The recent immigration of Muslims and Eastern Christians to Sweden is leading to new public and private interfaith and ecumenical initiatives, says Johan Garde, Ersta Skondol University College.
Speaking at the meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion, Garde notes that there has been a one-third increase of Muslims and Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christians in Sweden since the early 2000s. There are now over 500,000 Muslims, with 200,000 Iraqis (who are also Christians) in the country once considered to be largely secular. Eastern Christian and Muslim affiliation is even growing among the second generation.
Social work among this burgeoning population of immigrants has been the catalyst in forming new ecumenical and interfaith partnerships. In case studies of such initiatives, Garde finds that shrinking Lutheran congregations have at the same time become very active in engaging in social work with other churches and even mosques, which is replacing traditional homogenous diaconal and charitable work.
A social service initiative may lead to shared building arrangements between Lutherans and Catholics. In one case an initiative stemming from social work led to the formation of “God’s House,” a shared building arrangement between Catholics and Lutherans that now includes an adjoining mosque. These hybrid groups and networks are spread throughout Sweden (largely because Swedish immigration—by law—is proportionally distributed around the country) and are seen as public-private partnerships because they can draw on European Union funding targeted to such issues as immigration and homelessness.
These initiatives are “creating a new discourse of solidarity” among Swedish religious groups, even as they have proven divisive to religious leaderships, particularly among the Muslims, Garde concludes.