This project will investigate restrictions and rights violations children; young people and adults may be exposed as members of religious communities that are understood as closed.
In recent years, several media reports in Norway have shown how some children and adults who are members of, or have broken with, closed religious communities have experienced serious violations of their rights by individual members and leaders.
The new Religious Communities Act (Trossamfunnsloven) (from 2020) specifies that Government may refuse or reduce grants if "a religious or philosophical community, or individuals acting on behalf of such a community, perform violence or coercion, make threats, violate children's rights, violate statutory prohibitions on discrimination or in other ways seriously violate the rights and freedoms of others" (§6).
Although the degree of social closedness will vary, closed religious communities will be defined by a theology that draws clear boundaries between the congregation and the outside world.
As a result of these boundaries, there will often be a strong sense of community within the congregation which can provide individuals with a sense of security but may also be experienced as constraining. Closed religious communities are often associated with conservative views on gender, family, and sexuality. Social control within the religious community may be intended to encourage members to live in accordance with the values of the religious community.
The aim of the project is to obtain knowledge about restrictions and violations of rights that children, young people, and adults can be exposed to as members of a closed religious community, and which is now defined by the Norwegian authorities as a form of "negative social control".
The project has three research questions:
- What restrictions and violations of rights can children, young people and adults be exposed to as members of a closed religious community?
- To what extent, and how, do restrictions and violations of rights originate in religious and institutional conditions in the community?
- What experiences do current or former members of closed religious communities have with seeking help if they experience restrictions and violations of rights?
Data and methods
The research questions will be answered through the following data sources:
Interviews with up to 20 young people and adults who belong to or have belonged to a religious community, with emphasis on people who themselves feel that they have been subjected to strong control, illegitimate restrictions, and possibly violence and coercion. We will include both religious communities with mainly majority Norwegian members and religious communities that mainly have members with an immigrant background.
Interviews with employees in agencies that assist persons who have experienced restrictions and violations of rights in religious communities.
Open sources that can help shed light on how norms for family life, child rearing and gender roles are defined and justified in different religious communities, and how the boundaries between legitimate and illegitimate restrictions are drawn. Examples: Texts (digital and printed) aimed at religious community members and potential members, published speeches/sermons from religious leaders, observation of ongoing court proceedings, reading judgments dealing with closed religious communities.