Aschim, Anders, Hovdelien, Olav, Kringlebotn Sødal, Helje (eds.). 2016.: Kristne Migranter i Norden.
- Side: 78-80
- DOI: https://doi.org/10.18261/issn.1890-7008-2018-01-06
- Publisert på Idunn: 2018-05-16
- Publisert: 2018-05-16
Kristne Migranter i Norden.
Kristiansand: Portal forlag. 244 pages.
Kristne migranter i Norden was born from an observation made by its editors: although the topic has gained attention since the 2000s, religion and religiosity are seldom made visible in the field of migration studies in Europe. When they are addressed, Islam is usually at the centre. It is the religion that is most frequently included in contemporary public debates. When it comes to migration, religion is often seen as a problem rather than a resource for migrants and for the society. This book is an attempt to correct these tendencies by outlining the gaps on the topic and encouraging studies on Christianity in migratory situations in Northern Europe (Foreword). In spite of these gaps, the bibliographical overviews of the Norwegian and Swedish cases with which the book begins (Martikainen, chapter 1; Nordin, chapter 2) demonstrate an already strong vitality of this subfield in the Nordic countries receiving less attention than it deserves. Academic interest in Christian migrants is currently on the rise in Norway, and several researchers have examined this issue for years in the neighbouring countries, Sweden and Denmark. However, as the book’s editors point out, it is a shame that the results of this research seldom reach other fields of migration studies or the general societal debate.
Consisting of fourteen chapters, this book is designed as a multidisciplinary collection of eleven case studies of different migrant Christian denominations (Coptic, in chapter 4; Orthodox in chapter 5; Catholic, chapters 6–10, and Pentecostal, chapters 10–12) from varied cultural backgrounds (the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, Philippines, etc.). The majority of the chapters focus on Norway. Only two of them are dedicated to Sweden, with two others to Denmark. Chapter 3 is a survey of the press coverage of migrant congregations in Norway (2007–2015). Chapter 9 is focused on methodology and raises questions about the complexity of the position of the researcher in fieldwork related to migrant religions, which goes beyond the simplistic binary roles of “outsider/insider”. Chapter 13 is an overview of the theological debates around migration in Norway. The last chapter is a quantitative survey of five countries around the Baltic Sea (Norway, Poland and the Baltics). The book thus gathers contributions from Norwegian, Finnish, Swedish and Danish researchers, representing various disciplines: theology, religious studies, history, sociology, social anthropology, geography and political science.
The authors show that in Northern Europe, as elsewhere, the vast majority of immigrants identify as Christians. Christianity is the religion of more than the two thirds of international migrants (72 percent in North America, 57 percent in Europe, cf. Martikainen, ch. 1). Many transformations and recent developments in the Nordic religious landscape are due to this Christian mobility. The rise of Pentecostal or Charismatic Christianity, and the recent growth of both Orthodoxy and Catholicism are good examples of the confessional consequences of international mobility in Northern Europe. They are all addressed in the book. In spite of an absence of attention from the mainstream national press, Christian immigrant denominations are growing and expanding in the urban areas of Scandinavia, making it one of the most dynamic religious phenomena currently being seen. Regarding the public attention to the phenomenon, Kringlebøtn Sødal (chapter 3) notes that, interestingly, even in secular media, the settlement and development of these migrant denominations in Norway, which are considered theologically conservative, does not seem to generate any debate on moral, philosophical or political grounds, as is the case with their “non-migrant” counterparts, or with Islam. One is seldom confronted with the representation of migrant Christianity as a threat to “modern”/“Western thought” and its core values.
When reading this volume, the reader understands that, as ordinary as the need to find “a home away from home” (p.78) can appear, it is not enough to come from another country to build a Christian denomination of one’s own. The very existence of migrant churches is far from being a “natural” fate for immigrant populations. This phenomenon originates in complex sociological and historical processes that the authors of these case studies describe brilliantly.
Some contributors to this volume point out that the need to have a migrant church may originate from the difficulties experienced by migrants in their interactions with locals in their denominations, and the inability of the latter to adapt to newly arrived immigrants, producing a feeling of “homelessness” that goes along with life in exile. While some worshippers interviewed in the case studies highlight the importance of “feeling at home” at church, in a mastered and comforting space that contributes to self-confidence and gives objective resources for integration, this is not a fully shared representation. On the contrary, some immigrants do not recognize the congregation they visit as their “home”. The adaptations the churches have made in order to fit into their host countries can be felt as ruptures with tradition: they appear as pure products of transnational spaces, made to meet the needs of an immigrant’s life, such as constructing localities – understood as socially meaningful spaces – characterized by relationships of general reciprocity between the worshippers. Other religious actors, quoted in the book, criticize the institutional division that goes along with cultural diversity as a matter of “church politics” rather than faith, and prefer distancing themselves from these issues. The views thus diverge in this domain following the lines of social hierarchies (Thorbjørnsrud, chapter 5).
In many cases, migrant churches are studied through their ambivalence. They appear as paradoxical objects, in which one can find both a refuge and a tool for integration: a way out from the host society as well as way into it. Analyses drawing on Charles Putnam’s work on social capital emerge throughout the book. Migrant congregations can appear as potential “bonding” forces, thus excluding their groups from the rest of the society, or, on the contrary, as possible “bridging” institutions, thus contributing to integration.
Beyond any critique of the utilitarian ground of this approach, we can still question the very relevance of the topic of a congregation’s responsibility in matters of integration and segregation. Not all the authors share this theoretical stance: some of them even express critical views on the notion of “integration” (Giskeødegård & Aschim, p. 126). Indeed, this approach is one of the limitations of several contributions, and its outcome could fail to convince the readers of the book’s relevance. The reader can indeed wonder if questioning the broad social phenomenon of integration is appropriate in the narrow field of religious activities. Christian migrants are neither only immigrants nor only Christians, and the sociological mechanisms influencing their level of integration to their “host society” reside outside, and far beyond, the congregation they might visit on a weekly basis. Other socializing institutions influence their behaviour, social positions, and conditions, both at an individual and a holistic level. They are pupils in school systems reproducing the social ladder; workers in a segregated capitalist market dividing the society into classes, and inhabitants of socially and racially structured urban spaces. Isn’t the role of their congregations in these intertwined globalized sociological, economic and geographic processes rather anecdotic? Isn’t there a dissonance here between the object of study and the sociological problem it is used to highlight? Could we not easily notice the differences between the integration levels in a WASP congregation in the city centre of a capital, and the segregation from which the members of an African or Latin American church experience in the poorest suburbs? As is suggested in the last chapter of the book, written by P. Ketil Botvar, the theory of the benefits of religion in terms “social capital” is too rooted in the American context to be applied as such in Europe. This concluding chapter also demonstrates that an intersectionalist approach undoubtedly enriches the sociological analysis of migrant churches, in underlining how being part of a given religious minority intersects with other socio-economic attributes (gender, race, class, etc.).
With several contributions opening promising insights for future research on the topic of migrant Christianity in Northern Europe, Kristne Migranter i Norden is an essential volume to read for anyone who works on the field of migration and religion in the Nordic countries.