Science & Education

, Volume 26, Issue 3–4, pp 215–245 | Cite as

Belief, Knowledge and Understanding

How to Deal with the Relations Between Different Cultural Perspectives in Classrooms
  • Frederik Moreira-dos-Santos
  • Charbel N. El-HaniEmail author


This article discusses how to deal with the relations between different cultural perspectives in classrooms, based on a proposal for considering understanding and knowledge as goals of science education, inspired by Dewey’s naturalistic humanism. It thus combines educational and philosophical interests. In educational terms, our concerns relate to how science teachers position themselves in multicultural classrooms. In philosophical terms, we are interested in discussing the relations between belief, understanding, and knowledge under the light of Dewey’s philosophy. We present a synthesis of Dewey’s theory of inquiry through his naturalistic humanism and discuss its implications for the concepts of belief, understanding, and knowledge, as well as for the goals of science teaching. In particular, we highlight problems arising in the context of possible conflicts between scientific and religious claims in the school environment that result from totalitarian positions. We characterize an individual’s position as totalitarian if he or she takes some way of thinking as the only one capable of expressing the truth about all that exists in the world, lacks open-mindedness to understand different interpretative perspectives, and attempts to impose her or his interpretation about the facts to others by violent means or not. From this stance, any other perspective is taken to be false a priori and, accordingly, as a putative target to be suppressed or adapted to the privileged way of thinking. We argue, instead, for a more fallibilist evaluation of our own beliefs and a more respectful appraisal of the diversity of students’ beliefs by both students and teachers.


Science Education Science Teacher Science Classroom Scientific Idea Religious People 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We would like to thank Philip Kitcher, José Crisóstomo de Souza, Claudia Sepulveda, Waldomiro José da Silva-Filho, Flávia Rezende, Fernanda Ostermann, and David Wong, who made valuable criticisms and comments on a previous version of this paper, which greatly contributed to its improvement. The paper also benefited a lot from the thoughtful comments of three anonymous reviewers from Science & Education. We are thankful to the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) for the support to the research that led to this paper, through Grant no. 301259/2010-0 (CNEH), and to the Brazilian Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (CAPES) for PhD Fellowship (FMS).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors report no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Universidade Federal do Recôncavo da Bahia (UFRB)Feira de SantanaBrazil
  2. 2.National Institute of Science and Technology in Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Studies in Ecology and Evolution (IN-TREE) and History, Philosophy, and Biology Teaching Lab (LEFHBio), Institute of BiologyUniversidade Federal da Bahia (UFBA), BrazilSalvadorBrazil

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