An important question to ask regularly is how we can make heritage accessible, and use it so it has relevance to many and can become a factor of main societal influence. Twelve percent of the population in Norway today are immigrants. A major challenge in today´s pluralistic society is to balance the need to respect each individual´s cultural and religious rights and at the same time promote collective solidarity and belonging. Religion is a societal power that contributes to build knowledge and culture, but it is also a force that can create conflicts and barriers for integration.
It is assumed that religious communities play an important role for immigrants to establish a belonging in a new country. Besides strengthening their religious faith, religious communities present social arenas where people of similar cultural and national belonging can meet, exchange information, provide help and gain support etc.
Demographic, cultural and economic changes in Norway have led to a situation where a series of religious buildings in Norway are facing tightening economy, thereby raising problems regarding their future. Extended use of buildings becomes more important in times when social, economic and demographic patterns are changing and concerns for the sustainability of buildings and resources are growing. Instead of leaving churches empty, they can be opened for use by communities of different religious denominations.
A main challenge facing churches today are how cultural heritage can be developed without diminishing heritage values. Many churches have been ascribed national heritage values, and established ideas and values attached to church buildings through generations might present specific hindrances on individual or societal level when religious communities of different denomination make use of such buildings. But active use is often the best way to preserve buildings. We need to know more about what changes are taking place when new religious communities make use of traditional religious arenas (churches) for performing their own religious ceremonies: Are there conflicting interests between safeguarding important national religious cultural heritage and promoting new interreligious contact across cultural, social and religious boarders?
Today it is necessary to pay special attention to how globalisation and cultural complexity are influencing societal development. As cultural heritage researchers and managers we have a special obligation to examine what national premises and cultural patterns respectively promote and counteract integration.
Grete Swensen, Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research