Swedish schools teach that faith is outmoded and irrational
Swedish researcher Karin Kittelmann Flensner, above, is calling for a better approach to religious studies after she found that faith in schools is portrayed as ‘incompatible with being a modern, rational and independently thinking human being’.
According to this report, University of Gothenburg’s Flenser said in a doctoral thesis that, in Swedish classrooms, religion is often associated with an obsolete time when people just didn’t know better – as if religion once served a purpose but there is no need for it in the modern world.
She found that, in contrast, a non-religious, atheistic position is articulated as a neutral and unbiased approach to religion.
I had not expected this discourse to be so strong in all the studied classrooms.
Flensner’s study is based on observations of religious education in three Swedish public upper-secondary schools during the school year of 2011-2012. She followed 13 teachers who taught in 24 different student groups.
Sweden is often described as the world’s most secularised country, and Flensner found that the country’s secular attitudes were easily discernible and dominated the talk about religion and worldviews.
Students and teachers also talked about Sweden as being a Christian country. However, this view did not refer to religious faith but rather to the Swedish tradition and history, and the point of the discussion was often to define a “we” in relation to a “them”.
In the classrooms, “the others” became synonymous with religious people in general and Muslims in particular.
The national syllabus of Religious Education emphasises the importance of understanding and respecting people with different views and backgrounds, but the results of her study suggest that these aims may be difficult to reach if people belonging to various religious traditions are described as unintelligent and deceived, which was often the case.
She claims that it also makes it difficult to prepare the students for a life in a pluralistic society.
If teachers can be made aware of how religion and people with religious faith are talked about in their classrooms, I believe they can contribute to a learning environment that better promotes understanding and respect between different positions.
We live in a pluralistic society, and I believe the school and Religious Education can play a key role in promoting positive development.