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A Buyer’s Market: The Commodification of Religion in Sweden. Gwendolyn Yvonne Alexis, Ph.D., J.D. Associate Professor of Management Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey (U.S.A.) galexis@monmouth.edu. 2013 CESNUR CONFERENCE Changing Religious Movements in a Changing World

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a buyer s market the commodification of religion in sweden

A Buyer’s Market: The Commodification of Religion in Sweden

Gwendolyn Yvonne Alexis, Ph.D., J.D.

Associate Professor of Management

Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey (U.S.A.)



Changing Religious Movements in a Changing World

Dalarna University, Falun, Sweden

21 - 24 June 2013

“It has become fashionable to be a little rebellious by leaving The Church in order to save a couple of thousand kronor annually.”

A Sociological perspective is useful in understanding the phenomenon of religion being treated the same as any other marketplace commodity

  • Rationalization is used by sociologists to refer to the use of logic, deliberative thought and instrumental reason as decision-making tools instead of being swayed by traditions, values, and emotions in conducting one’s affairs.
    • At the level of the individual, this often results in a Utilitarian approach to decision making – relying on a costs/benefits analysis that generally gives more weight to tangible factors than to intangible ones.
      • Ex. Cost of Church membership vs. moral uplift/spiritual satisfaction/social capital gained from Church membership
    • At the institutional level, rationalization leads to the routinization or bureaucratization of operations; today, all organizations (commercial and non-commercial) have adopted the business operational model.
      • Ex.The use of impersonal prerecorded phone messages by churches: “If you are calling about the time for Sunday morning services, press 1”; “For today’s inspirational message, press 2”; or, “Please refer to our website at< www.ModernChurch.org.> for more information.

Sociological perspective, ContinuedRationalization is hostile to Traditional Sources of Authority such as Religion and Religious Doctrine

  • Rational-Legal Systems (not Theological Dictate) govern the modern societies of the West, augmented by an almost neurotic concern with economic consequences!
the influence of business values
The Influence of Business Values
  • Business is the dominant institution in society and thus the logic of business and the marketplace has spilled over into the personal arena:
    • Ex. Being businesslike is an admirable quality
    • Ex. One should receive value for money expended
  • Moreover, even non-commercial organizations such as educational institutions, charitable foundations, and religious groups have been seduced by the “efficiency model” of commercial business ventures leading to minimal personal contact with those that they serve. This “alienation of the consumer” decreases sense of loyalty/dedication to the organization in question
    • Ex. The following Church of Sweden website links which in fact offer anonymity to those leaving or joining the Church
in lieu of personal interaction businesslike efficiency www svenskakyrkan se
In lieu of Personal Interaction: Businesslike Efficiency!www.svenskakyrkan.se

Medlemskap i Svenska kyrkan

Foto: Jim Elfström

Nära 68 procent av Sveriges befolkning är medlemmar i Svenska kyrkan, det är vi glada för! Är du inte redan medlem är du varmt välkommen att bli det!

Som medlem i Svenska kyrkan:

kan du gifta dig och bli begravd i kyrkan

bidrar du bland annat till verksamhet för barn och unga, körer, familjerådgvning och jourhavande präst

är du med och stöttar samhällets mest utsatta både i Sverige och utomlands

bidrar du till att kyrkobyggnaderna bevaras och kulturhistoriska värden förs vidare till kommande generationer.

Verksamhet för allaVarje år finns många av kyrkans över 6,5 miljoner medlemmar med i något av kyrkans sammanhang. Det kan till exempel vara i kören, på konfirmationslägret, vid en anhörigs begravning eller i en insamling till det internationella arbetet för bistånd och utveckling. Som medlem är du välkommen att ta del av det kyrkan erbjuder. Du är också, genom att betala kyrkoavgiften, med och tar ansvar för kyrkans framtida utveckling och kamp för kärlek, människovärde och livskvalitet.

Medlem genom dopetMan blir medlem i kyrkan genom dopet. Är du redan döpt i ett annat kristet samfund kan du bli medlem i Svenska kyrkan efter ett samtal med ansvarig präst i din församling. Tidigare blev man i Sverige automatiskt medlem i Svenska kyrkan vid födelsen, men så är det alltså inte längre. Är du osäker på om du är medlem eller har andra frågor om medlemskapet kontaktar du den församling där du är bosatt. Kontaktuppgifter till församlingen hittar du genom att fylla i din hemadress i adressfälten till höger. 

the church of sweden membership fee source www svenskakyrkan se
The Church of Sweden Membership Fee source: www.svenskakyrkan.se

Din kyrkoavgift

Skapad: 2009-06-17 00:00:00

Hur mycket du som medlem i Svenska kyrkan betalar i kyrkoavgift beror dels på din inkomst och dels på vilken församling du tillhör.

Riksgenomsnittet för kyrkoavgiften 2013, exklusive begravningsavgift, är 1,00 procent av din kommunalt beskattningsbara inkomst. English Translation: The national average for the Church Fee in 2013, not including the Burial Tax, is 0.1% of the taxpayer’s taxable income .

Den som är medlem i Svenska kyrkan den 1 november betalar avgift hela det följande året.English Translation: A member of the Swedish Church on November 1 pays the church fee for all of the following year.

