Copenhagen Religiosity Lydia Catherine Miller May 17, 2014
Created for Copenhagen Area Survey / KĂ¸benhavn OmrĂĽde Oversigt (KOO) Rice University: Kinder Institute for Urban Research and the Danish Institute for Study Abroad
Table of Contents Executive Summary ........................................................................................................................ 2 Report.............................................................................................................................................. 3 Bibliography ................................................................................................................................. 15
Executive Summary Denmark is perceived as a secular nation, but most of its citizens are members of the national Danish Lutheran Church and pay a tax to support it. With these contradictions between belief and action, I endeavor to discover what religiosity actually means for citizens of the Copenhagen area and what social, economic and political factors affect the religiosity of Copenhageners. I analyze data from the 2014 Copenhagen Area Survey, a representative sample of 1093 citizens, evaluating five variables related to religion (importance of religion, membership in the Danish Lutheran Church, religious attendance, beliefs about death, and frequency of thoughts about death). Then I compare how the responses differ between Copenhagen and Houston, using data from the 2014 Houston Area Survey, to evaluate the intricacies of religiosity in a Copenhagen context. Finally, I explore what factors explain religiosity in Copenhagen.
In our increasingly connected world, the diversity of religious and cultural beliefs affects the state of internal and international affairs, sometimes being the determining factor between violence and peace. According to Samuel Huntington in his book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1997), global conflict at the end of the last century had become about religious and cultural rather than ideological beliefs (Ed. Darity, Jr. 163). So a nation’s perspective on religion can affect their national policy, international relations, and society. Denmark, reported to be the Happiest Nation in the World according to the United Nations, has a historically unique relationship with religion (Ed. Helliwell, Richard and Sachs). In 2008, 82.1% of Danes were members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the National Church of Denmark (Kühle 292). Yet despite this extremely high proportional membership, the nation has only a 2% service attendance rate (Kühle 292). After Christianity, Islam has the second highest membership in Denmark at about 4% of the population (Ellicott 623). In order to account for the disparity between church attendance and membership, we will consider the process of national church membership. In Denmark, newborn babies become members of the national church by being baptized, yet membership is also a civic distinction in terms of the tax law (Lutheran Church of Denmark). Danish born citizens automatically pay the Kirkeskat or Church Tax as part of their national taxes, which is measured as 0.89% of their income (Lutheran Church of Denmark). In order to officially leave the church, one must sign a form at their local parish office to disaffiliate and have the tax removed (Lutheran Church of Denmark). Therefore, effort is required to reject membership in the Danish National Church. According to the national website, “Denmark is also among the world’s most secularized countries, in which religion and Christianity play only a minor, often indirect, role in public life.” (Iversen). Many scholars have asked, is Denmark a godless society or is religion a factor of civic and national identity? (Kühle 292). In order to determine how religion affects Danish culture we must define religiosity. Religiosity has been measured in many different ways, and thus this creates a difficulty in studying it as a phenomenon. In psychology, religiosity has been defined as “involvement, interest or participation in religion” which can then be used to determine high or low levels of religiosity based on these actions or feelings (The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology).This focus on practice and attendance captures a certain sector of the Danish population, but leaves out those who believe but do not attend. Sociologists define religiosity as the combination of multiple dimensions: belief, attendance, prayer and community (Scott and Marshall). Yet these definitions inherently assume a certain cultural performance of religion. Looking at the previous religion data for Denmark, I do not think that membership and attendance rates alone accurately capture what it means to value religion in Denmark. In my research, I hope to determine what religiosity means in a Copenhagen context and what socioeconomic factors affect religiosity in Copenhageners.
