Sweden - a country of fundamentalists?

5:03 min

You might be familiar with the Swedish philosophy of lagom: meaning not too much, not too little, but just right - in other words, perfect moderation. Well, while Sweden might be the land of lagom in terms of many things, according to a new study, it's also a country of extremes. 

On a scale of 1 - 10, how important is God in your life? Do you think abortion can always be justified, never be justified, or something in between? What about divorce? Homosexuality?

These are just a few of questions you get asked by a researcher face-to-face if you participate in the World Values Survey.

Professor Bi Puranen is the secretary general of the survey, which has been looking at attitudes of people all over the globe since 1981. In this last wave of the survey, which finished up last year, 85,000 people took part. Researchers then use this data to chart how dozens of countries stack up to each other in terms of the values there. And here's where Sweden ended up:

"We were a bit surprised when we started to do these surveys, because we saw that we were really not in the middle - lagom as you say. We were outliers," says Puranen.

With respect to Swedes, the study concludes that they are "extreme fundamentalists or avant garde in many ways". So, in Sweden, people value self-expression the most of all the countries surveyed, meaning they give a high priority to environmental protection, and that they have a growing tolerance of foreigners, gays and lesbians, gender equality, and that they also prioritize democracy.

And after Japan, researchers found Swedes to have the most secular-rational values, meaning there's less emphasis on religion, traditional family values and authority. To put this in perspective, at the opposite end of the spectrum are autocratic countries that prioritize religion, like Qatar, according to Professor Puranen.

Sweden's extreme liberalness, if you want to put it that way, poses an interesting problem in terms of the limits of tolerance, as she explains that in Sweden, it can be hard for people who do not share the commonly accepted values to fit in.