“When You Live Here, That’s What You Get”: Other-, Ex-, and Non-Religious Outsiders in the Norwegian Bible Belt
1.1. Elias’ Theory of Established-Outsider Relations
The media become an important, if not primary source of information about religious issues. Mass media are both producers and distributors of religious experiences, and interactive media may provide a platform for the expression and circulation of individual beliefs.
Religious information and experiences become moulded according to the demands of popular media genres. Existing religious symbols, practices and beliefs become raw material for the media’s own narration of stories about both secular and sacred issues.
Furthermore, Hjarvard argues that by transforming and substituting for religion in these ways, mediatization weakens religious institutions—‘the mediatisation of religion primarily tends to be intertwined with the process of secularisation’ (2011, p. 133).As a cultural and social environment the media have taken over many of the cultural and social functions of the institutionalised religions and provide spiritual guidance, moral orientation, ritual passages and a sense of community and belonging(2011, p. 124)
1.2. Social Order in Kristiansand
2. Locating Outsiders
3. Outsider Experiences of the Social Order
3.1. Public Rituals
3.1.1. Other-Religious Minorities
- It’s partly about how the mosque and the imam see themselves, and indeed how the population sees the imams and the Islamic faith. Maybe they don’t feel welcome enough to present themselves publically in a parade? […] but [Muslim immigrants] have to understand that this too is part of Norwegian culture.
- Well, yes, towards the end there was this section called ‘Youth for Jesus’ or something, and that was the biggest section of all, really. But I was like, oh well, there’s Kristiansand for you…
3.1.2. Ex- and Non-Religious Groups
- I’ve actually learned that song just from hearing it being sung at me in the parade […] That happens at least two or three times every May 17 parade.
- But it varies from year to year. Two years ago there was a lot of it, I believe it happened more than twenty times just during that one parade. And someone spat at me. But someone in the section behind us phoned up that Christian association thingy later, and the year after it was a bit better.
- You seem to simply accept it?
- I haven’t thought about it, to be honest […] You can’t do anything about it. I mean, when you live here, that’s what you get.
3.2. Media Framing
3.2.1. Other-Religious Minority Tactics
- When there is a terror attack, I often feel I have to write something. But I often wonder why I feel that way. I mean, this guy [London terrorist attack] was a British bastard, born in Britain, originally from Pakistan. Why should I have to publicly disavow him, when I am here in Norway, originally from [another country]? But again, he is a Muslim. So I do it. I have disavowed so many terror attacks in Europe. But when that thing happened in Afghanistan, where 80 people were killed—much more than in any European Islamist attack—then I didn’t write anything. And the day after I thought about why that might be. Why do I do it?
- I try to inform young Muslims about Islam. I might have some more knowledge, since I have lived in Palestine for so many years […] I am educated, and I might know a few things more than someone who is 16 and was born here. They have many questions, and I try to explain how one might be both Norwegian and a Muslim. (Akif, age 26, Kristiansand)
- Sometimes I share [on Facebook] things that my Norwegian friends can’t see. I have Norwegian friends who only speak Norwegian, so I put them in one group. But if I write something in Arabic, then that’s something else. The Norwegians don’t get to see everything—you know, I am a dangerous man [laughs] Oh, are you recording? I’m joking, I’m joking! [laughs] […] One guy said to me ‘write so people can understand you!’ He only knew Norwegian. So here [on the Arabic-speaking group] I put things about Ramadan or other things that you [Norwegians] don’t care about.
Together with other young men in the Muslim community, Akif has set up closed groups on Facebook and SnapChat (where potential new members need to be accepted by one of the group’s two or three administrators) in order to distribute information about common events.I never add (as friends) anyone I haven’t met, except, like, celebrities. But everyone I know in Kristiansand, and who are on Facebook, are friends. [Online and offline] are not two separate worlds.
Farshid’s attempt to use social media to raise awareness of something transcending the everyday is, in other words, primarily targeting family and friends already belonging to the minority culture (or indeed living in other countries), and even there, it might not always work as he intends. As he admits, laughingly, ‘If my status update gets less than 30 likes, I delete it!’ This seems to affirm social media as a space for building networks of solidarity amongst marginalised groups (Leurs et al. 2012).I try to write things that point beyond the mundane […] Quotes and poetry and so on. And maybe I translate the poem to English, even though it loses much of its meaning. I do it in Norwegian and English, and sometimes in Persian. If I am writing to people outside of Norway, I use Persian. For instance, if I am posting something about Afghanistan, I post in Persian so that only Afghanis can understand it, and not others. Because it is none of their business. But if I am saying ‘Happy Constitution Day’ or something like that, then I use Norwegian.(Farshid, age 28, Kristiansand)
3.2.2. Ex- and Non-Religious Tactics
- I don’t know of any others [like me]. I mean, most queer people who have some kind of religious belief tend to move away from Kristiansand anyway […] Living in Kristiansand you can’t escape the sense that there’s this class division, and that it’s got to do with religion.
