Teaching religion in today’s classroom

My name is Geir Skeie. I’m working here at Stockholm university as a professor of religious education, in the department of – – education in humanities and social sciences. I think religion in school is an important tool for making it better or easier for – – people to live together in society, which is diverse. School is now one of the few collectives or common arenas where these issues – – can be taken up. That’s one reason why religious education is still important in school, if it’s good religious education. In order to work with how to teach and learn religion in school, you need to know something about it in society. That is changing all the time. In Sweden we had a strong tradition of teaching the Christian religion – this was also the state – – religion. Now we are far beyond that and instead teaching about religions and different world views. In order to do that, you have to know something about the changes that are happening to religion in society, and try to filter that – – into school as well. The pupils you meet in school are living in the same society and used to living together with people with – – different believes and religions. That has to be reflected also in the teaching and learning in school. Religious education research is both normative in the sense that it’s trying to find solutions and suggest ways of working with – – teaching/learning in school. But it’s also a descriptive science – researching how young people and teachers think about religion. Sometimes the teachers say that it’s difficult to get the pupils to open up. In Swedish schools you will often find a situation where – – the secular pupils (with background of secular world views) are dominating the classroom. Sometimes the pupils with religious background don’t feel confident coming out with their views. Then you get a discussion in the classroom that’s not really representing the views of the pupils, but also not representing the – – views of the people in the society. The plurality in the society is not represented in the classroom and there’s a challenge for – – the teacher to deal with this. Many teachers in religion don’t have the sufficient subject area knowledge to enter these – – discussions – the pupils know more than the teachers. Another difficulty is that teachers sometimes are a bit insecure about the – – tensions among the pupils, and therefore are reluctant to enter the discussions. Sometimes the discussions are suffering from that. But many teachers are also interested in developing their teaching into a better – – environment in the classroom. One teacher I worked with made a religious “cardboard house” that could be equipped as a church, mosque, temple and so on. She worked with her small pupils, filling in the material that should belong in the house. In the church they would put in a alter and in the mosque a place for the imam to talk. By doing this together with the pupils they were better acquainted with the way these religious houses were made up. They could discuss about “what is a religious house? How much do we know about it?” They even discussed the windows and issues – – related to what they could see through the window. There were a lot of opportunities to deal with quite complicated issues – related to religion, with quite small children, by this device that she just made up as part of our development project.

  1. Teaching & discussing the concept of religions is healthy…. "O son of being ! Make mention of Me on My earth, that in My heaven I may remember thee, thus shall Mine eyes and thine be solaced." ~ Bahá'u'lláh,

  2. Teaching religion to a bunch of atheists. Not sure what that accomplishes. It doesn't generate respect for the religious, it does the opposite. It makes me realize how irrational their beliefs are.

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