Literature Review Religion as a political tool If we consider the history of religion in Denmark, we can see its importance as a political mechanism. Denmark's first inhabitants, the Vikings, held Norse spiritual beliefs, which we now call Paganism (Ellicott 624). In the early 12th century, Christianity was introduced to Denmark by German missionaries and Denmark's adopted Catholicism, which earned it support from the Holy Roman Empire and inclusion into European society (Ellicott 624). Denmark enjoyed the political benefits of this affiliation, but due to its relationship and proximity to Germany, it was also quick to join the Protestant Reformation (Kraft 324). King Christian II realized that his power would increase if he eliminated the hierarchy of the Catholic bishops and was therefore happy to support the movement (Kraft 324). As in Denmark's first adoption of Christianity, the shift from Catholicism to Protestantism was “less a theological than a social movement,” which made it easy to reorganize the church and belief system because the goal was on social rather than spiritual welfare (Kraft 327). By 1539, Denmark and the Danish National Church had completely converted to Lutheranism, and “as in most purely Lutheran countries” theological learning was not prioritized (Kraft 327). Therefore, in the 1800’s, when the philosophy of rationalism emerged and took hold in Europe, a “superficial utilitarian Christianity” developed in Denmark, meaning that the greater population became mostly uninterested in the activities of the church (Kraft 329). This general apathy toward religion can be documented by the fact that theology was taught in only one place in Denmark, at the University of Copenhagen by Professor Henrik Nicolai Clausen, who in 1825, tried to align teachings with the rationality of science (Kraft 329). In 1834, Grundtvig, a notoriously conservative Danish priest, published a work advocating for every priest to be able to preach their own beliefs and that each citizen should be able to decide which clergyman to listen to (Kraft 332). Thus we can see that the religious movements in Denmark are primarily social movements rather than debates of ideological fervor. This democratization of religion through Protestantism and selection of your own preacher allowed for increased political freedom for Lutheran Danes, but as we will see, religion was also used as a political tool to restrict the rights of certain groups. Religious tolerance as a political tool Denmark has a history of religious intolerance. In the sixteenth century, a group of Protestant Polish refugees was not allowed to enter to nation (Kraft 328). The movement's leader pleaded with the Danish church saying, “If no spot is allowed for us to live in, at least one for us to die in,” and the Danish Bishop responded that “people had been known to rot in the open air.” (Kraft 328). In 1842, the king decreed that Baptists would be allowed to worship in Denmark, but only in one specific town and that they must report their members' names and baptize privately (Oncken 2). Also, Grundtvig, who had promoted the freedom for clergy to preach their own beliefs, was very anti-Germanic and thus advocated against theological training of priests (which was a strong German tradition) (Kraft 333). This bias against theological education led to less knowledgeable religious teachers and in turn likely lead to the decline in the religiosity of the population (Kraft 333). Additionally, despite “religious freedom” in Denmark, there is not religious equality (Geertz and Rothstein 299) Because the Evangelical Lutheran Church of 4|Page
Denmark is state supported, there is a hierarchy of religious rights and privileges, meaning that the national church always has priority over all minority religions (Geertz and Rothstein 299). Thus we can see that religious membership in Denmark has a long tradition of being more of a civic and political identity and power rather than a spiritual affiliation. So if most Danes are indifferent to practicing religion, what factors cause the small proportion of the population to participate in it? (Geertz and Rothstein 298). What is religiosity and what affects it? In the modern Danish era, the paradigm has shifted from religious society being seen as utopian to secular society becoming the ideal (Lejon and Agnafors 297). According to Kjell Lejon and Marcus Agnafors, professors of theology and philosophy, respectively, the reason for this shift is that historically religious societies are being critiqued for restricting human rights and stunting the growth of society with traditionalism (Lejon and Agnafors 297). In his book, Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us about Contentment, Phil Zuckerman makes the claim there is a correlation between the prosperity of Scandinavian societies and their secularism (Lejon and Agnafors 298). Yet, as Lejon and Agnafors outline in their critique of Zuckerman's book, it is very difficult to measure religiosity because simple questions (like the one used in our own survey), such as “Do you believe in God?” and “How often do you attend religious services?” are culturally dependent aspects of religion (300). Scandinavians are notorious for underrating their own religiosity, as it is viewed as a more private matter, while American's often exaggerate their practice out of guilt (Lejon and Agnafors 300). Also, in Scandinavian Christian theology, belief in sin is not assumed the way that the belief in God is. This creates the unique situation in which those who believe in and love God, may reject the existence of sin, but still maintain active religious practice or identity (Lejon and Agnafors 301). The ambiguity around the existence of sin also creates the opportunity for believers to differ on what they believe happens when people die. Therefore the measure of religiosity is culturally dependent. Thus it will be