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New book about religious education in a landscape of non-believers

Published

Hello Olof Franck, associate professor of philosophy of religion and senior lecturer in social studies education at the Department of Pedagogical, Curricular and Professional Studies and one of the editors of a new book published in Swedish and titled Att undervisa om människosyner och gudsuppfattningar.

The book explores the challenges teachers face when teaching children and adolescents about religion, views of life and the divine in an increasingly secularised society.
Sweden is considered one of the most secularised countries in the world.

What challenges do teachers of religious education face in an environment where most people find it strange to believe in a god?
‘Recent Swedish research shows that provision of religious education can be challenging because of the great variety in religious and existential views teachers face in most classrooms. It’s important that teachers and their pupils and students together create a communicative environment in which everybody feels it’s safe to contribute regardless of opinion and belief.’

Many people in Sweden claim to believe in some form of spirit or life force. So how secularised are we? Can we refer to Sweden as a post-Christian nation?
‘One important task of teachers involved in religious education is to work against generalisations of religions, faiths and their followers. There are indeed strong indications, for example in the quite extensive World Value Survey, that Sweden is a country in which religion is less important to many people – maybe even most people – than in many other nations around the world. But it’s a complex issue, not only in Sweden but also elsewhere. It’s exciting stuff. In some respects, you can describe Sweden as “post-Christian”, but then you need to remember that both Christian and other religious traditions do remain vital in society and many people’s lives. You can also, like Jürgen Habermas and others, refer to Swedish society as ”post-secular”.’
It’s important to keep in mind that many people don’t want to, are not able to or are not interested in having a religious faith.

What do you tell those who even believe that religion is a direct threat to a civilised and democratic society?
‘Not surprisingly, I’ve come across that attitude quite often in my 20 years as an upper secondary teacher in philosophy and religious studies. However, legitimate objections against violence and other destructive behaviour rooted in religious faith can easily give rise to the perception that anything religious is a problem. Religion is s complex concept exhibiting uncountable points of reference and forms of expression that also include social, cultural and other dimensions. Teachers should take said attitude seriously and at the same time try to convey the immense diversity in the area of religion, including how religion has inspired actions for peace and democracy and against social injustices.’