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Religious belonging and religious demography

Religious belonging: principal religious denominations

In July 2011, the central agency Statistics Denmark ran the numbers from the Central Person Registry and concluded that the number of members of the Church of Denmark was 4.463.981, the equivalent of 80.2 % of the entire population. These numbers are as precise as they get, but there is a certain margin of error. Amongst these errors counts the fact that as an administrative default the tax returns count people who haven’t actively opted out as members of the Church of Denmark. This means that the number given includes new taxpayers, migrants and people of other faiths who think the Church of Denmark is worth supporting. And thus, the number does not reflect the actual number of Christians affiliated with and/or baptised into the Church. Furthermore, the numbers are considered to be soft because sociology of religion scholars are able to demonstrate that the number of members who celebrate on a regular basis is as low as between 2% and 10 % (Religion i Danmark 2011).

As for the second largest religion in Denmark, Islam, the numbers are a little harder to come by and most rely on estimates. Jacobsen (2010) in Yearbook of Muslims in Europe estimates a rough 225.000 Muslims tying closely with Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life (2009) who estimates 226.000 while International Religious Freedom Report (2010) maintains a more modest 199.000 and the CIA World Fact Book are further off with 110.200 Muslims in Denmark (Jacobsen, 2012). Using the numbers most agree on, we can estimate Muslims to roughly 4,0 % of the entire population. The demographic problems mentioned above are accentuated when looking at Muslims, because it is unclear who is to define who is a Muslim and who is not. There are many different denominations and observations within Islam, and even further levels of engagement and commitment, not to mention the fact that these statistics are often blind to the difference between ethnicity, nationality and proper religious affiliation. In addition, Media and public political agendas makes Muslims out of people that never were, such as orthodox Christians, Armenians and all those who do not consider themselves members of any faith. The fact of the matter is that the numbers mentioned are operationalized for the very purpose of producing a single number (Jacobsen, 2012). As for organization, only an estimated 10% of the 225.000 are associated with a recognized or approved Muslim congregation (Religion i Danmark 2011). In Denmark, most Muslims still organize according to the ethnic and lingual dividers and thus, so far the Muslims in Denmark have been unable to unite different wings and fractions of Islam under one networking organization that is capable of representing Muslims to State and the rest of society. There have been several attempts at creating such umbrella organizations, the largest of which are the United Council of Muslims, Danish Muslim Union, Muslims in Dialogue and a few others.

The third largest religious group in Denmark is the Catholics, who as the Catholic Church in Denmark are enumerated at 39.067 with 47 different congregations. Also here numbers are soft. Based on estimation of participation at the services; immigration from typically catholic countries; estimation of double or default membership of the Church of Denmark, the number of catholics in Denmark is most often evaluated as a little more than 50.000 (1 % of the Danes). The Catholics in Denmark follow the Holy See in Rome and are under the authority of Danish-born bishop Czeslaw Kozon. Catholics in Denmark have since the reformation been considered residing foreigners, but were in 1682 allowed to practice their somewhat ‘deviant’ faith. In recent years the Catholics in Denmark have seen a considerable growth, being the fastest growing Christian denomination. This is mainly due to the ability of the Catholic Church to attract and maintain immigrants from Catholic third countries as well as European migrant workers, especially after Poland joined the European Union in 2004 (Religion i Danmark 2011, 31).

The fourth group to be mentioned specifically are the Jews in Denmark who as of 2011 are an estimated 8.000 according to the Jews themselves, but other estimate somewhere between 5-6.000 (Religion i Danmark 2011) and others again, also including seculars of Jewish background would estimate around 15.000. In sharp contrast to the Catholics, membership of the mainstream Jewish Community in Denmark is in steep decline, as there where roughly 3000 members in year 2000, but now only between 2.400 and 2.200 (Religion i Danmark 2011). An ultra-ortodox and a reform Jewish community exist alongside with the old, mainstream community. The head of the main community is Chief-Rabbi Bent Lexner who functions both as rabbi to the congregation in rituals and celebration and as head of the interim rabbinical triumvirate, ‘Beth Din,’ that settles disputes on a formal and an informal basis.

The religious landscape further includes an approximate 77 Christian and Christianity inspired organizations and some another 50.000 believers (including Baptists, Pentecostals and others); there are roughly 25.000 Buddhists and 11 Buddhist groups with 7.200 members; there are roughly 13.000 Hindus and some 8-9 Hindu organizations with approximate 6-800 members (Religion i Danmark 2011).

Last but not least, it is prudent to mention those who are not affiliated with any faith. Of those, there is an estimated and growing number of 10-13% (Religion i Danmark 2011).

JACOBSON, "Muslims in Denmark: A Critical Evaluation of Estimations," in NIELSEN (ed), Islam in Denmark, the Challenge of Diversity, Lexington Books, 2012. "Religion i Danmark, 2011".

D 13 September 2012    ANiels Valdemar Vinding

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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