important in my study to distinguish between religious belief and religious practice in determining how to measure religiosity. Methods Data for this study are drawn from the 2014 Copenhagen Area Survey. This survey, conducted by the survey firm Epinion, is a representative survey of 1093 residents living in Copenhagen and surrounding suburbs. The survey was conducted on-line, in Danish, and took on average of 17 minutes to complete. The response rate was 77%. The survey is meant to assess residents’ quality of life and their opinions on major issues of the day. In order to understand the uniqueness of Copenhageners responses, data from the 2014 Houston Area Survey is used for comparison. This survey, a representative sample of 1353 residents living in Houston and the surrounding suburbs, was conducted over the telephone, in English or Spanish, and took an average of 20 minutes to complete. The response rate was 34%. To ensure the Houston Area Survey was representative of the population, it was weighted by household size, race, and age to the American Community Survey, the annual national survey done by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Variables Five different questions were used as means of determining a measure for religiosity in a Danish context. Religious Importance: Measured by the question, “How important would you say religion is in your life?” with the responses, “Very important (1), Somewhat important (2), not very important (3), not at all important (4), or Don’t know (5)” Membership in the Danish Lutheran Church: Measured by the question, “Are you a member of the Danish Lutheran Church? Yes (1), No (2), or Don’t Know (3)” Religious Attendance: Measured by the question, “In the past thirty days, did you attend a religious service, other than a wedding, funeral, or confirmation? Yes (1), No (2), Don’t Know (3)” Belief about Death: Measured by the question, “What do you believe happens when people die?” with the responses, “Go to heaven (or hell) (1), Soul continues to exist in a different realm (2), Reincarnated (3), Cease to exist (4), Other (5), Don’t Know (6)” Frequency of Thoughts about Death: Measured by the question, “How often do you think about what happens to you personally when you die? Always (1), Often (2), Occasionally (3), Rarely (4), Never (5), Don’t Know (6)”
Variables Religious Importance As shown in Figure 1, of Copenhageners who responded, the largest plurality (40%) said that religion is not at all important in their lives. Only 27% said that religion was important in their life at all (combining the responses “very important” and “somewhat important”). The mean and median responses were that religion was “not very important” and the mode (most frequent response) was “not at all important.” (There were only two people who responded that they did not know to this question). Of Houstonians who responded to this same question, the majority, 63% said that religion is very important in their lives. The median and mode responses were also that religion is very important. (Six people did not respond). (See Figure 1). Insofar as we can compare, on this measure of religiosity, Copenhageners value religion as much less important to their lives than do Houstonians. In fact, most Copenhageners view it as not at all important to their lives, while most Houstonians view it as very important to their lives.
Figure 1. Importance of Religon in Copenhagen and Houston 64%
0% Very Important
Not very important
Not at all important
Importance of Religion in Respondent's Life
Member of Danish Lutheran Church Figure 2 shows that the majority of Copenhageners who responded, 70%, are members of the Danish Lutheran Church. This response was also the most frequent. Only 10 respondents did not know. This figure is actually higher than the membership rates in Houston, which run about 50%. In terms of religious belonging, then, Copenhageners are more religious than are Houstonians. Figure 2. Membership in the Danish Lutheran Church
Religious Attendance The majority of Copenhageners, 90%, did not attend a church service in the last thirty days in addition to a wedding, funeral or confirmation; in sharp contrast, the majority of Houstonians (54%) did attend (Figure 3). For Copenhageners, not attending was also the most frequent response and there were only two people who did not answer this question. Thus, Copenhageners are much less likely to attend religious ceremonies in addition to weddings, funerals or confirmations, than Houstonians.
Figure 3. Religous Attendance in Copenhagen and Houtson 90%
Attended a Religious Cerminony in Past Thirty Days, excluding wedding, funeral or confirmation
Beliefs about Death The majority of Copenhageners who responded with an opinion of what happens to them when they die believe that when they die they will cease to exist (66%), which is the traditional atheist response. The second most common response, given by 14%, was that the soul continues to exist in a different realm. Only 7% of Copenhagen area residents gave the traditional Christian position of the soul going to heaven or hell, an equal amount as those who believe in reincarnation. (Figure 4). Not included in the calculations above or in Figure 4, but nevertheless important, 194 respondents (18%) responded that they did not know what happens when people die. A sizable portion of Copenhageners, then, are simply unsure what death brings. Figure 4. Beliefs about Death 6% 7%
Go to heaven (or hell) Soul continues to exist in a different realm
14% 7% 66%
Reincarnated Cease to exist Other
Frequency of Thoughts about Death The largest plurality of respondents thinks about death only rarely (39%). The median and mode were also that respondents â€œrarelyâ€? think about what happens when people die, and the mean was between occasionally and rarely. Only 13 people responded that they did not know the answer to this question (Figure 5).
