data was gathered by the author in June 2009 and in February– April 2011 through six interviews with key persons in religious associations and institutions (see list of reference)
The Structure and Legal Position of the National Church
In 1874, on the occasion of the celebration of the millennium of Nordic settlement in Iceland, the Danish Government (officially the Danish King) surrendered legislative power in internal matters of the country to the Icelandic Parliament, Alþingi – including matters concerning the church. Other registered religious associations, among them the Lutheran «free churches», which are more or less comparable to the Free Lutheran Congregations in Denmark (Frimenigheder and Valgmenigheter), were referred to in legislation passed in 1886 as «religious communities outside the national church». On December 1st 2010, the National Church counted 77.64 per cent of the population as its members. Additionally, 5.57 per cent of the population belonged to the Evangelical Lutheran Free-Churches working outside the National Church, while the majority of other registered religious associations defined themselves as Christians of various denominations (Bureau of Statistics 2011).
Until 1904, when Iceland’s Minister for Icelandic affairs became responsible to Alþingi, the Bishop of Iceland played an integral role in the general administration of the state. Together with the local district officer (amtmaður) the bishop formed the so called District Authority (stiftsyfirvöld), responsible for schools and cultural and wellfare institutions, as well as pricing inspection. As a part of the independence movement there existed, until 1918, a wide-spread interest in the differentiation of the Icelandic Church from the Danish State. The Icelandic church leaders wanted a more independent church and asked for a separate Icelandic Church Assembly to discuss and decide on church matters within the country. An Advisory Church Council (Kirkjuráð) was founded in 1930 and a Church Assembly (Kirkjuþing) with authority in church matters, i.e. liturgy and church teachings, was established in 1957. These bodies were elected by the clergy and representatives of the local people. Since 1938, lay people have also participated in the elections of the bishops. Since 1997, the majority in the Church Assembly consists of lay people and the assembly’s president must be one of them.
Since 1944, Iceland has been a Republic and the President of the country is nominally the head of the National Church, even if he or she, as the populace in general, enjoys the right of religious freedom. The same goes for the governmental minister, who is responsibility for church affairs. Hence, neither the president nor the minister of church affairs has to be a member of the National Church (Pétursson 2000).
The Role of Religion in the Constitution
It is noteworthy that the established Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland is named Þjóðkirkja, which literally means the Church of the people or the nation. The Danish constitution has from the very first emphasized the communal aspect of the established Lutheran Church by naming it Folkekirke, whereas the Established Lutheran Church in Sweden was named Swedish Church (Svenska kyrkan), which was explicitly declared to be a state church until the separation of state and church in the year 2000.
Article 62 in the Icelandic Constitution states: «The Evangelical Lutheran Church shall be the national church of Iceland and, as such, it shall be supported and protected by the state. This may be amended by law» (Parliament 2011). The amendment, changing the Icelandic Constitution on this issue, was added in 1915, when the question of the relations of the National Church to the Danish administration was a hot, political subject. According to Article 79 in the Icelandic Constitution, Parliament can easily change the relationship of the National Church and the state. The article states: «If Alþingi passes an amendment to the status of the Church under Article 62, it shall be submitted to a vote for approval or rejection by secret ballot of all those eligible to vote» (Parliament 2011).
This addendum has put at ease some of those, who could not accept the privileged status of the National Church as it is expressed in the Constitution itself, and who have, for ideological reasons, maintained that religion is a private matter for each individual.
Some opponents of the «national church system» have, therefore, left the National Church to become members of some of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church congregations (Pétursson 1990).
The Constitution assumes that other religious associations, than those that are registered, can operate within the country. Article 63 in the Constitution states: «All persons have the right to form religious associations and to practice their religion in conformity with their individual convictions. Nothing may however be preached or practiced which is prejudicial to good morals or public order» (Parliament 2011).
Article 64 in the Constitution states: «No one may lose any of his civil or national rights on account of his religion, nor may anyone refuse to perform any generally applicable civil duty on religious grounds. Everyone shall be free to remain outside religious associations. No one shall be obliged to pay any personal dues to any religious association of which he is not a member» Article 65 confirms the equality before law and the human rights of all irrespective of religion: «Everyone shall be equal before the law and enjoy human rights irrespective of sex, religion, opinion, national origin, race, colour, property, birth or other status. Men and women shall enjoy equal rights in all respects» (Parliament 2011).
Financial Contributions of the State to the National Church
Religious community-membership taxes are collected by the state from every member of a religious association registered by the Bureau of Statistics (Hagstofan) and distributed proportionally to the registered associations. This is a personal tax (the amount is fixed by the state), but since 1989 this tax has been index-related so that it increases in accordance with the tax base. This index relation brought about a great change for the parishes, especially the more numerous ones, as they could afford more varied parish activities, employ more church workers and build new churches and congregation halls.
