Special Issue "Teaching Controversial Issues and Religion"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444). This special issue belongs to the section "Religions and Humanities/ Philosophies".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 August 2020).

Special Issue Editor

Prof. Dr. Marie von der Lippe
Website
Guest Editor
Full Professor of The Study of Religion, Department of Archaeology, History, Culture Studies and Religion, University of Bergen, Norway
Interests: religious studies; didactics; religious education; youth and religion; religion and politics; diversity

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

In societies shaped by increasing secularization and religious and ethical plurality, new topics will continually arise that may be perceived as controversial. The lines of conflict are drawn up in ever new ways, as individuals and groups rally around specific cases, while other combatants withdraw from the field. Examples of such hot-button topics include the wearing of hijabs and niqabs (as hotly debated for quite some time in several European countries), ritual circumcision, same-sex marriage, religiously motivated terrorism, human rights, or a religious community’s right to discriminate on the basis of gender and sexual orientation. Whether the issues are perceived as controversial or not depends on the specific context (both in time and place), and issues that are controversial in one country will not necessarily be equally controversial in another. Nor do such disagreements arise only at the national, regional or local level but can even be identified as disagreements at both group and individual levels. In an educational context, this means that what is considered controversial in one school—or even in one class—may be of no significance in another.

Recent classroom studies have uncovered that teachers of religion education feel that it is demanding to address controversial issues in their teaching, and that they lack the basic disciplinary and didactic skills to manage issues of such complexity. The same studies also reveal that pupils want to discuss controversial issues, and that they therefore bring them up in the classroom regardless of whether the teacher has prepared for such a discussion or not. Hence, there is much that indicates how necessary it is to develop teacher’s disciplinary and didactic competence in this area and that the issue is addressed in teacher education, in the study of religion(s), and among specialists in religion education.

What teachers perceive as controversial and what issues they find challenging to teach is dependent on the context, the teachers’ subject knowledge, and their pedagogical and didactical skills to moderate challenging discussions in the classroom. In 2015, The Council of Europe launched a “training pack” for teachers on how to deal with controversial issues in the classroom. In this publication, the challenges of teaching controversial issues are summarized in five broad headings: teaching style, teachers’ responsibility to protect student sensitivities, classroom climate and control, teachers’ lack of expert knowledge, and their ability to deal with spontaneous questions and remarks (CoE 2015, 15). At the same time, the Council emphasizes that there are no simple solutions on how to respond to the challenges concerning teaching controversial issues. What is needed is, therefore, according to the Council, “sensitivity to context and flexibility of response” (CoE 2015, 18). In the case of religion education, this sensitivity also includes awareness of school context and what kind of religion education the students are offered. What may be considered controversial in a nonreligious public school may be of no concern in a religious confessional school, and the same could be the case within different models of RE.

Previously, there has been little debate on the teaching of controversial issues in religion education. Some scholars have even maintained that religion education has been taught in a largely harmonizing manner and that other perspectives more critical of religion have been downplayed. By contrast, there has been a widespread interest in how controversial issues are presented in the political classroom and in social studies classes, with several scholars pointing out that the opportunity to discuss controversial topics in such classes is part of learning about democracy and prepare students for lives as democratic citizens. This Special Issue provides a timely and great opportunity to address these issues within the context of religion education both in schools and at universities.

The Special Issue invites both theoretical and empirical contributions from scholars and researchers in the study of religion(s) and religion education to provide new and innovative perspectives to the debate on controversial issues and religion. Issues of interest are, amongst others:

  • What are controversial issues and hot topics in the study of religion(s) and religion education?
  • Who decides whether something is controversial, and how does it affect how a subject is taught whether a topic is presented as either controversial or not?
  • When and why do students bring controversial issues into the classroom?
  • What do students, RE teachers, and teacher students perceive as controversial, and what issues do they find challenging to teach and learn about?
  • How may the study of religion(s) and teacher education in RE contribute to developing future teachers disciplinary and didactic competence in this area?

Which issues will be perceived as controversial in a society at any given time is by no means given but depends on factors such as social context and the political climate. A central and highly current issue in the field of education is therefore how schools and universities should relate to hot topics on religion now—and in the future.

