Special Issue "Teaching Controversial Issues and Religion"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 29 February 2020.

Special Issue Editor

Dr. Marie von der Lippe
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
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.

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.


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

Published Papers

This special issue is now open for submission.
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