Religion in Iceland
Religion in Iceland was initially the Norse paganism that was a common belief among mediaeval Scandinavians who started settling Iceland in the 9th century AD, until Christian conversion around 1000 AD, though paganism did not vanish then. Starting in the 1530s, Iceland, originally Roman Catholic and under the Danish crown, formally became Lutheran under the Icelandic Reformation, which culminated in 1550. As such, Iceland has a state Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland, and religious freedom has been a legal right since 1874. The state church is supported by the government, but all registered religions received support from a church tax paid by taxpayers over the age of 16 years.
According to government records, the population is at present overwhelmingly Lutheran, although Catholics and other Christian minorities exist as well as several non-Christian minority groups. The largest non-Christian religious grouping was Ásatrú (Germanic folk religion). A poll conducted by WIN/GIA in 2012 found that 57% of Icelanders considered themselves "a religious person", 31% consider themselves "a non religious person", while 10% define themselves as "a convinced atheist", placing Iceland in top 10 atheist populations in the world.
The earliest inhabitants of Iceland were Irish monks, known as Papar. However, the small population was soon overwhelmed by migrations of Scandinavians, most of whom practiced what can loosely be called Germanic paganism, in the eighth and ninth centuries. The Christianisation of Iceland, like the rest of Scandinavia, was a long process, beginning before official conversion and continuing after it. Particularly through the influence of continental missionaries and pressure from the Norwegian king, Iceland officially converted in 999/1000 AD.
During the Reformation, Iceland adopted Lutheranism in place of its earlier Roman Catholicism. Two local men, Oddur Gottskálksson and Gissur Einarsson, became disciples of Martin Luther and soon secured followers, particularly after King Christian III of Denmark and Norway declared himself for Lutheranism and began to enforce the change in his kingdom. This led to resistance, which escalated nearly to the point of civil war.
Jón Arason and Ögmundur Pálsson, the Catholic bishops of Skálholt and Hólar respectively, opposed Christian's efforts at promoting the Reformation in Iceland. The Reformation proved to be more violent in Iceland than in most of the lands ruled by Denmark, partly from Jóns proto-nationalistic Ögmundur was deported by Danish officials in 1541, but Jón decided to fight. Opposition to the Reformation effectively ended in 1550 when Jón was captured after being defeated in the Battle of Sauðafell by loyalist forces under Daði Guðmundsson. Jón and his two sons were subsequently beheaded in Skálholt on November 7, 1550.
With Lutheranism firmly in place, Catholicism was outlawed, and Catholic church property was assumed by Iceland's rulers. Though Latin remained the official language of the Lutheran Church of Iceland until 1686, and a good part of the former Catholic terminology and other externals were retained, the Lutheran church differed considerably in doctrine. Those Catholics who refused to convert eventually fled, generally to Scotland. No Catholic priest was permitted be present in Iceland for more than three centuries.
Starting in the eighteenth century, Pietism rose in importance due to activity from Denmark. The pietists expanded printing and literature in Iceland. However, education and literacy for the Pietists was primarily or solely to have a religious function and they discouraged anything without religious meaning. This led to encouraging a certain dourness to Iceland by discouraging dancing or other entertainment.
About 281,000 Icelanders (85.5% of the population) are members of Christian congregations, of whom most (242.743 people or 73.8%) are members of the Church of Iceland. According to a 2004 survey 69.3% of the total population claimed to be "religious", whereas 19.1 per cent said they were "not religious" and 11.6 per cent were unable to state whether they were religious. Of those who said they were religious, 76.3 per cent said that they were Christian, while 22.4 per cent said that they "believed in their own way".
As in the other Nordic countries, church attendance is relatively low; only 10% of Icelanders go to church once a month or more frequently, 43% say that they never attend church and 15.9% say they attend church once a year.
When asked to select a statement that best represented their opinion, 39.4% of Icelanders said they believe in the existence of a benevolent god to whom one can pray; 19.2% said that God must exist or else life would be meaningless; 19.7% said that it is impossible to know whether God exists; 26.2% said that no god exists; 9.45% said that God created the universe and presided over it; and 9.7% said that none of the aforementioned statements represented their opinion.
