TFF4281 – Extremism, Democracy, Religion

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Course content

Why do we see the rise of a new radical political right in Europe and the USA, with its ultra-nationalism, white supremacy ideals, attacks on liberal democracy and gender equality, and dreams of returning to a gated homeland and natural, ethnic religions? Are Aspirational Fascism or Culture Wars adequate terms for this occurrence? The course provides a conceptual basis for reflection on the emergence of both radical (activist) and extremist (violent) movements on the political right today and how certain religious ideologies and/or ritual imaginaries are used to mobilize individuals and groups. Democratic theories will be juxtaposed with religious thinking or ideologizing, including with representatives of Protestant theology, Christian nationalism, and neopagan Odinism. The political extremist Anders Behring Breivik's 22 July 2011 terrorist attacks on Oslo and Utøya, and the massive counter-response to his atrocities in the streets of Oslo, is the main case. The course will also explore the ritual imaginaries and competencies mobilized in these counter-responses.

Religion and democracy are historically ambivalent. While democracy includes a concept of people as 'demos' - a political and legal constitution of a people as citizens of a nation-state, traditional religion inherited a notion of people closer to 'ethnos' and the adjacent language of kinship, blood, and land. Ultranationalists draw inspiration from the past, from narratives of traditional religion and patriarchal culture, including from envisioned forms of historical Christianity. When they mobilize, ethnos is re-articulated. On the opposite end, we have globally inclusive counter-movements, such as Occupy, Black Lives Matter and Me-Too. Beginning in 2011, Occupy tried to reformulate radically inclusive forms of demos. They critiqued violence from the principle of pre-figurative politics, which assumes that how people organize (and ritualize) will determine the outcome of the expected results. Yet, the mobilization in the streets of Oslo - aimed at dissociation from Breivik - was not a political action but a spontaneous, ritualized form of collective protest, solidarity, and condolence. In this course, we will explore religion and politics in the contemporary West through these particular configurations.

Articles from the NFR funded research project REDO (Reassembling Democracy. Ritual as Cultural Resource 2013-2017), are included in the syllabus. They examine Breivik's anti-democratic ideology and killing acts, the ritual responses to his extreme violence, and how new social movements – such as Occupy – perform participatory democracy.

Learning outcome

• Provide students with an in-depth understanding of the relationships and differences between democracy and religion, and the significance of ritual competence in democratic public space

• Develop students' critical understanding of what the return of nationalist ideologies in the contemporary West implies, and of the difference between extremist and radical right politics

 • Provide students with theoretical and methodological frameworks for analyzing the relationship between extremism and religion, democracy and ritual

• Provide students with new knowledge by using Breivik's ideology and peoples' ritualized responses in the streets of Oslo as case

• By expecting oral presentations of syllabus-related questions in class the course will provide students with the skills to debate and engage critically and constructively in normative political controversies from the perspectives of religious studies and theology


Students who are admitted to study programmes at UiO must each semester register which courses and exams they wish to sign up for in Studentweb.

Students enrolled in other Master's Degree Programmes can, on application, be admitted to the course if this is cleared by their own study programme.

If you are not already enrolled as a student at UiO, please see our information about admission requirements and procedures.

Students studying at master’s level on the Theology Programme and Teacher Education Programme may apply to the course by sending an email to by the same deadlines as for course registration for bachelor courses at TF.

In case of available capacity on the course, individual admission can be granted to the course for applicants with relevant previous studies and a bachelor's degree/equivalent completed education. (Foreign education must be approved by NOKUT as being minimum equivalent to a Norwegian bachelor's degree.) It is also required that the student is registered with Higher Education Entrance Qualification ("generell studiekompetanse") including Norwegian and English language proficiency at the University of Oslo, for example is qualified as a single course student at the bachelor level. You can register your interest by submitting an interest registration web form for TFF4281 (in Norwegian) by the deadline: December 15, 2021. This registration of interest will be treated as an application for admission to the course, if there is available capacity, cf. more information on the web form.

Overlapping courses

10 credits overlap with TFF3281 – Extremism, Democracy, Religion (discontinued)


The classes are a combination of lectures, seminars, and excursions, and active participation is expected. There will be short lectures to introduce concepts, themes, and subthemes and short student presentations. Priority is given to discussion, application, excursion experience, and reflection in relation to primary themes.

Excursions to the July 22 center in Oslo and Utøya (Democratic learning center and Memorial site) are part of the seminar.


Mandatory requirements

Three submissions in Canvas. One oral presentation in class. 

- 1 reflection essay (1500-2000 words) based on a syllabus text (article or chapter). Short oral presentation in class of main findings.

- 1 argumentative, written response (max 300 words each) to another student's reflection essay.

- 1 full draft of a thematic paper on a topic from the syllabus literature (3000-3500 words when finished).  




The portfolio should contain the following:

1 reflection essay

1 thematic paper (finished)

The texts chosen as assignments for the portfolio is based on the submissions in Canvas. The student has the opportunity to improve both documents right up to the examination deadline.

Submit assignments in Inspera

You submit your assignment in the digital examination system Inspera. Read about how to submit your assignment.

Use of sources and citation

You should familiarize yourself with the rules that apply to the use of sources and citations. If you violate the rules, you may be suspected of cheating/attempted cheating.

Language of examination

You may write your examination paper in Norwegian, Swedish, Danish or English.

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail. Read more about the grading system.

Explanations and appeals

Resit an examination

Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.

Facts about this course






Every spring


Every spring

Teaching language