Churching Alone: A Study of the Danish Folk Church at Organisational, Individual, and Societal Levels

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesisResearch


  • Karen Marie Leth-Nissen
The aim of my dissertation is to study changes in the use of the Danish folk church. Through my studies, I am establishing a new research concept: churching alone. I work as a practical theologian using methods from the
sociology of religion. My theoretical perspectives are drawn from the research fields of sociology of religion, political science, legal scholarship, and systematic theology. My concept of churching alone addresses a growing trend at the individual level of the Danish folk church. First, I have shown that there is a shift away
from “obligation to choice”, as per the work of sociologist of religion Grace Davie (2013a; 2006; 1994), wherein individuals no longer feel obliged to participate in folk church rituals, but only feel obliged to make choices as to
whether they will use them. Secondly, I tried to argue that there was a shift from “long-term to short-term consumption” of the folk church, using theologian and sociologist of religion Per Pettersson's research (2013; 2000). However, my research showed that there is both long-term and short-term patterns of consumption present in the use of the folk church. Underneath these individual (micro) level trends, I showed a trend towards
a management focus at organisational (meso) level. Using the theories of sociologists of religion Francois Gauthier, Linda Woodhead and Tuomas Martikainen (Gauthier et al. 2013), theologian Jens Schlamelcher (2013b), theologian and sociologist of religion Ulla Schmidt (2016), I analysed the organisational level of the Danish folk church. Testing for the trend of a management focus, I used indicators relating to economist Christopher Hood’s (1991) concept of New Public Management. Moreover, I used Pettersson’s concept of the folk church as a service provider to look for “an openness towards individualisation of the users of the folk church”, seen as a rise in the supply of target-oriented activities in the folk church (Pettersson 2000). I argued that the trend towards a management focus is supporting the changes connected to churching alone.
For discussing the impact of the changes on Danish society, I include a social capital perspective drawn from the work of political scientist Robert D. Putnam (2000). Expanding the concept, I also add sociologist James
Coleman’s concept of social structures as elaborated by political scientist Corwin E. Smidt (Coleman 1988 in Smidt 2003). Furthermore, I include sociologist Dietlind Stolle and Bo Rothstein’s concept of institutional structures (Stolle 2003 in Lüchau 2013; Rothstein and Stolle 2008).
I found that use of the Danish folk church is connected to building social capital, though it is more bonding social capital that is created in this use than bridging forms of social capital.
Methodologically, I combined the use of surveys with interviews and fieldwork, including document sources and statistical data. In the course of my study, I worked in different modes – distanciation and participation –
using both quantitative and qualitative research methods. My research approach resembles the approaches used in the research field of empirically informed practical theology. Though using a diverse research strategy, I do
not claim to present a universal knowledge of the context of the church through this study; my goals are “particularity” and “diversity” following philosopher Lorraine Code (2013). For the study, I conducted ten interviews with deans of the folk church, and included source material and quantitative data for testing the hypotheses. I re-analysed ten interviews from the “baptism study” (Leth-Nissen and Trolle 2015) using a life history approach as per Goodson and Gill (2011a;
2011b). The findings were supplemented by analyses of data from the survey YouGov “Baptism” 2014, and the YouGov “Social capital” 2016 survey. Furthermore, I ran statistical tests on the dataset of YouGov “Social capital”
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationCopenhagen
PublisherDet teologiske Fakultet
Number of pages324
ISBN (Print)978-93361-44-7
Publication statusPublished - 25 Apr 2018
EventChurching Alone: PhD Defense, Karen Marie Leth-Nissen - Faculty of Theology, Copenhagen , Denmark
Duration: 9 May 20189 May 2018
SeriesPublikationer fra Det Teologiske Fakultet


OtherChurching Alone
LocationFaculty of Theology
Internet address

    Research areas

  • Faculty of Theology - folk church, church sociology, empirical research, Practical theology, use of church

Number of downloads are based on statistics from Google Scholar and

No data available

ID: 196379017