There is a state church and the government pays the salaries of the 140 ministers in it. The state church is responsible for running all cemeteries and people of any religious belief or none can be buried in them.
In addition all taxpayers 16 or older pay an annual church tax of ISK 8,741 (US$76, as of 2013) which goes to a religious or philosophical organization officially recognized by the government and to which they are registered. If they are not registered the money goes into the general revenue. People are free to belong to unrecognized religious or philosophical organizations (though they won't show up in the official statistics). People 16 or older are free to change their registration though children under 16 require the consent of their parents (between the ages of 12 and 16 both parents and child must consent).
Officially, the nation is religiously homogenous. Nearly all Icelandic religious followers are Christian, and vast majority of these are Lutheran. Church attendance, however, remains low.
Official statistics place Iceland as overwhelmingly Lutheran. The main church is the Church of Iceland which represents 73.8% of the population (2014). The Church of Iceland is also the State Church, but religious freedom is practiced. There are several "free Lutheran" churches as well which total 4.9% of the population. In recent years, there has been an increase in the proportion linked to the free Lutheran churches. In total, some 78.7% of the population are registered as some form of Lutheran. However, these statistics are by some considered misleading since most people are automatically registered as members of the Church of Iceland. Estimates indicate that 11% of the population attend religious service regularly and 44% never attend.
Roman Catholicism is the largest non-Lutheran faith in Iceland, though remains practiced by a small minority of 11,911 persons (3.62% of the population). There is a Roman Catholic Diocese of Reykjavík with David Tencer, O.F.M. Cap. serving as Bishop. It is estimated that half of the nation's Catholics are foreign born with the main groups being Filipinos and Poles. If the foreign-born are excluded, Catholics are about 1-2% of native Icelanders, a figure typical for Scandinavia.
In the twentieth century, Iceland had some notable, if at times temporary, converts to the faith. For a time Halldór Laxness was Catholic. Although this did not last, his Catholic period is of importance due to his position in modern Icelandic literature. A more resolutely Catholic writer in Icelandic was Jón Sveinsson. He moved to France at 13 and became a Jesuit, remaining in Society of Jesus for the rest of his life. He was well liked as a children's book author (writing in German) and even appeared on postage stamps.
The Pentecostal Assembly had 2,108 members (0.64%) of the population) in January 2015. There are Pentecostal churches in Keflavík, Akureyri and the capital. A website in Icelandic, Gospel Iceland, also exists for the movement in Iceland.
The Anglican Church is in an unusual position in Iceland. Although significant as a world faith (with 80 million members), it has a limited presence in Iceland, and its future expansion may be limited by its entering into an "agreement of full communion" with the Lutheran Church of Iceland, known as the Porvoo agreement. Thus, Anglicans may effectively consider themselves to be Lutheran whilst in Iceland, and the two bodies have a full inter-recognition of each other's faith and practice, sacramental life, and ministry. Nonetheless, a single Anglican congregation meets monthly in Reykjavik, using the Lutheran Hallgrímskirkja church building to worship in the English language according to the rites of the Church of England.
The Seventh-day Adventists have some organization in Iceland. They have their own website and also a local conference. Gavin Anthony is a leading figure in Adventism in Iceland. That said, growth had been static for ten years by 2005, and the Adventists tend to indicate this is caused by the generalized secularism of the nation. In January 2015 there were 721 Adventists, about 0.22% of the population.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The Mormons have a fairly small presence in Iceland, but worth mentioning for historical reasons. In the nineteenth century, LDS missionaries came to Iceland and converted a few local residents. In 1855, these residents would become the genesis of the first Icelandic community overseas, in Spanish Fork, Utah.
As of 1 January 2016 Iceland had 173 LDS members down from a peak of 197 in 2002. The church itself claims 275 members in 2 branches (Reykjavik and Selfoss). A family history center for the church is also located in the Reykjavik meetinghouse.