Figure 5. Frequency of thoughts about Death 1% 21%
Associations After evaluating the religious patterns of Copenhagen area residents, the next question naturally is why is there variation? Why are some Copenhagen area residents more religious than others? To answer this question, I first examine what variables are associated with religious importance. Table 1 lists the factors found to be associated. Religious Importance is positively correlated with one variable and negatively correlated with four others variables (Table 1). THINKDIE is the frequency at which people think about death on a scale from always to never. Therefore, the weak, positive correlation of 0.237 means that the more a respondent values religion, the less frequently they are likely to think about death (p < 0.01). AGE measures the respondent’s age in years. Since there is a weak, negative correlation of -0.220, this means the older the respondent, the more they are likely to value religion (p < 0.01). Q10_GAYMAR_resp measures the extent to which respondents agree that “Gays and lesbians should be able to get married rather than just engage in a registered partnership,” from strongly favor to strongly oppose. The weak negative correlation of 0.211 means that the more religious the respondent the more likely they are to oppose gay marriage (p < 0.01). Q10_LEGALPOT_resp measures the extent to which respondent agrees with legalizing marijuana from strongly favor to strongly oppose. The weak, negative correlation of -0.204 means that the more religious the respondent the less likely they are to favor legalizing marijuana (p < 0.01). CHILDREN measures how many children the respondent has. The weak negative correlation of -0.203 means that the more religious the respondent, they more children they are likely to have (p < 0.01). Table 1. Correlation with Religious Importance THINKDIE
-0.203** ** = 0.01 level of significance
Source: 2014 Copenhagen Area Survey
Examining further relationships, I found that the majority of Copenhageners at every level of ranking the importance of religion are members of the Danish Lutheran Church (Cross tabulation of Membership by Religious importance, p < .01). The largest plurality of members of the Danish Lutheran Church said that religion was not very important to them (38%) and the majority of non-members said that it was not at all important to them (64%) (Cross tabulation of Religious Importance by Membership in Danish Lutheran Church, p < .01). It is interesting that despite religion not being very important to most members of the Danish Lutheran Church, those people remain members. A higher percentage of non-members (6%) than members (4%) said that religion was very important to them, but more members (32%) than non-members (16%) responded that religion was at least somewhat important to them (combing the responses for very and somewhat important). For those that said that religion is very important to their lives, a higher percentage were non-members than members, but not a higher raw number. The higher percentage may be explained by people of other religions valuing religion more than Lutheran members, such as the Muslims (since this has the second highest membership in Denmark). 68% of all members and 84% of all non-members responded that religion was not important to them (combining not very important and not at all important). This shows that members are more likely than non-members to value religion in their lives. When I examined religious importance by church attendance, no matter how important religion is in the respondentâ€™s life, Copenhageners were more likely not to have attended a religious ceremony in the last thirty days. Of those who ranked religion as very important to them, 53% did not attend church in the past thirty days, and those who responded that religion was somewhat important, 81% did not attend (Cross tabulation of Church attendance by religious importance, p < .01). The largest plurality of respondents who had attended a religious ceremony in the last thirty days (42%) said that religion was somewhat important to them, and the second most common response for attendance was that religion is not very important in their lives (26%) (Cross tabulation, p < .01). The majority of attendants (62%) said that religion is at least somewhat important in their lives. The largest plurality of respondents to whom religion is very important believe that they will go to heaven or hell when they die (45%), while the plurality of those who rank religion as somewhat important believe that they will cease to exist (39%) (Cross tabulation of Beliefs about death by religious importance, p < .01). The most frequent response for Copenhageners to whom religion is very important (33%) and somewhat important (45%) think about death occasionally, while the plurality of those to whom religion is not very important (42%) or at all important (39%) rarely think about death (Cross tabulation of frequency of thoughts about death by religious importance, p < .01). This shows us that more important religion is to a Copenhagen area resident, the more frequently they will think about death. Also, The largest plurality of people who always think about death, believe that people go to heaven or hell, while the majority of all other people (those who often, occasionally, rarely, or never think about death) believe that people cease to exist when they die (Cross tabulation of Belief about death by frequency of thought about death, p < .01). How do groups differ? When I examined religious importance by gender, I found significant differences between men and women (t = 4.3, p < .01). Men rate religion as slightly less important to their lives than do women. Both stated that religion is not very important in their lives, with men slightly less 10 | P a g e
