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How is the Debate on Religion in 2016?

See what a bunch of professionals think about the debate on religion in the public sphere.

Both traditional and new media can convey different opinions about religion. Read what a group of professionals think about the current debate on religion in the Norwegian public sphere.

Several states that religion is harmful

Audun Toft. Research Fellow at MF, Religious Studies.

− How would you describe the religious debate so far in 2016? 
− Much of the debate is centered on what religion is. In some of the most important criticism of religion, this is understood as a unitary phenomenon, where it is all about what you believe in and which sources one has about such a knowledge. This has been counter-argued that such a narrow religious view consists of a lack of knowledge on religion. Common to the last months of religion debate is that Islam and Christianity are affected equally. It is religion itself being discussed. Parallel runs various debates where Islam and Christianity are criticized more generally. Islam is connected to conflict, violence, and extremism.

− How are religious people discussed in debates?
− Several of the current articles criticizing religion went far ascertaining that: a) religion is based on false beliefs, and b) religion is harmful. A consequence of this is that religious people are portrayed as less intelligent, or at least that they have an inability to think critically. Moreover, they represent a problem for modern society in different ways. This is a representation that religious people do not recognize themselves in. Thus the existence of a polarized debate begins where it becomes more a debate on the definition of power than about content.

− Are there any limits to what we can say about religion in the Norwegian public sphere today?
− There is a lot that can be said, and much has also been said. Yet the editors' function before such a debate is of an important factor. While they should provide new debate forums, they should also make sure that a full range of different voices may be heard. Perhaps there is a tendency that Christian voices, particularly young Christian, are underrepresented in this debate.

Few young Christians voices in the debate

Berit Aalborg. Political Editor, Vårt Land.

− There is much more openness now than when I was young. There is a positive as well as a negative aspect. Positively, my teenager daughter, for example, discusses religion with her Muslim friends. They have open discussions, which is good. It has become easier to get people to say yes to Vårt Land newspaper's section "My Faith", which consists of an interview. There is only a few taboos left. The negative aspect today is that people may be very disrespectful. I have received an e-mail where an adult woman called Muslims violent monkeys. We must challenge people to talk about religion in a proper way. Free speech debate does not mean that people insult others' religion..

− What role should politicians play in the religion debate?
−  They should be good examples by speaking respectfully of others beliefs. Both politicians and participants in debate should speak up when someone gets disrespectful during a debate about religion.

− Are young Christian voices underrepresented in Norwegian media?
− There is a search for more young Christian voices in the media. Unfortunately, there are not many young people who dare to speak publicly about their faith. I wish more could venture in doing so. Some subscribers think we are too conflict-oriented. However, debate is healthy. We should have room for different opinions.

Negative accusations

Iselin Frydenlund. Senior Researcher at PRIO and Post-doctor at MF, Religious Studies.

− How would you describe the religious debate so far in 2016?
− Media coverage of religion is sensationalistic. If I get something in print in the newspapers about Buddhism, it is usually because it can be linked to something that is perceived as sensational. For example, that Buddhism may have political significance, can get violent impact, or that discrimination against Muslims in Buddhist majority country takes place. It is thus domestic discussions about religion that controls what gets printed on Buddhism in Asia. Issues associated with contemporary Islam is perceived as particularly relevant by editors. Should I write posts about research on religion today, I must therefore preferably relate it to Islam to get a column space.

− What response do you meet when writing posts about religion?
− As a scientist with a specialty in violence and religion, it is my task to convey that religion is not always a full causal explanation of war and conflict, nor for suicide bombings. In an article in Dagbladet, I have argued that secular ideology has been behind 40 percent of suicide bombings in the 1980s and 1990s, and that Catholics have previously been behind such warfare. It started some negative allegations against me then. I was accused of being "Islamapologet" and for wanting to 'excuse' of suicide bombings in the name of Islam. The debate quickly became very ugly. In this case Dagbladet comments section were quickly closed. This is what you might face if you are open and objective in a religious debate.

Religion: Positive and negative aspects

Olav Elgvin. Researcher at Fafo and Researcher Fellow at Universitetet i Bergen

Approach to religion:
− I approach religion with my identity as an empirical-oriented researcher. By researching "hate" in religion, there is one question that is more important than all others: How can we explain what is happening in society? As a private person I approach religion in a broader sense. I grew up in a deep religious family, as missionary in Jerusalem. I saw everyday how religion could give meaning to people's lives, and how it could inspire people to do good things. But I also saw how religion could get people to perform atrocities in the name of God.

Summary of research:
− Religion is not just good or just bad. From the research perspective today, it is both. Sometimes there are positive consequences that people have religious beliefs, while there are negative consequences in other cases.

Future of the debate on religion:
− If religious talk about atheists or people with other religions in a negative way, can religious beliefs come to play a negative role. But if non-believers are talking about religious in a negative way, it is precisely what may happen. People who feel attacked tend to be defensive and to see negativity back.