Why Are Scandinavians Not Religious?

Scandinavia isn’t a monolith. The geographic area comprises three primary countries: Sweden, Norway, and Denmark.

The perception of Scandinavians at large as non-religious mainly hinges on the demographics of two countries: Denmark and Sweden.

Scandinavians are often seen as non-religious because the Nordic countries have religious freedom that allows them to choose between a myriad of beliefs or none at all.

Scandinavian countries consider religion an approach to living instead of a belief system. 

This article provides an in-depth look at Sweden and Denmark’s religious beliefs and practices while also observing the trends of Norway and Finland.

Also, see What Do Scandinavians Find Attractive? to learn more.

Are Most Scandinavians Atheists?

Scandinavians rarely identify as atheists, though they don’t subscribe to traditional Western notions of theism. 

The citizens identify atheism as exclusionary, while many comfortably adhere to the Lutheran designation of the national churches. 

However, very few Scandinavian citizens believe in the mystical elements of religion. While the citizenry supports the social aspects of faith, they avoid the supernatural aspects. 

Religion in Sweden and Denmark: An Overview

This chart provides an overview of the Danish and Swedish religious beliefs and practices-or lack thereof – in contrast to the United States. 

Belief in a Personal God: 24%16%90%
Belief in Heaven:18%33%80%
Belief in Hell:10%10%75%
Belief that the Bible is the Actual Word of God:7%3%33%
Church Attendance:3%7%22%
Believe it’s Important for Politicians to Believe in God:8%15%64%
Accept Evolution:80+%80+%Less than half the population

Sweden and Denmark have the lowest global belief in hell. However, the countries both have high standards of living.

Phil Zuckerman, an American sociologist, provided these statistics from a 14-month study of Denmark and Sweden. [1]

Also, see Why Don’t Scandinavians Feed Their Guests? to learn more.

Swedes and Danes: Christians Without Belief

Swedes and Danes often identify as Christian, despite not being believers. They define the word differently, attributing kindness, generosity, and helpfulness to the title. 

The Swedish and Scandinavian people primarily reject religion’s supernatural aspects. However, the citizens are accepting of other people’s beliefs.

In fact, most Swedes and Danes balk at being called “atheists” as they associate the name with an open hostility to religion they do not share.

Swedes and Danes not only aren’t hostile to religion, but many also choose to support the National Church.

83% of Danes and 80% of Swedes voluntarily pay taxes to their respective churches.

Swedish and Danish National Churches are Lutheran and often host weddings, funerals, and baptisms, even for non-believers.

Many Swedes and Danes approach religion as a series of cultural norms instead of a system of beliefs. 

A Danish atheist can even be a pastor.

Religious belief and secularism are entirely optional in Sweden and Denmark.

While countries like North Korea, China, and Albania’s attempts to mandate irreligion fail to deter their citizens from belief, Sweden and Denmark allow their people to choose. 

The Church of Sweden

Sweden has a complete separation of church and state. In fact, the Church of Sweden was divided from the state in 2000. 

This action means Sweden doesn’t actually have a state church, making them a Nordic rarity.

While religion may not factor heavily into their lives, Finland, Iceland, Denmark, and Norway, all retain their individual State Churches. 

Sweden not having an official state church means that citizens are not automatically enrolled in the institution upon birth.

This reduces the number of church members significantly. 

Because of this, the Church of Sweden faces an inevitable extinction. New members aren’t joining in large enough numbers to compensate for the old and perishing members. 

According to the Pew Research Center, half of Swedes deemed religion “not important at all.” Two out of ten Swedes label religion “somewhat important.” [2]

While Sweden may broadly identify as irreligious, 58% of the citizenry still belongs to the official state church. 

The church and religion are more a collection of traditions and shared cultural rituals than a belief system.

Also, see Why Do Scandinavians Wear Black? to learn more.

Sweden’s Religious History

Part of the reason Swedes likely shirk the dogmatic aspects of religion goes back to the origin of religion overall in the countries. 

The earliest religious expression in Nordic countries was more cultural than belief based, a series of practices, traditions, and rites

Catholic missionaries converted to Sweden in 1164. Sweden moved to Lutheranism at the end of the 1500s and stayed committed to that religion.

Those who refuted it risked exile until 1858. 

In 1951, Sweden codified religious freedom as law. Sweden takes religious freedom extremely seriously.

The country’s laws prohibit any form of citizen registration hinging on religious affiliation; as a result, statistics are gleaned from independent studies and are often approximations. 

Refusing belief and religion may be an inverse reaction to the draconian means previously used to enforce religiosity. 


Norway’s religious numbers are also on the decline. In 2016, respondents to an annual survey reflected a growth in secularism. 

The questionnaire went to 4000 Norwegian citizens. The 2016 survey was the first time in 30 years that more respondents answered “no” to the question “Do you believe in God?” 

The divide wasn’t dramatic: 39% said “no,” 37% said “yes,” and 23% said they didn’t know. [3]

Like Sweden and Denmark, Norway views religion as a cultural establishment instead of a belief system.


While Finland has a degree of religious freedom, state-granted protections keep the institution privileged. 

National doctrines keep the church from being taxed the way other non-profit institutions are. This keeps the church in a more prominent position than it might otherwise be, allowing it to maintain a more lucrative financial status. 

These two establishments are treated as “public corporations under the law,” which means the state helps the churches tax their members. 

Finland’s citizens mostly don’t participate in religion. Only 4 to 14% of citizens attend church monthly, proving the practice doesn’t dominate the popular consciousness. 

Many citizens have recently moved away from the church owing to the institution’s stringent views on gay marriage.

With increased religious diversity and more younger citizens moving away from the church, membership is likely to continue to decline. [3]

Also, see Do Scandinavians Eat Lots of Fish? to learn more.

[1] Source
[2] Source
[3] Source

Christian Christensen

Christian started Scandinavia Facts to explore his family heritage, raise awareness of one of his academic interests as a professor, and civilly promote the region. Please see the About page for details.

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