Abstract

How can the concept of religious liberty be interpreted and understood in Swedish public discourse? Possible interpretations of religious liberty within a democratic frame are investigated through an interview study of prominent Swedish leaders in the religious and secular (although not political) arenas in 2010–2012. The results indicate wide differences in the interpretation of religious liberty. The keys to discrete interpretations of religious liberty in democracy are whether religion as such is perceived as an individual characteristic or a collective representation, and the valuation of religion as a social phenomenon. The interpretation of religious liberty is thus not defined by the view on individual agency: respect for free agency is ingrained. Against this backdrop, religious liberty in a democracy may be interpreted both as the state’s guarantee of minimal tolerance for personal choices and as a right to state-supported inclusion of collectively espoused religious beliefs that add particular value to democracy.