important on average. When I examined religious importance by membership in the national Danish Lutheran church, I found significant differences between members and non-members (t= -8.4, p < .01). Members say that religion is more important to their lives than non-members. Both said that religion was not very important to their lives, but non-members with a slightly less important on average. In evaluating religious importance by church attendance, those who had attended a religious ceremony in the last 30 days apart from a wedding, funeral, or confirmation, rated religion as more important than those who had not (t= -10.4, p < .01). The mean response of who attended was that religion is somewhat important, while those who hadn’t it was that religion is not very important. Whether or not you were born in Denmark was not significant to religious importance, but in evaluating church membership by birth in Demark, there were significant differences (t= -4.6, p < .01). Respondents born in Denmark were slightly more likely to be members of the Danish Lutheran church than those not born in Denmark. When I examined religious importance by beliefs about death, I found significant differences by one’s belief about death (F=73.2, p<.01). Specifically, compared to all other beliefs about death, those who believe you go to heaven or hell upon death say that religion is more important to them. For those who believe one’s soul continues to exist in a different realm, religion is not as important to them as for those believing in heaven or hell. But it is more important to them than those who believe you cease to exist or “other.” As we might expect, for those who believe that upon death one ceases to exist, religion is less important to them than for any other group (differences significant at .05 level or less, Scheffe post-hoc tests). Analyzing religious importance by education revealed significant differences by one’s education level (F= 2.7, p < .01). Compared to all other levels of education, respondents with short higher education (such as a lab or info tech) say that religion is more important in their lives, although they still rated it as not very important to them. Respondent’s with medium education, religion is not as important as short education, but more so than any other group. Interestingly, for those with business or tech school education, religion less important to them than any other group (differences significant at .05 level or less, Dunnett C post-hoc tests). Despite this significant variation by education, it is not a linear association (Table 2). Table 2. ANOVA of Religious Importance by Education Level of Education
Mean (rating of religious importance*)
Business or Tech School
High School, HF
Vocational Educ (carpenter, hairdresser, etc.) Short Higher Ed (lab tech, info tech, etc.) Medium Higher Ed (nurse, teacher, etc.) Bachelor Longer Higher Ed (economist, lawyer, doctor, architect) Ph.D.
3,09 2,87 2,93 3,20 3,04
3,22 *Religious Importance: (1) Very Important, (2) Somewhat important, (3) Not very important, (4) Not at all important
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Whether both of your parents were born in Denmark or not, where you lived growing up, income, where your mother’s or father’s family comes from does not affect religious importance. When I examined church membership by where respondent’s grew up, there were significant differences by location (F=5.3, p < .01). As expected, compared to people from countries other than Sweden, Norway, or Germany, respondents who grew up in Copenhagen or elsewhere in Denmark are more likely to be members of the Danish Lutheran Church (differences significant at .05 level or less, Scheffe post-hoc tests). In an analysis of church membership by parent’s birth place, there were significant difference (F=23.4, p < .01). As expected, respondents with neither parent born in Denmark where less likely to be members of the national Danish church than if one or both parents were (differences significant at .05 level or less, Scheffe post-hoc tests). When evaluating church membership by mother’s family’s origin, there were significant differences between Denmark and other countries (F=2.5, p < .05). If mother’s family is from elsewhere in Denmark than Copenhagen, they are more likely than any other group to be a member of the Danish Lutheran church than if they are from a country other than Sweden, Norway, or Germany (differences significant at .05 level or less, Dunnett C post-hoc tests). Interestingly, where the respondent’s father’s family comes from was not significant to membership. Multivariate Analysis: Now that I have an understanding of the associations between variables related to religion, I want to determine what variables matter for predicting religiosity when controlling for several variables at once. So I performed a linear regression, using religious importance as the dependent variable. Using 6 variables, I found an R squared of .20, meaning that I was able to predict 20% of the variation in the religiosity of Copenhageners. The variables found to be significant are gender, age categories, frequency of thoughts about death and membership in the Danish Lutheran church. Below in Table 3 is the data from the model. The most important factor in determining religious importance was membership in the Danish Lutheran church (Standardized Beta = .253, p < .01), followed by age (Standardized Beta =-.245, p < .01). Membership increases the ranking of importance of religion. The older a person is, the more likely they are to say religion is important to them, even when accounting for differences in gender, education, income, and the other two religion variables. The more often someone thinks about what happens to them when the die, the less religious they report they are, when accounting for the other model variables (Standardized Beta= .234, p < .01). Females are, net of the other model variables, still more likely to say religion is important to them than are males (Standardized Beta = -.07, p < .05). It is interesting to note that nationality, education, income, working status, civil status, and where the respondent grew up were not significant variables in explaining religious importance.
