In an article headed “Scandanavian Nonbelievers, Which Is Not to Say Atheists” in the New York Times, Peter Steinfel reported about Phil Zuckerman’s current study of atheism Scandinavian countries.
Phil Zuckerman spent 14 months in Scandinavia, talking to hundreds of Danes and Swedes about religion. It wasn’t easy.
Anyone who has paid attention knows that Denmark and Sweden are among the least religious nations in the world. Polls asking about belief in God, the importance of religion in people’s lives, belief in life after death or church attendance consistently bear this out.
Continuing his studies of religion as a social phenomenon, Professor Zuckerman (Pitzer College) revealed that Scandinavians may not believe in God, but they do not necessarily consider themselves atheists. In fact, many have participated in the religious ceremonies associated with religion (e.g., baptism), but they simply don’t spend much time examining the matter. “He concluded,” Mr. Stienfel reported, “that ‘religion wasn’t really so much a private, personal issue, but rather, a nonissue.’”
Professor Zuckerman publishes his work in many places. In the Chronicle of Higher Education he had an essay entitled “The Virtues of Godlessness: The least religious nations are also the most healthy and successful” (30 Jan 09) in which he counters the view that societies without religion are doomed. He’s also published on the topic in the Skeptical Inquirer (“Secularization: Europe-Yes, United States-No”) and elsewhere. In 2008 his book Society Without God (New York University Press) on the subject appeared; it’s going on my reading list.