Does the pandemic unite Muslims and Christians?
During the coronavirus pandemic, tensions have risen between governments and religious communities worldwide. One of the cases that has received the most attention is the many clashes that have taken place between orthodox Jewish groups and governments, especially in regards to the most recent Jewish holiday Passover. Many Jewish communities in the UK have, for instance, experienced higher cases of infections. Similar instances have been observed amongst other religious groups across the world. This has made certain voices in the debate wonder if the response to the coronavirus guidelines is linked to specific religious institutions.
The Danish response
In contrast to several other places, all of Denmark’s religious communities have dealt with the coronavirus lockdown “surprisingly well” according to Tina Langholm Larsen, a Danish academic. This suggests that following, or breaking, government guidelines is not reserved to any specific religious institution. Alongside other researchers from Aarhus University at the Centre for Contemporary Religion (Center for Samtidsreligion), Larsen investigated Danish religious communities’ responses to the coronavirus lockdown, and found that religious groups in Denmark have followed lockdown rules almost perfectly. This is especially surprising, according to Larsen, since it shows that many religious communities in Denmark prioritise societal values over religious ones. The Church of Denmark is often praised for being moderate and modern, however, it seems that moderation is a general attitude amongst most religious communities in Denmark, and that it is not specifically linked to Christianity or the Church of Denmark. In the past, especially Muslim communities in Denmark have received criticism for being too ‘radical’ and ‘anti-government’.   However, the findings of this research suggest that no religious groups in Denmark are particularly extreme or refused following general government advice. This is significant, as it suggests that many claims about Muslim communities in Denmark might be based on unfair stereotypes and prejudices rather than facts. Larsen’s findings are especially noticeable, since the coronavirus pandemic peaked in Europe in the midst of two massive religious holidays within both Christianity and Islam, where both communities adjusted to the situation remarkably well. Considering that both major religions faced similar challenges in adjusting their rituals to Easter and Ramadan, their similar reactions and adjustments to the events show that the two communities may be more similar than expected, both being equally moderate and innovative in a Danish context.
Shift to the digital
Many religious groups in Denmark have also used the pandemic as an opportunity to become more active on social media, and make more use of the internet in order to reach a bigger audience. Many churches have live streamed mass, and some mosques have for instance had online Ramadan quizzes. These are just a few examples of some innovative changes that have happened within Danish religious institutions as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. This shift has resulted in a serious reformation and reinterpretation of religious institutions and rituals amongst many different religious groups. The digital shift that has happened in many traditional communities is something that will additionally be explored more in the future, according to Tina Langholm Larsen. She believes that the coronavirus crisis has brought some new opportunities to religious communities that were not realised or practiced before the pandemic. It additionally shows how many religious groups in Denmark are extremely adaptable and capable of adjusting to large challenges. The Danish religious groups’ openness to reform could also be a result of their, generally, more ‘moderate’ nature. In Denmark, many believe that it is only Christianity that is capable of true reform, and that Islam is more incapable of adjusting to modern society and values. Again, this innovative shift beyond religious institutions in many ways proves the opposite. Opposing government guidelines regarding coronavirus is therefore not linked to any specific religious group, but rather to the extremity of which a religion is practiced.The ‘good’ response from Danish groups is therefore an achievement that needs acknowledgement beyond religious barriers.
Visit the EARS dashboard for more information on topics such as coronavirus and religion.