Significant numbers of young refugees converting to Christianity in Sweden

In Sweden, a country where the established church has been in decline, unexpected new members find their way to the Lutheran as well as other churches (e.g., Pentecostal), since thousands of young people with a Muslim background, who had arrived as unaccompanied refugee minors (URMs), have converted to the Christian faith, becoming active and engaged members of their congregations, writes Jonathan Morgan (Lund University) in The Review of Faith & International Affairs (Fall, 2020). URMs represent a phenomenon observed in many European countries. Between 2014 and 2016, 44,617 URMs (under 18 years old) have found their way to Sweden. While the author does not deny attempts to accrue asylum capital (although conversion does not increase likelihood of being offered legal residence), he also sees other elements at work in such conversions, based on fieldwork with two groups of URMs in Southern Sweden (converts to the Church of Sweden) Morgan finds a sense of belonging in a new environment attracts new conversions. The young converts start by belonging to the community before later believing in the doctrine of their newly embraced religious denomination. Coming with traumatic experiences from difficult backgrounds and sometimes from war zones, far from familiar surroundings, they are looking for supportive adults, who may sometimes be pastors or teachers.

The converts are asking pastors for ongoing advice on a variety of subjects, far more than what most Swedish church members would expect. Beside participation in church activities, the URMs also have activities of their own (e.g., Bible-reading groups). Reactions from relatives who have stayed in Muslim majority countries are diverse. Some families completely reject the converts, while other ones tell them that they should feel free to do what they want. Morgan observes how his respondents felt relieved from the pressure of performing religion “regardless of whether they believed or not.” This allowed them to question their beliefs in a way they wouldn’t have been able to; the author suggests that embracing pluralism paved the way to embracing a new faith. In contrast with a religious background which they had to automatically accept, they found a great deal of agency and a lack of pressure on their way to becoming Christians. They felt free to discuss issues related to faith—something that they had never experienced before. Morgan sees their conversion as an adaptation from an environment into which religion is unchallenged to a new place where religion becomes an option. Thus, conversion is “part of a process of accommodating the secular, as these young people move from a society with a hegemonic religious culture to secular Sweden.” Christianity could thus be understood as “an intermediate point between home and host societies.”

(The Review of Faith & International Affairs–