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Religion in Iceland

Formal religious affiliation in Iceland (2015)[1]

  Church of Iceland (73.76%)
  Other Christian denominations (11.65%)
  Other and unspecified (7.07%)
  Unaffiliated (5.61%)
  Other organisations (1.91%)
File:Hellnar church.jpg
Traditionally-built church at Hellnar, Snæfellsnes

Religion in Iceland was initially the Norse paganism that was a common belief among mediaeval Scandinavians who started settling Iceland in the 9th century AD, until Christian conversion around 1000 AD, though paganism did not vanish then. Starting in the 1530s, Iceland, originally Roman Catholic and under the Danish crown, formally became Lutheran, culminating in 1550 with the killing of the last Catholic bishop and the outlawing of Catholicism. Iceland still has a state church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland, though religious freedom has been a legal right since 1874. The state church is supported by the government, but all registered religions received support from a church tax paid by taxpayers over the age of 16 years.[2]

According to government records, the population is at present overwhelmingly Lutheran, although Catholics and other Christian minorities exist as well as several non-Christian minority groups. The largest non-Christian religious grouping was Ásatrú (Germanic folk religion). A Gallup poll conducted in 2012 found that 57% of Icelanders considered themselves "a religious person", 31% consider themselves "a non religious person", while 10% define themselves as "a convinced atheist", placing Iceland in top 10 atheist populations in the world.[3]


Early history

Further information: Christianisation of Iceland

The earliest inhabitants of Iceland were Irish monks, known as Papar. However, the small population was soon overwhelmed by migrations of Scandinavians, most of whom practiced what can loosely be called Germanic paganism, in the eighth and ninth centuries. The Christianisation of Iceland, like the rest of Scandinavia, was a long process, beginning before official conversation and continuing after it. Particularly through the influence of continental missionaries and pressure from the Norwegian king, Iceland officially converted in 999/1000 AD.[4]

The Reformation

During the Reformation, Iceland adopted Lutheranism in place of its earlier Roman Catholicism. Two local men, Oddur Gottskálksson and Gissur Einarsson, became disciples of Martin Luther and soon secured followers, particularly after King Christian III of Denmark and Norway declared himself for Lutheranism and began to enforce the change in his kingdom. This led to resistance, which escalated nearly to the point of civil war.

Jón Arason and Ögmundur Pálsson, the Catholic bishops of Skálholt and Hólar respectively, opposed Christian's efforts at promoting the Reformation in Iceland. The Reformation proved to be more violent in Iceland than in most of the lands ruled by Denmark, partly from Arason's proto-nationalistic[clarification needed] Ögmundur was deported by Danish officials in 1541, but Arason decided to fight. Opposition to the Reformation effectively ended in 1550 when Arason was captured after being defeated in the Battle of Sauðafell by loyalist forces under Daði Guðmundsson. Arason and his two sons were subsequently beheaded in Skálholt on November 7, 1550.

With Lutheranism firmly in place, Catholicism was outlawed, and Catholic church property was assumed by Iceland's rulers. Though Latin remained the official language of the Lutheran Church of Iceland until 1686, and a good part of the former Catholic terminology and other externals were retained, the Lutheran church differed considerably in doctrine. Those Catholics who refused to convert eventually fled, generally to Scotland. No Catholic priest was permitted be present in Iceland for more than three centuries.

The Catholic Church resumed missionary activities in Iceland from the 1850s, and today about 11,500 Icelanders belong to that faith. [5]


Starting in the eighteenth century, Pietism rose in importance due to activity from Denmark. The pietists expanded printing and literature in Iceland. However, education and literacy for the Pietists was primarily or solely to have a religious function and they discouraged anything without religious meaning.[6] This led to encouraging a certain dourness to Iceland by discouraging dancing or other entertainment.

