Negotiating Jewish Identity - Jewish Life in 21st Century Norway

This project aims to establish new empirical and theoretical knowledge on the cultural and social practices of Jewish life in Norway in the 21st century. It also explores how Jews articulate and negotiate their identities and the complexities of belonging to a minority in a multicultural society.

About the Project

The project builds on the theoretical assumption that ‘Jewishness’ – as any group identity – is always enlivened, reinterpreted and contested, both within the Jewish community and in relation to the Norwegian majority and other minorities. It will also investigate how the conditions for being a Jew in Norway have been affected by societal and cultural changes in the last decades.

More specifically the changes relate to macro-level factors such as anti-Semitic incidents, increased migration and nationalism in Europe, Israeli politics and meso- or group-level factors like the role of Jewish institutions in a secularized and diverse Norway, divergent theological definitions of Jewish traditions, as well as identity (minority) politics amongst new generations of Jews. The proposal highlights a contemporary approach but the Holocaust is a powerful backdrop, and to what extent this collective memory represents a component in a Norwegian Jewish identity will be investigated. The specific Norwegian-Jewish history is also crucial for understanding how Norwegian-Jewish identities and cultural practices have been and still are developed.

The project includes studies ranging from fieldwork, interviews and focus-group interviews to text-studies, discourse analysis and surveys on attitudes towards and between minorities.


Our research goals are:

  • Explore the terms of how different Jewish identities are experienced and negotiated, and how these processes are influenced by local conditions, globalization and historical events.
  • Analyse the role of Jewish institutions in transmitting and interpreting history, tradition and religion.
  • Explore how Jewish youths articulate their Jewishness, gendered identity and complexities of belonging within the context of Jewish rites of passage.
  • Investigate on what terms the Holocaust is memorized, and to what extent this collective memory might represent a key component in a Norwegian Jewish identity.
  • Gain knowledge about how Norwegian Jews, as members of a multicultural society, experience their minority status.
  • Analyse the depiction of the Jewish minority in Norwegian media.
  • Gain knowledge on experiences of anti-Semitism.
  • Identify the significance of Israel in a Jewish-Norwegian identity.



Being Jewish in multicultural Norway

Historian of Religion Cora Alexa Døving and Political Scientist Claudia Lenz will conduct a study of minority-experiences amongst Jews, with a particular focus on relations to the Muslim minority and to the Norwegian majority. The increasing diversity of Norwegian society paves the way for more varied religious and cultural views and practices. This might make it somewhat easier to have a minority status and to fight for minorities’ rights, including those of the Jewish minority. At the same time, anti-Jewish attitudes amongst Muslims are well-known and feared by Jews. Public debate on Jewish religious practices such as religious slaughter and circumcision has resulted in some collaboration between Jews and Muslims. Muslim-Jewish relations will be explored based on focus-group interviews as well as through data from a survey covering attitudes between the two groups and their experiences as minorities.

Interwoven with Døving and Lenz’s study, two master students will examine depictions of Jews in Norwegian public life and social media. These studies will focus on representations of Jewishness as well as how Jewish debaters position themselves. Both Islam and Judaism are treated with some ambivalence in the press, and questions about the boundary for what can be regarded as Norwegian are often raised in media coverage of debates, particularly in connection with ritual practices (debates on circumcision are especially relevant): what terms undergird the Jewish minority’s representation in relation to notions of ‘Norwegianness’?


Young Norwegian Jewish Identities in an Age of Globalisation

Cathrine Thorleifsson explores how Jewishness is negotiated amongst Norwegian Jews. It investigates how Jewishness is enlivened, consumed and contested amongst young Jewish adults (18-40) and how meaning and identity-making are influenced by local conditions, processes of globalization and historical events. How do young Jews create local sites of belonging, and how does Jewish identification transcend the nation-state to include other Jews in time and space? How does memory and memorialization of the Holocaust coupled with the resurgence of antisemitism in Europe inform social experience, fear and identification with the state of Israel? Thorleifsson will interview and spend time with three young-adult Norwegian Jews and their wider networks. Participant observation will be conducted in multiple and changing sites where Jewishness is negotiated, such as social gatherings, cultural festivals, synagogue life and commemorative events as well as in social media.