- It’s probably a hangover from my religious days. I still feel ashamed of who I am. I mean, you never see any positive interaction between religion and homosexuality in the newspaper here. There’s just two sides. One accusing the other of being sinful, the other accusing the first one of being bigoted. Just accusations, accusations all the time […]
These experiences might be understood on the background of certain editorial changes made in the regional newspaper over the past decades. In 2005, several local Christian churches threatened to withdraw their adverts, being dissatisfied with its alleged ‘critical approach to religion’. Five years later, the new Editor in Chief was looking to accommodate and quoted the strong local ties between Christianity, local business, and politics as examples of why religion should be considered relevant to the regional news media. In 2012, the newspaper officially declared this field a priority and hired its first journalist specifically covering ‘religion and worldviews’. Local media scholars have shown that following this shift, the most common news stories about religion in this regional newspaper are previews of cultural events taking place in a church, where the emphasis is on ‘everyday heroes’, music, and positive experiences (Dahlstrøm 2013, p. 132–33). The Editor in Chief reports that the newspaper is now receiving far fewer complaints about how they cover religious topics.In Kristiansand, you see it in [the regional newspaper]. You see it in Concert Hall. You see it in the City Council. You see it everywhere. There’s always a Christian finger in the pie […]
- I don’t have Instagram, and I hardly ever post or read anything on Facebook except in some group chats where we tell each other of upcoming events.
- I have my [facebook] profile as private as is possible. You never know… things get taken out of context […] I want to know who the receivers are, but if I share with everyone, I won’t have that kind of control.
- I am very careful about what I’m posting on Facebook. I don’t want to post anything on homosexuality or religion […] but I do in closed groups with other sceptics.
- I don’t unfollow old friends, because that’s signalling ‘I don’t want you in my life’. But I scroll past them, especially if they’re spouting right-wing politics or religious bullshit […] It’s also kind of a guilty pleasure to just look at what people are posting and see how low they can go […]
- … I think I’m somewhere on the spectrum between atheist and agnostic. I grew up on a farm, and everyone who grows up on a farm is a little bit superstitious […] I feel some [‘Force’] being there, but I don’t believe it’s real. I mean, outwardly, I’m more of an atheist, because you can’t go into all those nuances and paradoxes in conversations with people. I mean… it’s complicated. And creepy!
3.3. Creating Alternative Spaces
Other-Religious Minority Spaces
3.4. Ex- and Non-Religious Minority Spaces
- Kristiansand is so, like… nuclear family parenting, Christianity, outdoor activities and sports. I am in opposition to all of that. Our goal is to promote being ‘outsiders’, not just tolerate or accept outsiders.
- That’s what I think of as this particular kind of ‘being in’ in Kristiansand. And church is somewhere to hang out. When I was married I lived at [neighbourhood], and even if I didn’t try to fit into any church… It was like, all the neighbours went to different churches—they have more churches than trees there—so it was like, “which church do you go to?” […] And all the parents in our street went to bible groups, and were like “if you want, you can join our bible group”… And they go to Bible camps […] so all the kids know each other through that. So, it’s not only that they go to the same school, but they also go to the same church or congregation.
- Tor (42):
- We want to be an alternative cultural venue. For many, the term ‘alternative’ has a negative ring to it, but for me it’s something positive […] We want to be a space for those who don’t drive in the middle of the road, so to speak. And that’s exactly what we do. We had Free there for a live podcast, for instance, we want to be there for that particular social segment as well as all the other niches.
- [W]e’ve had lots of feedback from other detractors from Christian groups, about making episodes dedicated specifically to that topic. Because they feel that Heidi [because she is so outspoken and secure in herself] is not representative of how difficult it might be to leave [a religious group]. For many, it’s really complicated.
- […] That’s the point of us working with ABUP as well. We target young people who don’t fit in, we talk about body positivity, self-worth… for young parents, especially young mothers.
- At least we’re trying to illustrate an alternative […] Many contact us and ask to be part of the ‘community’ […]
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Statistics Norway deploys the term ’immigrant background’ to include both persons who have immigrated themselves and Norwegian-born persons with two immigrant parents. They further distinguish between immigrants from the EU (including Switzerland), North-America Canada, Australia and New Zealand on the one hand, and immigrants from Africa, Asia, Latin-America, Oceania (except Australia and New Zealand) and Europe outside of the EU/EEC (Høydahl 2014, p. 363).
22 July 2011 was the date of the deadliest terror attack in Norway since World War II. A right-wing extremist set off a bomb outside the Prime Minister’s office killing 8 people, and then took the lives of 69 people (mostly teenagers) at the Labour Party’s summer camp at the island Utøya.
The name of the podcast has been changed, as have the names of all respondents.
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Fisher-Høyrem, S.; Herbert, D. “When You Live Here, That’s What You Get”: Other-, Ex-, and Non-Religious Outsiders in the Norwegian Bible Belt. Religions 2019, 10, 611. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10110611
Fisher-Høyrem S, Herbert D. “When You Live Here, That’s What You Get”: Other-, Ex-, and Non-Religious Outsiders in the Norwegian Bible Belt. Religions. 2019; 10(11):611. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10110611Chicago/Turabian Style
Fisher-Høyrem, Stefan, and David Herbert. 2019. "“When You Live Here, That’s What You Get”: Other-, Ex-, and Non-Religious Outsiders in the Norwegian Bible Belt" Religions 10, no. 11: 611. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10110611