Modern Iceland

About 281,000 Icelanders (85.5% of the population) are members of Christian congregations, of whom most (242.743 people or 73.8%) are members of the Church of Iceland. According to a 2004 survey[7] 69.3% of the total population claimed to be "religious", whereas 19.1 per cent said they were "not religious" and 11.6 per cent were unable to state whether they were religious. Of those who said they were religious, 76.3 per cent said that they were Christian, while 22.4 per cent said that they "believed in their own way".[8]

As in the other Nordic countries, church attendance is relatively low; only 10% of Icelanders go to church once a month or more frequently, 43% say that they never attend church and 15.9% say they attend church once a year.[9]

When asked to select a statement that best represented their opinion, 39.4% of Icelanders said they believe in the existence of a benevolent god to whom one can pray; 19.2% said that God must exist or else life would be meaningless; 19.7% said that it is impossible to know whether God exists; 26.2% said that no god exists; 9.45% said that God created the universe and presided over it; and 9.7% said that none of the aforementioned statements represented their opinion.[10]

Government role

There is a state church and the government pays the salaries of the 140 ministers in it. The state church is responsible for running all cemeteries and people of any religious belief or none can be buried in them.[11]

In addition all taxpayers 16 or older pay an annual church tax of ISK 8,741 (US$76, as of 2013) which goes to a religious or philosophical organization officially recognized by the government and to which they are registered. If they are not registered the money goes into the general revenue. People are free to belong to unrecognized religious or philosophical organizations (though they won't show up in the official statistics). People 16 or older are free to change their registration though children under 16 require the consent of their parents (between the ages of 12 and 16 both parents and child must consent).[11]


Officially, the nation is religiously homogenous. Nearly all Icelandic religious followers are Christian, and vast majority of these are Lutheran. Church attendance, however, remains low.[9]


Official statistics place Iceland as overwhelmingly Lutheran. The main church is the Church of Iceland which represents 73.8% of the population (2014). The Church of Iceland is also the State Church, but religious freedom is practiced. There are several "free Lutheran" churches as well which total 4.9% of the population. In recent years, there has been an increase in the proportion linked to the free Lutheran churches. In total, some 78.7% of the population are registered as some form of Lutheran.[1] However, these statistics are by some considered misleading since most people are automatically registered as members of the Church of Iceland. Estimates indicate that 11% of the population attend religious service regularly and 44% never attend.


Roman Catholicism is the largest non-Lutheran faith in Iceland, though remains practiced by a small minority of 11,454 persons[12] (3.5% of the population).[12] There is a Roman Catholic Diocese of Reykjavík with Pierre Bürcher as Bishop.[13] It is estimated that half of the nation's Catholics are foreign born with the main groups being Filipinos and Poles. However, even if they are excluded, Catholics are still about 1% of native Icelanders, a figure higher than for all other Scandinavian nations.[citation needed]

In the twentieth century, Iceland had some notable, if at times temporary, converts to the faith. For a time Halldór Laxness was Catholic. Although this did not last, his Catholic period is of importance due to his position in modern Icelandic literature.[citation needed] A more resolutely Catholic writer in Icelandic was Jón Sveinsson. He moved to France at 13 and became a Jesuit, remaining in Society of Jesus for the rest of his life. He was well liked as a children's book author (writing in German) and even appeared on postage stamps.[14]


The Pentecostals are the third largest religious group in Iceland. There are Pentecostal churches in Keflavík, Akureyri and the capital. A website in Icelandic, Gospel Iceland, also exists for the movement in Iceland.


The Anglican Church is in an unusual position in Iceland. Although significant as a world faith (with 80 million members), it has a limited presence in Iceland, and its future expansion may be limited by its entering into an "agreement of full communion" with the Lutheran Church of Iceland, known as the Porvoo agreement. Thus, Anglicans may effectively consider themselves to be Lutheran whilst in Iceland, and the two bodies have a full inter-recognition of each other's faith and practice, sacramental life, and ministry. Nonetheless, a single Anglican congregation meets monthly in Reykjavik, using the Lutheran Hallgrímskirkja church building to worship in the English language according to the rites of the Church of England.

