Thursday, June 13, 2013

Bestseller in Norway: The Book!

Det Norske Teatret
Per Maning, Det Norske Teatret/Associated Press

The caption to the above photo tells us that "[t]his undated photo provided by Oslo theater Det Norske Teatret (The Norwegian Theater) shows actors rehearsing a scene from Bibelen, a six-hour play based on a nontraditional interpretation of the Bible." Not especially surprising, a nontraditional interpretation in a secular society such as Norway's, but the accompanying article, "In print and on stage, the Bible makes surprise comeback in secular Norway" (The Washington Post, Associated Press, June 6, 2013), reports on a recent, remarkable development:
It may sound like an unlikely No. 1 best-seller for any country, but in Norway -- one of the most secular nations in an increasingly godless Europe -- the runaway popularity of the Bible has caught the country by surprise. The Scriptures, in a new Norwegian language version, even outpaced Fifty Shades of Grey to become Norway's best-selling book.
Why this sudden interest within a 'godless' European country?
Anne Veiteberg, publishing director of Norway's Bible Society, said that increased immigration also probably has been a factor.

More than 258,000 immigrants have settled in the country during the last six years alone, adding diversity of race and religion. The Church of Norway estimates that around 60 percent of immigrants are Christian, while the rest are Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu.

"Now that we're exposed to other faiths, Norwegians have gotten more interested in their own faith," Veiteberg said.
I think we can speculate a bit at this point. The 40 percent non-Christian immigrants are mostly Muslim, I'd bet, for I doubt there are many Buddhists or Hindus. Moreover, the Christian immigrants probably are not reading the Bible in Norwegian. That means that the new Norwegian translation is being read by Norwegians, who are buying it at a bestseller rate. Why? I suspect that the Norwegians, confronted by large numbers of Muslims in Norway, are reacting against what is perceived as the challenge posed by Islam -- especially the threat posed by Islamism -- and are, in a sense, showing that Norwegians have their own religious identity, a Christian one grounded in the Bible.

This doesn't mean that the Norwegians are about to become Bible-Thumpers, rather that they -- even as a secular nation -- want to reaffirm their own religious identity in the face of an assertive, if related, foreign religion.

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At 9:31 AM, Anonymous Sperwer said...

Purely anecdotal, but all the Norwegians I've met on my recent European trips - mostly PhD students and young scholars - are VERY religious, adhering to relatively strict and austere versions of Protestantism I didn't get the impression that Norway was aggressively secular; quite the contrary

At 10:24 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

That's quite interesting, and unexpected. I knew one Norwegian when I lived in Germany, and he seemed secular. The article did say that the "secular" label comes from low church attendance, but one expert noted that Norwegians are private about their piety.

Another bestseller in Norway is about the proper way to burn firewood.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:59 PM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

Firewood? Uh-oh.


Shhh—that's Sam Harris!

Don't let him in.

At 1:40 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I got to the part where he started talking about people's resistance to the possibility of their cherished ideas being wrong, and I didn't want to hear any more, so I clicked back to my comfortable blog.

Jeffery Hodges

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