Prof. Dr. Marie von der Lippe
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1000 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • controversial issues
  • religious studies
  • religious education
  • teacher education

Published Papers (7 papers)

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Research

Open AccessArticle
Controversial Issues and the Rhetoric of Common Values
Religions 2020, 11(10), 528; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11100528 - 14 Oct 2020
Abstract
In this article, I identify a broad, international ‘rhetoric of common values’, which hinges on the poorly supported assumption that values should be promoted because the sharing of values are the basis for social cohesion in groups. Through discussing two cases, I identify, [...] Read more.
In this article, I identify a broad, international ‘rhetoric of common values’, which hinges on the poorly supported assumption that values should be promoted because the sharing of values are the basis for social cohesion in groups. Through discussing two cases, I identify, analyse and critique key features of the empirical phenomenon that I call the rhetoric of common values. The two cases are the British government response to the so-called ’Trojan Horse’ incident in 2014, and Norwegian core curricula since 1974. Previous research has critiqued the use of the term ’fundamental British values’ as being unhelpful when schools teach controversial issues. The results of my analysis provide international breadth, some historical depth and metaphorical structure to our understanding of how the rhetoric of common values is used in education policy today. The article focusses less on dilemmas faced by teachers and more on the context of choice established ‘upstream’ by education policy. I argue that it is timely and important for teachers in religious education to understand the rhetoric of common values. It is a contemporary and politically relevant way in which religion is mobilised and politicised for exclusionary forms of national identity. Avoiding the rhetoric of common values does not mean avoiding values in education policy. The rhetoric of common values identitizes values. This causes the terms ‘values’ to be mobilised in boundary work separating ‘us’ from ‘them’, thus undercutting a better role of values in education policy: to reflect upon, and make relevant in life, guidelines for future action. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Teaching Controversial Issues and Religion)
Open AccessArticle
Conspiracy Theories in the Classroom: Problems and Potential Solutions
Religions 2020, 11(10), 494; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11100494 - 28 Sep 2020
Abstract
Conspiracy narratives and speculative rumors of a conspiracist nature are intermittently popular in youth culture, as well as in political discourse. The general motivations of conspiracy beliefs relate to essential needs (for knowledge, to feel safe and secure, to feel good about oneself [...] Read more.
Conspiracy narratives and speculative rumors of a conspiracist nature are intermittently popular in youth culture, as well as in political discourse. The general motivations of conspiracy beliefs relate to essential needs (for knowledge, to feel safe and secure, to feel good about oneself and one’s group), but evidence shows these needs are not actually served by conspiracy beliefs. Conspiracy theories tend to be explanations that conflict with best academic knowledge, and belief in them leads to less support for democratic processes and institutions. They play a role in political polarization, and they are used in identity-protective cognition. They may both express and arouse “strong feelings and divide communities and society”. Conspiracy theories as a general topic thus satisfy general criteria for controversial issues. At the same time, they are particularly interesting because they hover between the superficially and the inherently controversial: although in practice often resistant to contradictory evidence, they generally appeal to reason and evidence. While they sometimes are rooted in deep religious and religion-like beliefs, we argue that this makes them good cases for practicing analytical skills that could better serve all the needs above. Since cases and topics can cover the gamut from the subject-related to the cross-curricular and civic behavior, and the skills should be broadly transferable, using conspiracy theories as a topic has a high possible upside. However, conspiracy theories in a school setting have not yet been a topic of much research. This article takes as its starting point interviews with teachers and preliminary investigations of adolescents, before presenting an outline of possible didactic tools for teachers based on the general findings of effective interventions on conspiracy beliefs and related issues. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Teaching Controversial Issues and Religion)
Open AccessArticle
Teaching Controversial Issues in Diverse Religious Education Classrooms
Religions 2020, 11(9), 465; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11090465 - 10 Sep 2020
Abstract
In educational contexts, certain issues are perceived as controversial, since they reflect conflicts of interest and reveal divergent views. This is especially evident in debates related to religion in societies regarding themselves as secular but whose population is multi-religious. The aim of this [...] Read more.
In educational contexts, certain issues are perceived as controversial, since they reflect conflicts of interest and reveal divergent views. This is especially evident in debates related to religion in societies regarding themselves as secular but whose population is multi-religious. The aim of this article is to analyse how some issues that are considered controversial in the public debate are represented in the teaching of non-denominational and integrative Religious Education in a Swedish multicultural classroom practice, where the majority of students have a Muslim cultural background. The ethnographic empirical material consists of classroom observations of Religious Education lessons in upper secondary school. The analysis is based on the debate about how controversial issues ought to be taught—as empirically or politically open/settled or in a directive/non-directive way. The results indicate that a number of issues—divergent interpretations of religious narratives and religiously motivated rules, holidays, views of forgiveness, the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and abortion—were regarded as open political issues in classroom practice and these were taught in an open, non-directive way. Issues represented as settled were value-oriented issues related to female genital mutilation, forced marriage and child marriage and gender equality. The arguments supporting these values were mainly rooted in religion. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Teaching Controversial Issues and Religion)
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Open AccessArticle