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Table 3. Linear Regression of Religious Importance
Unstandardized Coefficients B
Std. Error 2.44
What was your total gross household income in 2013; that is, the income for all members of the household during the past year BEFORE TAXES... What is your highest level of education?
How often do you think about what happens to you personally when you die?
Are you a member of the Danish Lutheran Church?
Dependent Variable: How important would you say religion is in your life?
My research sought to discover how Copenhagen area residents feel about religion and what makes them religious. The results found that only 27% of Copenhagen area residents find religion at all important to their lives, only 10% attended a religious ceremony other than a special occasion in the past thirty days, and only 7% who have an opinion believe in the traditional Christian view that people go to heaven or hell when they die. Most Copenhageners say that religion is not very or not at all important in their lives (73%), have not attended church in the last thirty days (90%), believe that when people die they will cease to exist (66%), and rarely or never think about what will happen when they die (71%). Despite the lack of religious fervor, 70% are members of the national Lutheran church. In evaluating the associations with the importance of religion in peopleâ€™s lives, I found that the more important a Copenhagener found religion, the less they supported gay marriage and the legalization of marijuana, but the more children they were likely to have. The older the respondent and the more frequently they thought about death, the more important they were likely to say religion is in their lives. The majority of people who said that religion was very important to their lives did not attend a religious service in the last thirty days apart from baptisms, weddings, or funerals, thus it does not seem that religious attendance is necessary for 13 | P a g e
Copenhageners who value religion in their lives. For those who say that religion is very important to their lives, most believe that people go to heaven or hell when they die, but for those who say religion is somewhat important to their lives, most believe that people cease to exist when they die. Therefore, I do not think that belief in heaven and hell is necessary for Copenhageners to value religion in their lives. The majority of members of the national church say that religion is not very or not at all important to their lives. These results pose the question, why do so many Copenhageners remain members of the Danish Lutheran church when they do not value religion, at least as measured by directly asking them? Further research is needed to determine this, but my hypothesis is that membership is not a large burden and it offers certain perks. As a member of the national Danish Lutheran church, citizens have the right to use a Danish Lutheran church for a wedding, baptism or funeral (Lutheran Church of Denmark). Since these events are common life occurrences, it seems logical to remain a member, especially when there is little obligation to attend services regularly. Also, it takes effort to disaffiliate and the tax incurred by membership is not a significant drain on personal income. When I tried to determine, what factors lead the few Copenhagen residents who did value religion to do so, I found some interesting results. We are able to predict 20% of the variation in religiosity of Copenhageners, by accounting for age, gender, church membership, frequency of thoughts about death, income and education. As the results revealed, people report greater importance of religion when they are female, members of the Danish Lutheran church, and older. A study of elderly populations in Iran found correlations between good mental health, social functioning and high religious coping (ability to use religiosity to cope with aging) (HeydariFard, Bagheri-Nesami and Shirvani 29). Another study in Norway found that religious or spiritual support can promote better health in elderly, thus it makes some sense that the older Copenhageners get, the more they are likely to value religion (Rykkje, Eriksson and Raholm 283). Although more research is needed, among people of the Copenhagen area, these factors seem to be predictive of religiosity the findings so help clarify the state of Copenhagen religiosity.
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Published on Jun 3, 2014