According to the national registry of Iceland, there are two Baptist Churches belonging to different denominations: The independent Baptist Church called Fyrsta Baptista Kirkjan established 1967 (The First Baptist Church) with 25 members in 2015 and Emmanúels Baptistakirkjan (The Emmanuel Baptist Church) also with 25 members. Independent Baptists by doctrine do not believe in registering members with the National Registry and would like to see the State separated from the church in polity and reality. Because of the Independent Baptist doctrine believing in separation of Church and State, the First Baptist Church was not registered as a church until they built a church building in 1994. The First Baptist Church was established nearly 50 years ago as the very first Baptist Church in the land's history and remains the only Independent Baptist Church in Iceland. Patrick Weimer (Patrekur Vilhjálmsson) is the missionary pastor of the First Baptist Church and has been involved in the ministry in Iceland for 25 years since 1991. The Emmanuel Baptist Church is a Southern Baptist church.
Other Christian denominations
Eastern Orthodoxy, especially Serbian and Russian, has a small presence on the island. Various other Christian denominations are represented with fewer than 1,000 registered adherents. Jehovah's Witnesses officially report 379 members in Iceland, in seven congregations, based on members who engage in public preaching. The National Registry estimates about twice that number, based on self-identification.
A small minority practice a variety of non-Christian faiths, whose total numbers account for about three percent of the population.
Paganism and native faiths
Germanic folk religion and the Ásatrú movement
From the 1970s there has been a revival of the Northern Germanic folk religion in Iceland. As of 2015, the Ásatrúarfélagið ("Ese-truth Fellowship"; "Fellowship of the Ese-Faith") had 2,675 registered members (up from 1,402 in 2010), corresponding to approximately 0.8% of the total population. Another group of the Norse tradition is the "Reykjavik Chieftainship".
Zuism is a movement self-defining as a revival of the Sumerian religion, based on Sumerian poems, which Zuists sing in their worship services in honour of the universal god An, the earth Ki and lesser forces of nature. The name "Zuism" refers to the thunder-bird god of wisdom, Zû, servant of Enlil.
The Zuist Church received formal registration from the Icelandic government only in 2013, but it has been in existence from years before. The first Zuist congregation was founded by Ólafur Helgi Þorgrímsson, who has since left it. As of December 2015 the high priest of the Zuist Church is Ísak Andri Ólafsson.
In late 2015 Zuism was adopted as a form of protest against legislation about religious organisations and "parish fees" which all taxpayers, whatever their religious affiliation, had to pay, with 1% of the population registered as Zuists by early December of that year. Holger Sæmundsson, one of the members of the Zuist Church's council of elders, has declared that they "don't ask the members if they believe", because "it depends on everyone of us", and the Church "welcomes everyone".
The Bahá'í Faith in Iceland (Icelandic Bahá'í samfélagið á Íslandi) began when American Amelia Collins visited in 1924 and the first Icelandic Bahá'í was Holmfridur Arnadottir. The religion was recognized by the government in 1966 and the first Bahá'í National Spiritual Assembly was elected in 1972. Currently around 400 Bahá'ís in the country governed by 8 Local Spiritual Assemblies. The number of assemblies is the highest percentage, by population, in all of Europe, Danish scholar of religion Margit Warburg speculates that the Icelandic people are culturally more open to religious innovation.
The largest Buddhist group in Iceland, the Buddhist Association, has grown from 318 members in 1997 to 1,022 in 2015. Buddhism in the Icelandic branch of Soka Gakkai International (SGI) has 172 members and Zen Buddhism 118 members and these are the three recognized Buddhist groups in Iceland. In the 1990s sects of Buddhism found their way to Iceland through immigrants from Thailand for the most part. Collectively they constitute 0.4%.
Iceland started to gain a substantial Muslim population around the 1970s, both through immigration and through Icelanders converting. Iceland has two official Muslim organisations. As of 2015, the Muslim Association of Iceland (Félag múslima á Íslandi) has 486 members and the Islamic Cultural Centre of Iceland has 389 members. However, the total number of Muslims living in Iceland may be rather larger, as many Muslims have chosen to join neither association.
