The Norwegian Memory Tasks: Using Pensioner Auto-Biographies to Study Religion in a Secularizing Country

Rachel J. Bacon, Elly Cathrin Svendsen Bjerknes, Philip Skipitaris, Madison A. Sherwood-Walter, Laura A. Shults, F. LeRon Shults

Review of Religious Research

Abstract: Declining traditional religious practice and beliefs have been observed in Norwegian survey data since the mid-twentieth century. Individual-level data before that time, when higher religiosity may have been more normative, is lacking. We introduce a unique autobiographic database consisting of 1270 digitized entries written by Norwegian pensioners in 1964 and 1981, called “Memory Tasks,” and assess its potential to study religion in the daily lives of Norwegians. We sample from the Memory Tasks (n = 45), and code religion mentions falling into six categories: identity, public participation, private practice, personal importance of religion, supernatural worldview, and miscellaneous mentions. We report the frequency of each category and present excerpts to highlight the depth of available information on religion. Nearly all Memory Tasks from our sample included at least one mention of religion. The most common categories are identity, public participation, and miscellaneous religious activities such as Christmas celebrations. Selected excerpts describe confirmation requirements, religious activities and social life, revivals, and folk beliefs. The Memory Task data can extend our understanding of individual-level perspectives on religion in Norway for a time period when survey data is unavailable. We invite other researchers to design studies using this data source.

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