Norwegian teen drama Skam to be studied in a religion course

The famous Norwegian teen drama Skam (Shame) drew the attention of academics for its skilfully created characters and themes. The University of Oslo will open a study of religion course on the series in the next autumn semester.

What will “Religion in Skam” focus on? “Honour and dishonour. Slutshaming and closet gays. Sex of all kind. Identity. Fear of pregnancy. Drugs. Relationship between parents and children.”

Professor Dag Øistein Endsjø, the author of the book Sex and Religion: Teachings and Taboos in the History of World Faiths, which has been published in eleven languages, answered my questions about the course he is responsible for.

“Skam captures the religious landscape in contemporary Norwegian society”

How did you decide to start an academic course around a popular series?

It was actually Siren Leirvåg, one in our eminent administration, who came up with the idea, but everyone in the staff immediately recognized how well Skam captures the religious landscape in contemporary Norwegian society and as such is perfect for the study of religion.

In the course, you will be looking at how the actions of different Skam characters are influenced by religion. And when religion is mentioned, it is mostly Sana, the main character of Season 4, that comes to mind because she is a Muslim. But you argue that all of us are characterized by religion in some ways. Can you explain that?

How people in Norway act in regards to sex, gender, honour, and many other beliefs continues to be influenced by religion directly or indirectly. Christian values, symbols and myths still remain strong in society and are something everyone must relate to, regardless whether one wants to or not. In addition Islam has gained a large degree of visibility, becoming something like the absolute “other” and influencing the Norwegian ideas about religion and what it means to be religious on a general level.

“It is still Christian values which provide the closet that Isak must come out of”

In your Aftenposten interview, you explain that even though Isak, the main character of Season 3, is not a believer himself, he still experiences the Christian values and symbols regarding his homosexuality. How does religion continue to be so engrained in sexual matters even in a seemingly secular society?

If Norway had been a truly secular society, homosexuality would not have been an issue at all. It is still Christian values, or the remnant of those, which provide the closet that Isak must come out of, and make most people assume that everyone is heterosexual before until the opposite is established.

“Shameless Muslim girls” for equal rights

As part of the course, you will also put SKAM in different contexts to see how much things would have changed. Thinking about Sana character, her daydreaming of male body and exploration of her desires are not something we see everyday on TV and I cannot even imagine it happening in Turkey. How do you see the interaction between human rights in Norway and the freedom of Muslim women and queers?

The last fifteen years have seen a distinct shift in Norway recognizing LGBT rights as human rights. Before it was more a question of a group that the majority should show compassion for, not a question about a group whose most basic rights were systematically withheld. There are still many challenges, not least for many Muslim Norwegians, but things here are also changing fast with many Muslim Norwegians themselves calling for equal rights in the regard of gender, sexual orientation and gender identity, not least the group of self-pronounced Muslim “skamløse jenter”, or “shameless girls”, who have gained considerable support and admiration.

In Turkey, the academia is not very engaged in the study of religion despite the fact that religion is a big element of Turkish social structure. So, in Norwegian society where many people don’t identify themselves through religion, what is the extent of academic interest in religion from the academics and students alike?

The interest in the study of religion has increased considerably the last few decades along with a more pronounced awareness of how important religion continues to be for our society and culture

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