Seventh-day Adventism

The Seventh-day Adventists have some organization in Iceland. They have their own website and also a local conference. Gavin Anthony is a leading figure in Adventism in Iceland.[15] That said, growth has been static for ten years and the Adventists tend to indicate this is caused by the generalized secularism of the nation. As of January 2014, there are 754 Adventists representing about .23% of the population.[1]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Mormons have a fairly small presence in Iceland, but worth mentioning for historical reasons. In the nineteenth century, LDS missionaries came to Iceland and converted a few local residents. In 1855, these residents would become the genesis of the first Icelandic community overseas in Spanish Fork, Utah.[16]

As of 1 January 2014 Iceland had 185 LDS members in 2 branches (Reykjavik and Selfoss).[1] A family history center for the church is also located in the Reykjavik meetinghouse.[17]

Independent Baptist

According to the national registry of Iceland, there are two Baptist Churches: Fyrsta Baptista Kirkjan (The First Baptist Church) with 26 members in 2014 and Emmanúels Baptistakirkjan (The Emmanuel Baptist Church) also with 26 members.[1]

In 2001 Missionaries Jeremy Gresham and Ben Wharton began laboring to see a Baptist church started in the Reykjavik area, a population base of 200,000 which is one-third of Iceland's population. The Church has grown over the years and is now registered with the Icelandic government as Emmanúels Baptistakirjan (The Emmanuel Baptist Church). Missionary Robert Hansen is currently pastoring the church. The Emmanuel Baptist Church offers a variety of Bible studies and outreaches in Icelandic and English as well as their scheduled weekly servises

Other Christian denominations

Jehovah's Witnesses officially report 379 members in Iceland, in seven congregations, based on members who engage in public preaching.[18] The National Registry estimates about twice that number, based on self-identification.

Eastern Orthodoxy, especially Serbian and Russian, has a small presence on the island. Various other Christian denominations are represented with fewer than 1,000 registered adherents.


File:Membership in non-Christian religious organizations in Iceland.svg
Membership in registered non-Christian religions in Iceland. The red line represents the Bahá'í faith, the green line represents neopaganism, the dark blue line represents Buddhism, and the light blue line represents Islam.

A small minority practice a variety of non-Christian faiths, whose total numbers account for about one percent of the population.

Paganism and Germanic folk religion

Main article: Ásatrúarfélagið

From the 1970s, there has been a revival of the Northern Germanic folk religion in Iceland. As of 2014, the Ásatrúarfélagið ("Association of the Faith of the Eses") had 2488 registered members, corresponding to approximately 0.8% of the total population.[19] In addition, another group of the Norse tradition is the "Reykjavik Chieftainship".[19] Zuism, self-identified as a Sumerian religion, was registered since 2014, though the number of adherents is listed as 2.[20]

Bahá'í Faith

The Bahá'í Faith in Iceland (Icelandic Bahá'í samfélagið á Íslandi) began when American Amelia Collins visited in 1924 and the first Icelandic Bahá'í was Holmfridur Arnadottir. The religion was recognized by the government in 1966 and the first Bahá'í National Spiritual Assembly was elected in 1972.[21] Currently around 400 Bahá'ís in the country governed by 8 Local Spiritual Assemblies. The number of assemblies is the highest percentage, by population, in all of Europe,[21] Danish scholar of religion Margit Warburg speculates that the Icelandic people are culturally more open to religious innovation.[21]


Main article: Buddhism in Iceland

Buddhism in the Icelandic branch of Soka Gakkai International (SGI) has grown to almost 200 members. In the 1990s more sects of Buddhism found their way to Iceland through immigrants from Thailand for the most part. As of 2009, there are three Buddhist organizations in Iceland officially recognized as religious organizations by the Icelandic government. Collectively they constitute 0.4%[22] as of 2013.