The number of Jews is estimated to be about 90 members. The Jewish population is not large enough to be registered as a separate religious group and is listed as unspecified/other groups. There is no synagogue or prayer house.
There was no significant Jewish population or emigration to Iceland until the twentieth century, though some Jewish merchants lived in Iceland temporarily at times during the nineteenth century. Icelanders' attitude toward the Jews has ranged from sympathy for their plight to blaming them for "Bolshevism", among other things. Although most Icelanders deplored their persecution, they usually refused entry to Jews who were fleeing Nazi Germany, so the Jewish population did not rise much during the Second World War.
Today the Jews remain a minor element of Iceland. Up to 60 people do attend occasional Jewish holiday parties or lectures by Jewish immigrants, but this does not necessarily reflect the actual Jewish population. In 2011, a communal Passover Seder and High Holiday Services were held in Reykjavik. The World Jewish Congress had no figures for Iceland in 1998, suggesting that the numbers are under 120 (and likely well under that figure). The website for the Catholic diocese indicated there are only 30 Jewish people in Iceland, However, when Chabad Rabbis conducted a search for Icelandic Jews, they came in contact with over 100 Jewish people living in Iceland. Still, it seems that, save for the European micro-states, Iceland might have the lowest Jewish population of any European nation.
Despite the small population, the First Lady of Iceland, Dorrit Moussaieff, is a Bukharian Jew and is likely the most significant Jewish woman in Icelandic history. Moussaief was born in Israel and carries both Israeli and Icelandic citizenship. She still follows some aspects of Judaism – lighting, for example, the first candle of the menorah on the eve of Hannukkah and teaching her husband about the holiday. She has introduced Jewish culture to the country in a positive way in order to counter anti-Semitism.
Siðmennt is the largest organization supporting humanists in Iceland. It is similar to the Human-Etisk Forbund in Norway, and like it, is recognized as a life stance community by the state (though only since 2013) and can receive funds from the state as registered religious organizations do. As of January 2015, it had 1020 registered members (0.31% of the Icelandic population), a far lower proportion of the nation than the Norwegian organization.
According to a 2004 Eurobarometer study Social Values, Science and Technology, eleven percent of Icelanders "don't believe in any sort of spirit, God, or life force". while expressed belief in God was about the same in Iceland as in the UK and higher than in most of the Scandinavian countries. The plurality (and near majority) of Icelanders express a belief in a "spirit or life force" rather than in God or a generalized disbelief.
Zuism and protest against tax for religion
In 2015 the religion of Zuism was "taken over by new converts promising to refund all its members' god taxes", and this triggered massive conversion of Icelanders. About 3,100 Icelanders, 1% of the population, became Zuists in a two-week period towards the end of 2015; Zuism had previously been at risk of being de-registered due to inactivity. The conversions were said to be either to "get money in their pockets, or to protest against current legislation about religious organisations". Tax authorities responded that if the "parish fees" are refunded to Zuists, they would have to pay income tax from them. Holger Sæmundsson, one of the members of the Zuist Church's council of elders, said that they "don't ask the members if they believe", because "it depends on every one of us", and the Church "welcomes everyone".
As of December 2015 the Icelandic tax system imposed a tax element of about US$80 (£53) to provide state funding for religion. There are over 40 recognised religions that qualify for "parish fees" collected via the tax system; Icelanders must register their religion, and the tax is paid to the registered religion; but there is no rebate for those not with a registered religion. Zuism, unlike other religions, promised to refund tax paid by its registered members. The actual purpose of Zuism is openly to object to state support of religion, with the aim of the repeal of laws that grant religious organisations privilege, financial or otherwise, and of registration of citizens' religion. The Zuists' website says that Zuism "will cease to exist when its objectives have been met".
Religious organisation affiliation
- 1 The state church is the Evangelical Lutheran Church, a Christian denomination, also known as the Church of Iceland.
- 2 Other and unspecified: Citizens who are registered as members of a religious organisation which is unregistered with Registers Iceland.