An Orthodox Congregation, a Diverse Community, a Secular Society

Vibeke Kieding Banik, associate professor, University College of Southeast Norway. The aim of the project is to analyze the role of the orthodox Jewish community in Oslo (DMT) in (everyday) Jewish life in present Norway. DMT is the largest Jewish congregation by far in Norway, and it often serves as a consultative body for Jewish related topics in the society at large. However, despite its orthodox nature, members are mostly liberal non-orthodox, secular or even atheist in confession. My main research question is how the congregation, with all its internal paradoxes, defines Jewishness. What is included and what is not acceptable in being Jewish in their opinion? Further, I will analyze how these boundaries of Jewishness are perceived by members and non-members, differing in gender, age, degree of religiosity and geographical origins. Lastly, I will identify and analyze other ways of defining a Jewish identity by examining the role of Israel in Jewish life in Norway today. 

Negotiating Jewish identity - exploring Jewish life in Norway

Professor of Sociology of Religion Ida Marie Høeg (UiA) will study Unorthodox Jewish identities. The synagogue in Trondheim with only about 200 members does not have a liturgy, conversion and circumcision in the framework of Orthodox theology, as in Oslo, but draws inspiration and authority from of the conservative Jewish community in Stockholm. What significance does the liberal religious structure have for the Jewish community in the broadest sense – for the family, synagogue life and Jewish organizations? Several Jews do have a non-Jewish spouse, children, and relatives. What impact does it have for the Jewish life and for the Jewish identity? The project aims to explore the individualization hypothesis, and how the tensions between tradition and innovation, religion and secularism affect the identity construction among Jews, primarily among the younger. in Trondheim

Adolescence, Jewishness and Gender

Theologian Gunnar Haaland (HiOA,) studies identity construction in texts written by Jewish girls for their bat mitzva (12 years old) and bat chayil (15 years old) celebrations in the synagogue. How do the girls negotiate Jewishness and Norwegianness? How do they address gender and girlhood within an Orthodox, yet pluralistic and heterogeneous setting? How do they respond (explicitly or implicitly) to prejudices about and criticism of Judaism?

PhD position

We will announce a call for a PhD to enhance the knowledge about the memorizing of the Holocaust amongst Norwegian Jews. It will specifically answer RQ 6 and 1. As a historical event, the Holocaust is so immense that facts, collective narratives and family experiences are interwoven in complex ways. Through a PhD, we attempt to collect some of these layers based on how institutions disseminate the memory as well as what Norwegian Jews tell about the Holocaust as a topic of conversation within their families.


Management and cooperation

The project will be located at Center of Holocaust and Religious Minorities in Oslo, Norway. The centre’s mandate includes researching the conditions for minorities, especially the Jewish minority. The project manager is Dr. Cora Alexa Døving.

The board consists of Tony Kushner (professor of the history of Jewish/non-Jewish relations at the University of Southampton), Evelien Gans (professor of in modern Jewish history at the University of Amsterdam), Dr. Brian Klug (senior researcher at Oxford University), Dariusz Stola (Director of Museum Historii Zudow polskin POLIN in Warszawa), Dr. Cecilie Banke (senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies and head of the delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) and Johan Åberg (professorial assistant of Jewish studies, Uppsala University).

The project will also cooperate with the research network “Jews in Sweden – history of a minority” at Hugo Valentin-centrum, University of Uppsala, Jewish Museum in Stockholm, Jewish Museum in Trondheim, and Jewish Cultural Festival in Trondheim to disseminate its findings.

The research project is financed by the Norwegian Research Council (SAMKUL-program). The project period dates from 01.10 2017 to 01.10.2021

Published Oct. 16, 2017 1:53 PM - Last modified Sep. 30, 2020 10:55 AM