Next week I’ll be traveling to give a couple of talks in Norway and Sweden. As always, I expect the conversations aside from the public presentations will be interesting. I want to ask my hosts about the Scandinavian reputation for deep secularity, the way that for example a sociologist such as Phil Zuckerman portrays Nordic societies as pretty decent places in the absence of any dominant organized supernatural religion, though a kind of cultural religion remains.
One reason is that I’ve run into some skepticism expressed about such accounts, motivated by a background in current thinking about the cognitive basis of belief in supernatural agency. People such as Robert McCauley have argued for some time, and quite persuasively, that such belief comes very naturally to ordinary human brains. The corollary tends to be that we should be surprised if large groups of people (aside from almost borderline-autistic populations such as academics) go without supernatural beliefs.
What, then, of the alleged secularity of some Western European countries, especially the Scandinavians? Is it, perhaps, not quite what it is cracked up to be?
I don’t know what I can get out of individual conversations that I can’t get out of the relevant literature, but I figure it still is a good idea to get some insiders’ points of views.