Main article: Islam in Iceland

Iceland started to gain a substantial Muslim population around the 1970s, both through immigration and through Icelanders converting. Iceland has two official Muslim organisations. As of 2013, the Muslim Association of Iceland (Félag múslima á Íslandi) has 465 members and the Islamic Cultural Centre of Iceland has 305 members.[23] However, the total number of Muslims living in Iceland may be rather larger, as many Muslims have chosen to join neither association.[24]


The number of Jews is estimated to be about 90 members. The Jewish population is not large enough to be registered as a separate religious group and is listed as unspecified/other groups. There is no synagogue or prayer house.

There was no significant Jewish population or emigration to Iceland until the twentieth century, though some Jewish merchants lived in Iceland temporarily at times during the nineteenth century. Icelanders' attitude toward the Jews has ranged from sympathy for their plight to blaming them for "Bolshevism", among other things. Although most Icelanders deplored their persecution, they usually refused entry to Jews who were fleeing Nazi Germany, so the Jewish population did not rise much during the Second World War.[25]

Today the Jews remain a minor element of Iceland. Up to 60 people do attend occasional Jewish holiday parties or lectures by Jewish immigrants, but this does not necessarily reflect the actual Jewish population. In 2011, a communal Passover Seder and High Holiday Services were held in Reykjavik. The World Jewish Congress had no figures for Iceland in 1998, suggesting that the numbers are under 120 (and likely well under that figure).[26] The website for the Catholic diocese indicated there are only 30 Jewish people in Iceland,[27] However when Chabad Rabbis conducted a search for Icelandic Jews, they came in contact with over 100 Jewish people living in Iceland. Still, it seems that, save for the European micro-states, Iceland might have the lowest Jewish population of any European nation.

Despite the small population, the First Lady of Iceland, Dorrit Moussaieff, is a Bukharian Jew and is likely the most significant Jewish woman in Icelandic history. Moussaief was born in Israel and carries both Israeli and Icelandic citizenship. She still follows some aspects of Judaism – lighting, for example, the first candle of the menorah on the eve of Hannukkah and teaching her husband about the holiday.[28] She has introduced Jewish culture to the country in a positive way in order to counter anti-Semitism.[29]


Main article: Irreligion in Iceland

Siðmennt[30] is the largest organization supporting humanists in Iceland. It is similar to the Human-Etisk Forbund in Norway, and like it, is recognized as a life stance community by the state (though only since 2013) and can receive funds from the state as registered religious organizations do. As of January 2015, it had 1020 registered members (0.31% of the Icelandic population),[1] a far lower proportion of the nation than the Norwegian organization.

Another 5.61% of the population formally has no religious affiliation.[1]

According to a 2004 Eurobarometer study Social Values, Science and Technology, eleven percent of Icelanders "don't believe in any sort of spirit, God, or life force".[31] while expressed belief in God was about the same in Iceland as in the UK and higher than in most of the Scandinavian countries. The plurality (and near majority) of Icelanders express a belief in a "spirit or life force" rather than in God or a generalized disbelief.