A certain percentage of the religious-community tax is set side for the maintenance of cemeteries and towards the cost of funeral services. These matters still are for the most part the responsibility of the National Church, but in recent years they are not exclusively so. In 1932, the cemeteries and the funeral-service office of the Reykjavík Area Deaneries (including the two adjacent municipalities of Kópavogur and Seltjarnarnes) founded a company, the governing body of which includes representatives of the different parishes of the National Church within the municipalities in question. In
1980, when a new burial ground at Gufunes in Reykjavík was established, a part of the grounds was kept unconsecrated to serve the needs of people of other faiths than
Christianity (Cemeteries 2011; Interview with Þórsteinn Ragnarsson). This consideration was further guaranteed in the law on cemeteries passed in 1993 (Parliament Law 36/1993 art. 6). A recent proposal put before Alþingi recommends that in every new cemetery, arrangements should be made for the burial of Buddhists, Muslims and Pagans.
Since 2002, registered religious associations with more than 1500 members, 16 years of age and older, have the right to be represented on the governing board of every cemetery. This means that the Roman Catholic Church and the Free Lutheran Churches have their representatives on the Board of the Cemeteries of the Reykjavík Deaneries (Kirkjugarðar Reykjavíkurprófastsdæma). In communities outside the Greater Capital City area, the parish councils have either automatically been in charge of the cemeteries or they have jointly elected a special governing board for that purpose. This means that since 2002, the principle of representation of other religious associations has been the same as for the capital-city-area cemeteries. Since that same year, all registered religious associations are allowed to have their own cemeteries.
Existence of Specific Church Legislation
The Ministry of Internal Affairs administers registration of religious associations and gives them certain rights and obligations according to law. There are several general requirements for registration stated in the law. A registered religious association must be a religious community with a core of practicing believers that can be recognized as a part of or related to a world religion that has historical or cultural roots. This community must also have regular gatherings, be rooted in the Icelandic society, and be composed of members that pay taxes to the Icelandic society (Parliament Law no. 108/1999, art. 3). The main reason for these requirements was that in previous years several applications had been made to the ministry referring to general or diffuse ways of religious practice.
For registration the following specific information is required by the state:
1. The name of the religious association and its address.
2. A list of members, their addresses and identity numbers.
3. Doctrines and connection with other religions or religious movements.
4. Laws and regulations concerning its financial matters.
5. The names of board members and the leader.
6. Activities of the religious association such as regular religious gatherings or anything confirming that it operates continuously (Parliament Law no. 108/1999, art.3).
The ministry may also, if it considers it has reasons to, ask for further information regarding the organization and its operations, such as areas of operation or divisions into congregations or groups if these aspects apply. The religious association applying for registration must elect a leader responsible to the ministry for observing all stipulated requirements. As to the qualifications of the leader, the common laws pertaining to state officials apply.
Before the ministry grants registration, a special committee of three academics from the University of Iceland must give their approval: One is from the Faculty of Theology and Religion, one from the Faculty of Social Science and one from the Faculty of Law, the last one being the chairman of the committee. The committee is not allowed to take into consideration academic definitions on religion and must stick to a (rather unclear) definition provided by the state.
Until 2010, everyone was automatically registered at birth into the registered religious association of the mother or outside religious associations, if the mother was thus registered. Now the rule is that the parents or other custodians formally apply for the registration of the child. If the child is 12 years old or older, it must be consulted when a decision is taken concerning the registration of religious membership. Persons 16 years of age and older can decide themselves to change their religious registration.
According to the letter of the law, nobody can be a member of more than one registered religious association (Parliament Law no. 108/1999, art. 8)
The Ásatrúarfélagiðis an Icelandic religious organisation of Heathenry. It was founded on the First Day of Summer 1972, and granted recognition as a registered religious organization in 1973, allowing it to conduct legally binding ceremonies and collect a share of the church tax.
The organization was led by farmer and poet Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson from 1972 until his death in 1993. During most of this period membership did not exceed 100 people and after the initial enthusiasm faded, there was little activity. The time of the next high priest, Jörmundur Ingi Hansen (1994–2002), saw considerable growth and activity, including the design of an Ásatrú burial ground. These trends have continued under the present high priest, musician Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson (2003-), and as of January 1, 2018, the organization has 4126 registered members, about one third of whom are women. Since 2002, the number of registered members has grown annually from 8% (2006-2007) to 21% (2011-2012).
Ásatrúarfélagið does not have a fixed religious dogma or theology but the high priests have tended towards a pantheistic worldview. The central ritual is the communal blót feast but the priests also conduct name-giving ceremonies, coming of age rituals, weddings and funerals. The organization has on some occasions taken a stance on political issues, including abortion rights, gay marriage, the separation of church and state, and environmental issues. The organisation is a founding member of the European Congress of Ethnic Religions.
Zuism in 2017 was the religion of about 0.6% of the Icelandic population. It is a reinstitution of the Sumerian religion, and Zuists worship An (the supreme God of Heaven), Ki (the Earth), as well as Enlil and Enki, Nanna (the Moon) and Utu (the Sun), Inanna (Venus), Marduk (Jupiter), Nabu (Mercury), Nergal (Mars), Ninurta (Saturn), and Dumuzi.