- 3 Unaffiliated: Citizens who are not registered as members of a religious organisation.
|Church of Iceland1
|Other and unspecified2||Various||26,359||7.93|
|Reykjavík Free Church
(Fríkirkjan í Reykjavík)
|Hafnarfjörður Free Church
(Fríkirkjan í Hafnarfirði)
|Sumerian religion, Paganism||3,087||0.93|
|Pentecostal Church of Iceland
(Hvítasunnukirkjan á Íslandi)
|Buddhist Association of Iceland
|Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association
(Siðmennt, félag siðrænna húmanista á Íslandi)
|Seventh-day Adventist Church in Iceland
(Kirkja sjöunda dags aðventista á Íslandi)
|Russian Orthodox Church of Iceland
(Rússneska rétttrúnaðarkirkjan á Íslandi)
|Muslim Association of Iceland
(Félag múslima á Íslandi)
|Islamic Cultural Center of Iceland
(Menningarsetur múslima á Íslandi)
|Bahá'í Faith in Iceland
(Bahá'í samfélagið á Íslandi)
|Serbian Orthodox Church of Iceland
|The Icelandic Christ-Church
|Catch the Fire Reykjavík
(Catch the Fire (CTF))
|The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
(Kirkja Jesú Krists hinna síðari daga heilögu)
|SGI in Iceland
(SGI á Íslandi)
|Church of Evangelism
|Free Church Kefas
|Zen in Iceland – Night Pasture
(Zen á Íslandi - Nátthagi)
|The Salvation Army
|House of Prayer
|Heaven on Earth
(Himinn á jörðu)
|Church of the Resurrected Life
(Kirkja hins upprisna lífs)
|Church of God Ministry of Jesus Christ International
(Alþjóðleg kirkja Guðs og embætti Jesú Krists)
|Emmanuel Baptist Church
|First Baptist Church
|Port of Hope
|Family Federation for World Peace and Unification
(Fjölskyldusamtök heimsfriðar og sameiningar)
(Beth-Shekhinah Apostolic Church)
|Iceland Christian Nation
(Ísland kristin Þjóð)
|Endurfædd kristin kirkja
(Reborn Christian Church)
Eurobarometer Poll 2010
According to Eurobarometer Poll 2010:
- 31% of Icelandic citizens responded that they "believe there is a God".
- 49% answered that they "believe there is some sort of spirit or life force."
- 18% answered that they "do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force".
- 2% responded that they "don't know".
- Christianization of Scandinavia
- Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland
- Roman Catholicism in Iceland
- Judaism in Iceland
- Hinduism in Iceland
- Islam in Iceland
- Religion in Europe
- Religions by country
- "Populations by religious and life stance organizations 1998-2016". Reykjavík, Iceland: Statistics Iceland..
- Lacy, Terry G. (2000). Ring of Seasons: Iceland--Its Culture and History. University of Michigan Press. p. 166. ISBN 9780472086610.
The Old Treaty, signed in 1262, that led to Iceland's being first under the Norwegian and later the Danish kings was such a milestone, as was the Reformation in 1550 whereby Lutheranism became, and remains, Iceland's state religion.
- "Constitution of Iceland". Government of Iceland. Retrieved 14 October 2014. Section VI deals with religion
Article 62: The Evangelical Lutheran Church shall be the State Church in Iceland and, as such, it shall be supported and protected by the State. This may be amended by law. Article 63: All persons have the right to form religious associations and to practice their religion in conformity with their individual convictions. Nothing may however be preached or practised which is prejudicial to good morals or public order. Article 64: No one may lose any of his civil or national rights on account of his religion, nor may anyone refuse to perform any generally applicable civil duty on religious grounds. Everyone shall be free to remain outside religious associations. No one shall be obliged to pay any personal dues to any religious association of which he is not a member. A person who is not a member of any religious association shall pay to the University of Iceland the dues that he would have had to pay to such an association, if he had been a member. This may be amended by law.
- "Global Index of Religion and Atheism" (PDF). WIN-Gallup International. Retrieved 24 January 2016.
