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    Norwegian University Bets on Islamic Theology for Second-Largest Religion's Sake

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    The step was made possible by a government grant; it has been presented as satisfying the growing needs of the country's multicultural populace.

    The Faculty of Theology at the University of Oslo will develop new study programs for religious leaders with specific emphasis on Islamic theology, Norwegian national broadcaster NRK reported.

    This is a direct result of the Norwegian parliament's decision to allocate NOK 5 million ($640,000) annually to establish a "flexible education of religious leaders" at the University of Oslo (UiO), which was taken in late 2017.

    According to Oddbjørn Leirvik of the UiO, the Faculty of Theology has long sought to establish a master's degree level education in Islamic theology. Therefore, the possibility of further expanding its multi-religious studies is more than welcome, he ventured.

    The course "Being a religious leader in Norwegian society" has been offered since 2007, with representatives of various religious communities taking part in the education process.

    "We think that more groups in society should have the opportunity to study theology within the framework of a university. Islam is the second-largest religion in Norway, and it is natural for Muslims to get this opportunity," Leirvik said.

    At the same time, however, Leirvik rejected the idea that the expansion will allow the faculty to educate imams.

    "We believe this is unrealistic to achieve in the short term. What we want to offer is studies in Islamic theology that anyone can take regardless of religious background," Leirvik said.

    According to Leirvik, the vision of the Faculty of Theology is to become a place where different religious traditions can congregate and be taught side by side in dialogue and cooperation.

    READ MORE: 'Let the West Burn': Norway Reveals Radicalization in 'Quran Schools' Abroad

    Leirvik stressed the university's "special responsibility" for developing a wide range of studies of Abrahamic religions. Therefore, the faculty has also begun developing Judaism studies, and has employed a part-time professor.

    UiO rector Svein Stølen also voiced his satisfaction with the government grant.

    "We must have professional and relevant study on offer. The assortment we are currently developing will respond to the needs of our multicultural society," Stølen told NRK.

    The University of Oslo is Norway's oldest university, and is traditionally ranked among Scandinavia's best. Until recently it was also the country's largest, but it has been surpassed by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

    According to Statistics Norway, the nation's immigrant population constituted about 17 percent of the population as of 2017, up from only 4.3 percent in 1992. The most common countries of origin of immigrants residing in Norway include Poland, Lithuania and Sweden.

    READ MORE: Migrants to Put Norwegian Welfare Under Stress, Outnumber Norwegians Soon

    Norway's Muslim community, mostly represented by Somalis, Iraqis, Syrians and Pakistanis, has been rising steadily since the 1960s. At present, Muslims are estimated to constitute about 4 percent of Norway's population of 5.2 million, however their density reaches as much as 10 percent in urban areas in and around Oslo.

    By contrast, Norway's tiny Jewish diaspora numbers between 700 and 1,200 people. Norway's Jewish population peaked before WW2, but suffered dramatic losses under the Nazi German occupation of the Nordic country, which lasted between 1940 and 1945.

    READ MORE: Norwegian Jews Signal Fiercer Anti-Semitism From Growing Muslim Diaspora

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    religious beliefs, education, religion, Islam, Scandinavia, Norway
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