Religious organisation affiliation

  • 1 The state church is the Evangelical Lutheran Church, a Christian denomination, also known as the Church of Iceland.[32]
  • 2 Other and unspecified: Citizens who are registered as members of a religious organisation which is unregistered with Registers Iceland.[32]
  • 3 Unaffiliated: Citizens who are not registered as members of a religious organisation.[32]
Membership (1 January 2015)[32]
Organisation Religion Members %
Church of Iceland1
Christianity 242,743 73.76
Other and unspecified2 Various 23,259 7.07
Unaffiliated3 Unknown 18,458 5.61
Catholic Church
(Kaþólska kirkjan)
Christianity 11,911 3.62
Reykjavík Free Church
(Fríkirkjan í Reykjavík)
Christianity 9,556 2.90
Hafnarfjörður Free Church
(Fríkirkjan í Hafnarfirði)
Christianity 6,416 1.95
Independent Congregation
(Óháði söfnuðurinn)
Christianity 3,348 1.02
Ásatrú Association
Neopaganism 2,675 0.81
Pentecostal Church of Iceland
(Hvítasunnukirkjan á Íslandi)
Christianity 2,108 0.64
Buddhist Association of Iceland
(Búddistafélag Íslands)
Buddhism 1,022 0.31
Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association
(Siðmennt, félag siðrænna húmanista á Íslandi)
Humanism 1,020 0.31
Seventh-day Adventist Church in Iceland
(Kirkja sjöunda dags aðventista á Íslandi)
Christianity 721 0.22
Jehovah's Witnesses
(Vottar Jehóva)
Christianity 684 0.21
The Way
Christianity 591 0.18
Russian Orthodox Church of Iceland
(Rússneska rétttrúnaðarkirkjan á Íslandi)
Christianity 590 0.18
The Cross
Christianity 575 0.17
Muslim Association of Iceland
(Félag múslima á Íslandi)
Islam 486 0.15
Islamic Cultural Center of Iceland
(Menningarsetur múslima á Íslandi)
Islam 389 0.12
Bahá'í Faith in Iceland
(Bahá'í samfélagið á Íslandi)
Bahá'í Faith 381 0.12
Serbian Orthodox Church of Iceland
(Serbneska rétttrúnaðarkirkjan)
Christianity 293 0.09
The Icelandic Christ-Church
(Íslenska Kristskirkjan)
Christianity 258 0.08
Catch the Fire Reykjavík
(Catch the Fire (CTF))
Christianity 183 0.06
Christianity 181 0.05
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
(Kirkja Jesú Krists hinna síðari daga heilögu)
Christianity 179 0.05
SGI in Iceland
(SGI á Íslandi)
Buddhism 172 0.05
Church of Evangelism
Christianity 124 0.04
Free Church Kefas
(Fríkirkjan Kefas)
Christianity 122 0.04
Zen in Iceland – Night Pasture
(Zen á Íslandi - Nátthagi)
Buddhism 118 0.04
Christianity 91 0.03
Sjónarhæð Congregation
Christianity 60 0.02
The Salvation Army
Christianity 48 0.01
House of Prayer
Christianity 43 0.01
Heaven on Earth
(Himinn á jörðu)
Christianity 39 0.01
Church of the Resurrected Life
(Kirkja hins upprisna lífs)
Christianity 34 0.01
Church of God Ministry of Jesus Christ International
(Alþjóðleg kirkja Guðs og embætti Jesú Krists)
Christianity 33 0.01
Believer's Fellowship
(Samfélag trúaðra)
Christianity 30 0.01
Emmanuel Baptist Church
(Emmanúel baptistakirkjan)
Christianity 25 0.01
First Baptist Church
(Fyrsta baptistakirkjan)
Christianity 25 0.01
Port of Hope
Christianity 25 0.01
Reykjavik Chieftainship
Neopaganism 21 0.01
Family Federation for World Peace and Unification
(Fjölskyldusamtök heimsfriðar og sameiningar)
Christianity 20 0.01
Postulakirkjan Beth-Shekhinah
(Beth-Shekhinah Apostolic Church)
Christianity 18 0.01
Iceland Christian Nation
(Ísland kristin Þjóð)
Christianity 14 0.00
Endurfædd kristin kirkja
(Reborn Christian Church)
Christianity 7 0.00
Sumerian religion 4 0.00
Population 329,100 100.00

Eurobarometer Poll 2010

According to the most recent Eurobarometer Poll 2010,[33]

  • 31% of Icelandic citizens responded that they "believe there is a God".
  • 49% answered that they "believe there is some sort of spirit or life force."
  • 18% answered that they "do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force".
  • 2% responded that they "don't know".

