Minority Religions in Denmark

Mormonism, Buddhism and Scientology

Buddhism, Mormonism and Scientology are three religions that exist in very small percentages with respect to the entire population, also known as minority religions. However, Danish society perceives each of them in a very different light

By Tanya Abou Ghazaly

The overwhelming majority of Danes adhere to Christianity are namely Evangelical Lutherans. In fact, approximately 85 percent of the population belongs to this sect of Christianity as estimate by denmark.net.

Other minority religions exist such as Roman Catholicism, which constitutes 3 percent of the population and Islam, which represents 2 percent. Another fringe faith is Judaism, most of the 6,4000 of which reside in Copenhagen, according to denmark.net.

Scientology is a religion that only recently appeared in Denmark as it was imported from the United States towards the end of the 1960s. In 1970, the Church of Scientology in Copenhagen even became known as the headquarters for the religion in Europe, according to Scientology’s official website scientology.org.

Also, New Era Publications, founded in 1969 to publish the works of L. Ron Hubbard, is headquartered in Denmark. This religion was created by science fiction write L. Ron Hubbard in 1951 with the release of his book “Diagenetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health”, according to their official website.

Scientology is supposedly the fastest growing religion in the world today and the only major religion to emerge in the 20th century, also according to their official website.

When Thorstin, a Danish follower of Scientology of 27 years and a volunteer minister residing in Aarhus, is asked if one can buy freedom and happiness via Scientology he answers, “Yes.”

Through a pay-as-you-go system of levels of enlightenment, one must pay fees to purchase Hubbard’s books and to eliminate the “thetons” or alien spirits from their souls to become “clear” of them, explains Thorstin.

Rene Pederson, professor of theology at Aarhus University, estimates that 3,000 to 4,000 scientologists exist in Denmark in 2011.

Thorstin says that Scientology is not yet officially considered a religion in Denmark because of the long bureaucratic process involved in authorizing it.

However, Pederson argues that Scientology asked for permission from the government then withdrew the request in 1999 before receiving a confirmation.

Mormonism is a sect of Christianity that was founded in 1820 and imported to Denmark in 1850. It has a following of 4,500 members as well as 22 churches and one temple distributed all over the country, says Pederson.

Like most modern religions, Scientologists and Mormons have had a great share of controversy surrounding their beliefs.

A new religious movement is a faith-based community of recent origin and that are tailor-made for the tendencies that are current and dominating.

“Being a minority religion is something that is always surrounded with the fact that they will be misunderstood of different because they decide to part ways with the beliefs held by the majority,” says Pederson.

Even Thorstin who has been a member of the church for 27 years thought Scientology to be a scam at first.

“I thought it would be somebody a basement shop with foggy windows and guys in an Icelandic knitwear with a long beard smoking a pipe. That was the idea, it was for losers from my viewpoint,” he says.

He believed it to be a cult where “somebody who would pick up people from the streets in Copenhagen and they would take them in and do a test and somehow they would brainwash them.”

He adds that Mormons receive less criticism than Scientologists does because their religion derives from the notion of Christianity with which Danes are already familiar. On the other hand, Scientology brings in a brand new set of beliefs.

However, the average person’s tolerance for new religious movements is evolving with time.Maybe most new religions are perceived as being odd and controversial but it’s easier to be different today than 15 years ago since there are so many different groups and worldviews particularly in big cities,” says Pederson.

He says that the Danes view Mormons more as an “exotic element” rather than a controversial religion.

He adds that they have a reputation for being intrusive.

“They harm us in a way. They have their missionaries who come in their beautiful costumes and their nice boys, knocking on people’s doors,” he says.

The media plays a big role in determining the way a religion is viewed.

“Media tends to sensationalize and create exciting roles for religions,” says Jad Melki, a professor of Media and Journalism at the American University of Beirut.

“20 years ago, anything about scientology was negative. Now you see portraits of scientologist that are okay. Maybe it’s not 100 percent accurate but it’s so big a subject you can’t be that accurate,” says Thorstin.

“News about scientology seems one-dimensional. Their version and their side has never or rarely been heard. If they have, then it’s been a question of exposing them rather than meeting them on their own conditions,” says Pederson.

He believes that Scientologists are still negatively viewed but that their image has dramatically improved since the 60s and 70s.

Buddhism is also a minority religion with nearly no controversy surrounding it.

According to Cameron Warner, a professor in Anthropology at Aarhus University with a specialty in Buddhism, Buddhists are presented in a positive light. He believes that the media fairly portrays the community of Buddhists in Denmark but certainly not of those in Asia.

Westerners in general including the media tend to project their own fantasies of what Buddhism is concerning Buddhists in Asia (…) so they have this impression that all Buddhists are all non-violent pacifists,” says Warner.

There 18,000 to 20,000 Buddhists living in Denmark, according to a study conducted by Jørn Borup, professor of theology at Aarhus University. Eighty percent of these are immigrants, having moved from Asian countries. Seven thousand are from Vietnam and 6,000 are from Thailand.

The other, less numerous ones are the converts, who are the westerners or native Danes who have converted to this religion.

These different groups have opposing interpretations of Buddhism.

“Converts want to study it the way a monk would have studied it. They want to learn the complicated philosophy, advanced forms of prayer and meditation,” says Warner.

They also are more concerned with attaining enlightenment.

He adds that the Asian immigrants are however more interested in everyday Buddhist concerns such as praying, making offerings and other traditional aspects.

“There are a few Buddhist temples in Denmark. There is a Vietnamese one in Aarhus a couple of new Tibetan ones in downtown,” says Warner.

Borup adds that in total, there are 40 different Buddhist groups in Denmark yet only six of them are officially recognized by the state as a religion.

In his studies, Borup discovered that the Danes’ favorite religious role model is the Dalai Lama, despite the small percentage of Danish followers.

“Discussing Buddhism, Mormonism and Scientology together is strange because the first is considered peaceful, the second mysterious and the third dangerous,” says Warner.

 

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