Religious Education in the European Context. Comparing aims in the Swedish and Greek curriculum

Issue 25

“Religious Education in the European Context. Comparing aims in the Swedish and Greek curriculum”

Sofia Antera

Pages 7 -26


Over the previous decade, a rise in terrorism combined with the growing discrimination on multi-religious societies, have put global peace in danger, highlighting the role of religious education (RE) and the need to be brought in discussion anew. Globalization of the education arena has led to supranational organizations having increasing influence over national policymaking, raising questions about the extent that the suggestions of international institutions are reflected in the national curricula. This article looks into the cases of Sweden and Greece. A comparison of curricula, and more specifically aim catalogues, demonstrates how the same suggestions can take different forms in different national contexts.
The Council of Europe has refrained from defining religious education. However, acknowledging the important role religious education can play, the intercultural education approach has been linked with religious education in an attempt to develop critical empathy and dialogue that will foster respect for the rights of others. For that purpose, it is suggested that the aims and values of intercultural education should be infused in the subject of religious education. Therefore, both Greece and Sweden are expected to comply with the learning about and learning from religions approach. Learning about religion, or education about religion, referrs to the acquisition of knowledge about different religions and non-religious outlooks of life. Moreover, learning from religion or education from religion, aims to assist students widening and deepening their understanding of religions.
The method of the study is thematic template analysis. This style of analysis is more flexible regarding the format of the coding template, since it does not suggest a specific sequence of coding levels. The themes emerging are compared with reference to the Greek and Swedish curriculum, but also with the themes emerging from the suggestions of supranational organizations on the subject of religious education.
Findings indicate that the Swedish and Greek general aims coincide to a large extent, as both promote the principles of religious freedom, non-discrimination, and independence of religion and politics. On closer examination, this proves to be an illusory similarity. The Greek curriculum seems to lack independence due to the confessional approach that the country has adopted. Hence, the curriculum focuses on students perceiving and understanding the complicated and crucial role of the Orthodox Church in the formation of the neo Hellenic culture, making an implicit reference to the Hellenic–Christian civilization as the source of national identity.
On the other hand, in the Swedish case, it is obvious that religious education has been a concern of the state and the scholars for several years. Adopting a different perspective, the pedagogics of religion are approached as a scientific discipline indicating that religion is perceived as a philosophy of life and religious education as a mean of exploring it and understanding society more thoroughly. According to the comparison and the analysis of the curricula, the Swedish approach seems to better supports the development of critical thinking and respect through reflecting on societal issues, ethical models and historical aspects of religions.
In conclusion, the emergence of multicultural societies is a unique opportunity to recognize the positive contribution that religious education can have to maintaining social cohesion. Students as future citizens need well-rounded, multifaceted education, which will provide them with skills and attitudes, in order to explore the world and themselves. Religious education can serve as self-exploration tool, as it did since the beginning of the humankind.

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