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Populations by religious and life stance organizations 1998-2015". Reykjavík, Iceland: Statistics Iceland. 
  2. ^ "Constitution of Iceland". Government of Iceland. Retrieved 14 October 2014.  Section VI deals with religion
    Article 62: The Evangelical Lutheran Church shall be the State Church in Iceland and, as such, it shall be supported and protected by the State.

    This may be amended by law.

    Article 63: All persons have the right to form religious associations and to practice their religion in conformity with their individual convictions. Nothing may however be preached or practised which is prejudicial to good morals or public order.

    Article 64: No one may lose any of his civil or national rights on account of his religion, nor may anyone refuse to perform any generally applicable civil duty on religious grounds.

    Everyone shall be free to remain outside religious associations. No one shall be obliged to pay any personal dues to any religious association of which he is not a member.

    A person who is not a member of any religious association shall pay to the University of Iceland the dues that he would have had to pay to such an association, if he had been a member. This may be amended by law.
  3. ^ "GLOBAL INDEX OF RELIGION AND ATHEISM" (PDF). Retrieved 10 October 2013. 
  4. ^ Jenny Jochens, 'Late and Peaceful: Iceland's Conversion Through Arbitration in 1000', Speculum, 74 (1999), 621-55. DOI: 10.2307/2886763,
  5. ^ Annual Religion Statistics from Iceland
  6. ^
  7. ^ Trúarlíf Íslendinga: Viðhorfskönnun (2004), p. 26.
  8. ^ Trúarlíf Íslendinga: Viðhorfskönnun (2004), p. 28.
  9. ^ a b Trúarlíf Íslendinga: Viðhorfskönnun (2004), p. 56.
  10. ^ Trúarlíf Íslendinga: Viðhorfskönnun (2004), p. 30.
  11. ^ a b "2013 Report on International Religious Freedom". United States Department of State. Retrieved 25 February 2015. 
  12. ^ a b [1]
  13. ^ Cf. Holy See Press Office, Daily Bulletin of 30.10.2007, Rinunce e nomine, Rinuncia del Vescovo di Reykjavik (Islanda) e nomina del successore Invalid language code.
  14. ^ "Jon Sveinsson, SJ (Nonni)". Retrieved 2010-02-06. 
  15. ^ [2][dead link]
  16. ^ "Icelandic Language". Retrieved 2010-02-06. 
  17. ^ LDS Newsroom - Iceland
  18. ^ 2014 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. p. 180. 
  19. ^ a b Populations by religious organizations 1998-2014. Statistics Iceland.
  20. ^ Siðmennt og fjölgyðistrúin 'Zuism' hljóta skráningu sem trú- og lífsskoðunarfélög á Íslandi.
  21. ^ a b c Hassall, Graham; Fazel, Seena. "100 Years of the Bahá'í Faith in Europe". Bahá’í Studies Review 1998 (8). pp. 35–44. 
  22. ^ "Global Religious Landscape - Religious Composition by Country". The Pew Forum. Retrieved 28 July 2013. 
  23. ^ Mannfjöldi eftir trúfélögum 1998-2012 . (Icelandic).
  24. ^ Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir, 'To a Mosque on a Magic Carpet', Iceland Review, 52.1 (2014), 64--68 (p. 66).
  25. ^ [3][dead link]
  26. ^ "Jews by country. Definition, graph and map". 2005-03-03. Retrieved 2010-02-06. 
  27. ^ [4][dead link]
  28. ^ "Moussaieff موساييف мусаев מוסאיוף: From Bukhara to Iceland-Dorrit Moussaieff". 2005-04-09. Retrieved 2010-02-06. 
  29. ^ "וואלה!". Retrieved 2010-02-06. 
  30. ^ Siðmennt
  31. ^ "Eurobarometer Special Surveys". 2010-01-20. Retrieved 2010-02-06. 
  32. ^ a b c d
  33. ^ "Special Eurobarometer, biotechnology, page 204" (PDF). Fieldwork: January–February 2010.  Check date values in: |date= (help)

Further reading

External links

Roman Catholic Church

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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