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Belief in ghosts rises across secular Sweden

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Belief in ghosts rises across secular Sweden
A ghostly attraction. Photo:John Minchillo/TT/AP
16:52 CET+01:00
While Sweden has a reputation for being one of the least religious nations in Western world, it seems rising numbers of people now believe in paranormal phenomena.

Fake ghosts and ghouls will be taking to streets around Sweden this weekend, as towns and cities celebrate Halloween. But it seems that more and more people are embracing the idea of supernatural beings year-round.

According to a new survey, the number of Swedes polled who believe in ghosts has increased from 12 to 16 percent since 2008. The research was carried out by the Demoskop polling firm for The Swedish Sceptics' Association (Föreningen vetenskap och folkbildning), a not-for-profit organization designed to raise the public’s awareness of scientific methods and results.

Meanwhile 37 percent people asked for the study said that they believed in “paranormal phenomena” that could not be explained by science, up from 33 percent seven years ago.

The growing interest in the living dead comes amid a huge drop in belief in a god.

Only 21 percent of people quizzed said that they were believers, down from 35 percent. If the trend continues, this means that more Swedes could soon believe in ghosts than in a god.

"I’m not surprised at all," said David Thurfjell, professor of religion at Södertörn University, who has carried out separate research on the secularization in Sweden.

"These types of beliefs, to believe in ghosts or paranormal phenomena for example, have returned in Swedish popular culture over the last years. Representations of ghosts and supernatural phenomena in the media and popular culture are increasing", he told The Local.

Proving his point, Aftonbladet, Sweden’s leading tabloid, launched its second edition of a 'Ghost special' this week. Celebrities are locked up in a haunted house with their every move filmed and live-streamed day and night. Last year, the show had 1.5 million viewers.

Another TV show, 'Det okända' ('The Unknown'), follows people who have experienced problems with ghosts and then get help by mediums. The show has been on air for over ten years in Sweden and attracts about 300,000 viewers every week. 

For some, programmes like these may be seen as merely light entertainment, but according to Thurfjell there is a direct connection between such popular culture and what Swedes actually believe in.

“What from the beginning is something made up, can actually become something that people start to believe in for real”, he said.

"To be religious is something genetic, it is something that comes from nature, evolutionary. If one language for this has been the traditional religion, then other languages, for example to believe in ghosts, will become more popular,” explained Thurfjell.


Hedvig Eleonora church in Stockholm. Photo: Per Myrehed/TT

As The Local has previously reported, Sweden is already the least religious country in the Western world and the Swedish Church loses about one percent of its members every year.

However Gunnar Sjöberg, head of communication for the Swedish Church, argues that many Swedes are believers but do not wish to talk openly about their feelings when questioned by researchers.

"In Sweden compared to other countries, religious beliefs are very personal, people don't talk about religion a lot in everyday life. But when we speak to people about whether or not they pray, they often say 'yes'," he said in April.

Demoskop pollsters quizzed 1,100 people for their study.

Article by August Håkansson

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