The Power of a Controversial Issue; The Developmental Power of ‘Disruptive Moments’ for Both—Teachers and Students
Religions 2020, 11(6), 272; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11060272 - 29 May 2020
Cited by 1
Abstract
In Islamic primary education the subject of Islamic Religious Education (IRE) has a prominent place in the curriculum. In knowledge transfer and in behaving as a ‘good muslim’, aspects can be in conflict with generally accepted knowledge or customs in the Netherlands. The [...] Read more.
In Islamic primary education the subject of Islamic Religious Education (IRE) has a prominent place in the curriculum. In knowledge transfer and in behaving as a ‘good muslim’, aspects can be in conflict with generally accepted knowledge or customs in the Netherlands. The focus is on the power of a controversial issue (either or not wearing a head scarf) as a ‘disruptive moment’, stimulating pupils’ religious identity development. An example of recently developed teaching material illustrates the actual didactical approach regarding such a controversial issue. For a contextual understanding we start with a sketch of the Dutch educational system, and the position of Islamic education and its Islamic Religious Education (IRE) therein. In the second paragraph we describe the dialogical self theory (DST). DST’s relational understanding of a child’s development, including the developments regarding keeping a secret. In the third paragraph the case study is described, followed in the fourth paragraph by the introduction of Islamic teaching material and its way of approaching the controversial issue of the case study. We conclude our contribution with a discussion and recommendations for the development of teachers’ competencies in responding to controversial issues. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Teaching Controversial Issues and Religion)
Open AccessArticle
Rejecting “Controversial” Issues in Education: A Case Study of Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Schools in Belgium
Religions 2020, 11(4), 214; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11040214 - 23 Apr 2020
Cited by 1
Abstract
In liberal democracies, fundamental rights and freedoms can conflict, and if they do, it is not always clear which right the state should prioritize. Should the right of parents to choose education in line with their own convictions prevail, or should the right [...] Read more.
In liberal democracies, fundamental rights and freedoms can conflict, and if they do, it is not always clear which right the state should prioritize. Should the right of parents to choose education in line with their own convictions prevail, or should the right of children to be prepared for a future life in a liberal democratic society be given more moral weight? While the former might lead to establishing and subsidizing orthodox religious schools, the latter implies “liberal”, “autonomy-facilitating” education. In order to make this tension concrete, we focus on a case study of an ultra-orthodox Jewish (Haredi) school in Flanders (Belgium), where “controversial issues” are excluded from the curriculum and where education is not fully in line with the core principles of “liberal education”. Subsequently, we explore the legal educational context in liberal democracies, with a particular focus on the freedom of religion and education. Then, we scrutinize several arguments for or against ultra-orthodox faith-based schools. We conclude that there are no convincing arguments for state support for these kinds of schools and that the recent Flemish policy of homeschooling might be a reasonable alternative, wherein a balance is found between children’s rights and parental rights. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Teaching Controversial Issues and Religion)
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Open AccessArticle
When Terror Strikes: The 2015 Paris Attacks in Religious Education Classrooms in Norway
Religions 2020, 11(4), 208; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11040208 - 21 Apr 2020
Cited by 1
Abstract
Terrorism is commonly considered to be a controversial issue in religious education (RE). RE teachers find it a challenging topic to address, and many avoid it altogether. This article explores the question of addressing terrorism in RE by analysing and discussing empirical observations [...] Read more.
Terrorism is commonly considered to be a controversial issue in religious education (RE). RE teachers find it a challenging topic to address, and many avoid it altogether. This article explores the question of addressing terrorism in RE by analysing and discussing empirical observations of RE lessons in an upper secondary school in Norway in the weeks following the terror attacks in Paris in November 2015. Using framing theory, the article discusses aspects of the empirical case study, contextualised by the discussion about controversial issues in education. The main claim of the article is that, rather than seeing the terror attacks as a controversial issue in itself, the terror attacks should be treated as an event that has the potential to tap into several different controversial issues depending on the way it is framed. When addressed in the RE classroom, the teachers actively transform the event into a pedagogical issue, framed in accordance with the nature and aims of the subject. The students, however, often contest this pedagogical framing. This article discusses the interplay between teachers’ plans, students’ reactions, and the role of media in classroom interaction about the Paris attacks. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Teaching Controversial Issues and Religion)
Open AccessArticle
Tackling Controversial Issues in Primary Education: Perceptions and Experiences of Student Teachers
Religions 2020, 11(4), 184; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11040184 - 11 Apr 2020
Cited by 1
Abstract
This paper considers the nature and definition of controversial issues in primary education, exploring how they may be deemed controversial in different ways according to context. Drawing on research undertaken with student teachers in their final year of study at universities in England, [...] Read more.
This paper considers the nature and definition of controversial issues in primary education, exploring how they may be deemed controversial in different ways according to context. Drawing on research undertaken with student teachers in their final year of study at universities in England, it explores the issues that they feel apprehensive about facing in their first teaching post and those that they feel it is important to explore with children. It identifies issues relating to relationships, religion and belief and bereavement as being of significant concern, suggesting priorities for teacher training courses and contrasting these with research undertaken a decade earlier. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Teaching Controversial Issues and Religion)
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