Buddhism in Iceland has existed since the 1990s after immigration from countries with Buddhist populations, mainly Thailand. As of 2008, there are three Buddhist organizations in Iceland officially recognized as religious organizations by the Icelandic government. The oldest and largest is the Buddhist Association of Iceland, a Theravada group, which was recognized in 1996 and had 880 members in 2010. Another group, Zen in Iceland – Night Pasture, a Zen group, was recognized in 1999 and had 75 members in 2010. The most recent group is, SGI in Iceland, a Soka Gakkai group, which was recognized in 2008 with 135 members. Together, these three organizations represent approximately 0.3% of the population of Iceland. This is more than the Islamic groups but less than the pagan groups.
Islam in Iceland is a minority religion. The Pew Research Center estimated that less than 10,000 people in Iceland were Muslim in 2010.
In 2011 the Muslims of Iceland attracted the interest of Al Jazeera, which planned a documentary dealing with Muslims in Iceland and New Zealand. Al Jazeera was interested in how Ramadan is honored in the higher latitudes where the night can be of unusual length when compared to the majority-Muslim lands
The Muslim Association of Iceland was founded in 1997 by Salmann Tamimi, a Palestinian immigrant; it was officially recognised on February 25. Since 2010 the chair has been Ibrahim Sverrir Agnarsson. As of 2014, the association has 465 members. More than half were born in Iceland; perhaps 40-50 were born to non-Muslim parents.
The Muslim Association of Iceland currently runs the Reykjavík Mosque, a Sunni mosque on the third floor of an office building in Ármúli 38, Reykjavík. It has two imams and offers daily and nightly prayers attended by a mix of local Icelanders and visiting Muslims. It also offers weekly Friday prayers for Jumu'ah. In 2000 the Muslim Association applied to purpose-build a mosque in Reykjavík; after a long process, permission for building was granted on July 6, 2013.
Prayers are said in Arabic, but English and Icelandic are also widely used due to the diverse nature of the congregation. The Association regularly runs courses in both Arabic and Icelandic. On Saturdays there are Quran lessons for kids of different ages.
The Baháí Faith in Iceland began with Bahá'ís first visiting the Iceland in the early 20th century, and the first Icelandic Baháí was Hólmfríður Árnadóttir. The Baháí Faith was recognized as a religious community in 1966 and the first Baháí National Spiritual Assembly was elected in 1972. Currently there are around 400 Baháís in the country and 13 Baháí Local Spiritual Assemblies. The number of assemblies is the highest percentage, by population, in all of Europe.
Since its inception the religion has had involvement in socio-economic development beginning by giving greater freedom to women,promulgating the promotion of female education as a priority concern, and that involvement was given practical expression by creating schools, agricultural coops, and clinics. The religion entered a new phase of activity when a message of the Universal House of Justice dated 20 October 1983 was released. Baháís were urged to seek out ways, compatible with the Baháí teachings, in which they could become involved in the social and economic development of the communities in which they lived. Worldwide in 1979 there were 129 officially recognized Baháí socio-economic development projects. By 1987, the number of officially recognized development projects had increased to 1482. In 1984 the national assembly began a forestation project on the land of its endowment, (containing the birthplace of Matthias Jochumsson and see above in 1964.) In 1986 Baháí Icelandic youth published a special magazine for the International Youth Year. In 2000, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, then president of Iceland, his family and a delegation of about 30 Icelandic dignitaries visited the Baháí House of Worship in India, known as the Lotus Temple. He became the first head of state to visit the Lotus Temple during an official state visit. In November 2006, the small community of Iceland joined with twelve other faith groups and collaborative partners to form the country's first national interfaith forum.Also, Icelandic Baháís were among the attendees at a regional conference called for by the Universal House of Justice - this one happening in London in January 2009.
The Jewish population in Iceland is not large enough to be registered as a separate religious group. There are no synagogues or prayer houses in the country. There was no significant Jewish population or emigration to Iceland until the 20th century, though some Jewish merchants lived in Iceland temporarily during the 19th century. The Icelanders' attitude towards the Jews has mostly been neutral, although in the early 20th century the intellectual Steinn Emilsson was influenced by anti-Semitic ideas while studying in Germany. Although most Icelanders deplored the persecutions of Jews during the Second World War, they usually refused entry to Jews who were fleeing Nazi Germany, so the Jewish population did not rise much during the war.
The former First Lady of Iceland, Dorrit Moussaieff, is a Bukharian Jew and is likely the most significant Jewish woman in Icelandic history.
The number of Hindus in Iceland is unknown, since no religious movement of Hinduism is registered in the country. There are, however, a Sri Chinmoy centre, Ananda Marga, and other organisations of meditation and philosophy.
Irreligion and humanism
Siðmennt (short name of the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association) is the largest organisation promoting humanism in Iceland. It is similar to the Norwegian Humanist Association, and like it is recognised as a life stance community by the state since 2013, and therefore can receive funds from the state. As of 2017, it had 1789 registered members, or 0.6% of all the Icelanders). Another 6.06% of the population were registered as having no religious affiliation in 2017.
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ХьяульмарссонЙ. Р. ИсторияИсландии = History of Iceland: from the Settlement to the Present Day. — М.: ВесьМир, 2003. — С. 39—41. — 240 с. — 2000 экз. — ISBN 5-7777-0201-5.