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Swedish teachers and students often talk about religion as something outdated and strange

In Swedish classrooms, religion is often associated with an obsolete time when people just didn’t know better – as if religion used to serve a purpose but there is no need for it in the modern world. This is the conclusion of a doctoral thesis from the University of Gothenburg that explores how teachers and students talk about religion and worldviews within the framework of non-confessional integrative Religious Education in upper-secondary classrooms.

‘I found that religious faith is portrayed as incompatible with being a modern, rational and independently thinking human being. 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,’ says Karin Kittelmann Flensner, who wrote the thesis.

Kittelmann Flensner’s study is based on observations of Religious Education in three Swedish public upper-secondary schools during the schoolyear 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 Kittelmann Flensner found that the country’s secular attitudes were easily discernible also in the studied classrooms and dominated the talk about religion and worldviews.

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