- Jenny Jochens, 'Late and Peaceful: Iceland's Conversion Through Arbitration in 1000', Speculum, 74 (1999), 621-55. DOI: 10.2307/2886763, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2886763.
- Annual Religion Statistics from Iceland http://www.statice.is/?PageID=1180&src=/temp_en/Dialog/varval.asp?ma=MAN10001%26ti=Populations+by+religious+organizations+1990-2007++%26path=../Database/mannfjoldi/Trufelog/%26lang=1%26units=
- https://www.ennenjanyt.net/2-01/olafsson.pdf Archived 7 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
- Trúarlíf Íslendinga: Viðhorfskönnun (2004), p. 26.
- Trúarlíf Íslendinga: Viðhorfskönnun (2004), p. 28.
- Trúarlíf Íslendinga: Viðhorfskönnun (2004), p. 56.
- Trúarlíf Íslendinga: Viðhorfskönnun (2004), p. 30.
- "2013 Report on International Religious Freedom". United States Department of State. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
- "Jon Sveinsson, SJ (Nonni)". Manresa-sj.org. Retrieved 2010-02-06.
- John Surridge/ANN (3 July 2005). "Adventist Church: Growing Fast, But Not Everywhere: Adventist News Network". Seventh Day Adventist Church - Adventist News Network. Retrieved 16 January 2016.
- "Icelandic Language". Nat.is. Retrieved 2010-02-06.
- "Facts and Statistics: Iceland". The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
- "Iceland". The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
- 2014 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. p. 180.
- Iceland Monitor: Icelanders flocking to the Zuist religion.
- Mais pourquoi des milliers d'Islandais se convertissent au zuisme?.
- Stundin.is: Dularfyllsta trúfélag á Íslandi verður brottfellt á næstunni.
- About the Zuist movement, official website.
- BBC: New Iceland Religion Offers Tax Rebate, with interview with journalist Sigrun Davidsdottir and Zuist leader Holger Sæmundsson.
- Hassall, Graham; Fazel, Seena. "100 Years of the Bahá'í Faith in Europe". Bahá’í Studies Review. 1998 (8). pp. 35–44.
- Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir, 'To a Mosque on a Magic Carpet', Iceland Review, 52.1 (2014), 64--68 (p. 66).
- Archived 22 January 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
- "Jews by country. Definition, graph and map". Nationmaster.com. 2005-03-03. Retrieved 2010-02-06.
- "Moussaieff موساييف мусаев מוסאיוף: From Bukhara to Iceland-Dorrit Moussaieff". Shlomomoussaieff.blogspot.com. 2005-04-09. Retrieved 2010-02-06.
- "וואלה!". News.walla.co.il. Retrieved 2010-02-06.
- "Eurobarometer Special Surveys". Ec.europa.eu. 2010-01-20. Retrieved 2010-02-06.
- Harriet Sherwood (8 December 2015). "Icelanders flock to religion revering Sumerian gods and tax rebates". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 December 2015.
- Iceland Monitor: Icelanders Flocking to the Zuist Religion
- BBC: New Iceland Religion Offers Tax Rebate, with interview with journalist Sigrun Davidsdottir and Zuist leader Holger Sæmundsson.
- "The religious organization Zuism". zuistar.is.
- Statistics Iceland: Populations by religious and life stance organizations 1998-2016
- "Special Eurobarometer, biotechnology, page 204" (PDF). Fieldwork: January–February 2010.
- Medieval Iceland: Society, Sagas, and Power by Jesse L. Byock (University of California Press, 1988: Specifically pages 137-164)
- The History of Iceland by Gunnar Karlsson (University of Minnesota Press, 2000) ISBN 0-8166-3589-7
- US Department of State Report
- Information center on religious groups in Iceland
Roman Catholic Church
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- LDS Newsroom (Iceland)
- Church News Country Information: Iceland
- Kirkju Jesú Krists hinna Síðari daga heilögu Official LDS website in Iceland
- Zúistar á Íslandi-"Zuists in Iceland"—the popular movement calling for revolutionary conversion to Zuism