Kyrkoavgift 2013

Skapad: 2010-12-06 10:15:00

 Den totala kyrkoavgiften, begravningsavgiften inkluderad, ligger kvar på samma nivå som 2012. För 2013 är den riksgenomsnittliga avgiftssatsen för hela landet 1,24 kronor varav begravningsavgiftssatsen är 0,25 kronor.

Begravningsavgiften höjs något jämfört med 2012, till avrundat 0,25 kronor. Lokala variationer förekommer

monthly exit from the church of sweden between 2004 and 2012 source www svenskakyrkan se
Monthly Exit from the Church of Sweden between 2004 and 2012source: www.svenskakyrkan.se

Utträdenmånadsvis 2004-2012

  • Månad 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004
  • Januari 1886 2348 2707 2165 2181 2460 1759 1882 2427
  • Februari 1835 2398 1999 1845 1831 2102 1482 1564 2221
  • Mars 3402 3397 3124 2543 1684 2011 1811 1909 2310
  • April 6750 6243 7291 6627 5490 4212 4371 5278 5782
  • Maj 4542 5141 4929 3990 4414 3829 3457 3499 3998
  • Juni 2698 3376 3936 3246 2688 2628 2180 2261 3041
  • Juli 2395 2638 2688 2808 2553 2563 1920 1724 2244
  • Augusti 3632 4139 4358 4314 3842 3950 4228 4150 4370
  • Septembe 5809 6567 7145 16984 7062 6633 7688 14899 8141
  • Oktober 17657 12384 13928 23085 14763 21504 23987 24664 33161
  • Novembe 2572 2252 2831 3300 2175 2927 2802 4751 8262
  • Decembe 277 1651 2522 2688 1821 1524 1669 2048 2450
  • Summa 53455 52534 57458 73595 50504 56343 57354 68629 78407

The disproportionate increase in Church-exits each October leaves no doubt that the decision to leave the Church of Sweden is an economic decision.

In analyzing the phenomenon of the commodification of religion, I have reached the conclusion that there are three main reasons this has happened:

  • International “Law” and the “Rights Revolution”
    • Global standards are emerging in terms of the protection of human rights and religious liberty is deemed to be the most fundamental of human rights; freedom of choice is integral to any notion that religious freedom exist and this fact is empowering for consumers in what has become a global religious marketplace in the Digital Age.
  • The historical trajectory of the Church of Sweden
    • Although no longer the established national Church, it has historically functioned as a bureaucratic arm of the Swedish State (once the keeper of vital statistics) and now serves as the Administrator of all public graveyards except for those in Stockholm and Tranås
  • The social role of religion has changed
    • Elasticity of the religions product (multiple sources of morality, values, norms, spiritual enlightenment and societal cohesion)
i international law and the rights revolution
I. International “Law” and the “Rights Revolution”

Rationalization is exemplified by the October 1990 Decision of the Swedish Government to join the European Community. Principally an economic decision.

However, EU membership entailed wide-ranging implications with respect to Sweden’s national identity and the status of The Church of Sweden (Evangelical-Lutheran) as the Gatekeeper of the nation’s traditional values and culture.

EU membership signaled Sweden’s entry into the European community and obligated it to embrace the community’s humanistic values – values inconsistent with an ascribed Lutheran identity (albeit secularized Lutheranism) by way of a mandatory Church Tax to support a Lutheran Monopoly.

  • Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) guarantees every person, freedom of thought, conscience and religion as well as the freedom to change her religion or belief
the rights revolution continued
The Rights Revolution, Continued
  • Effective January 1, 2000, The Church was privatized and lost its entitlement to revenue from a mandatory Church Tax (kyrkoskatt) that was imposed on all taxpayers regardless of religious affiliation. The end of a 5-century monopoly meant that the Church was put on a level playing field with other religious organizations that are reliant on members paying Church Dues (kyrkoavgift) for support.
        • The Church has risen to the challenge and developed a marketing mix to give it a competitive edge by highlighting its offerings of the religious product that are uniquely tied to a Swedish heritage: rites of passage such as Christenings of newborns, Confirmation, and a Church priest presiding over the burial ritual.
  • However, this type of promotional spiel makes it easier for the consumer of religious services to treat the Church just like any other commercial enterprise struggling to retain its market share!
ii the historical trajectory of the church of sweden
II. The Historical Trajectory of the Church of Sweden
  • The Church of Sweden is the only religious organization in Sweden led by functionaries who have won a nationwide election (kyrkoval) in which they ran as representatives of a particular political party
  • In an increasingly secular culture, The Church has lost its role as the moral gatekeeper for the Swedish people. It has long since abandoned the practice of a local priest visiting the local school and conducting a förhör (bible knowledge hearing). Indeed many Bible teachings are no longer considered the last word on issues such as:
    • Samboende (living together outside of marriage)
    • Same Sex Marriage
  • The significance of Church rituals such as church weddings and confirmation for 15-year olds has almost disappeared.
iii the social role of religion
III. The Social Role of Religion

The changed social role of religion has perhaps contributed most to the commoditization process in that the sources of spiritual enlightenment have increased in the modern era with internet churches vying with yoga classes.