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‘Why can’t you just eat pork?’ Teachers’ perspectives on criticism of religion in Norwegian religious education


Over the last 20 years, religious education in Norway has received massive public and academic attention, due in part to clashing opinions regarding the role of such education in a generally secular society. As a result, the subject’s name and curricula have been changed or modified several times. Currently, the curricula for ‘Knowledge of Christianity, Religion, Philosophies of Life and Ethics’ (abbreviated in Norwegian as KRLE) states the teaching must be critical. This empirical study examines how teachers themselves interpret this requirement. We particularly emphasise the role of criticism of religion, including both the teachers’ planned teaching about criticism of religion and the criticism spontaneously uttered by students. The findings demonstrate students’ criticism of religion often is of a moral, secular or ridiculing character, and is frequently based on prejudice, stereotypes, generalisations or essentialist notions. This article discusses how teachers can use students’ spontaneously uttered criticism of religion as a starting point to develop intercultural competence through education.

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  1. Our material is not sufficient to elaborate on the differences between the nature of criticism of religion in these subjects.


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Correspondence to Aina Hammer.

Appendix: Interview questions

Appendix: Interview questions

  1. 1.

    The curriculum’s purpose description states teaching ‘must be objective, critical and pluralistic’. Do you often think about this when you teach?

  2. 2.

    What does it mean that teaching in KRLE must be critical?

  3. 3.

    How do you facilitate critical teaching in KRLE?

  4. 4.

    Should there be room for criticism of religion in KRLE and, if so, what kind of criticism of religion? (Why? Why not? What are the positives and negatives?)

  5. 5.

    What do you think about the relationship between critical teaching and presenting religion and philosophy with respect?

  6. 6.

    Do you have examples of good critical teaching? Or bad critical teaching?

  7. 7.

    How often would you say that students utter criticism of religion in class?

  8. 8.

    What kinds of criticism of religion do the students utter? Can you give examples?

  9. 9.

    How do you handle this kind of criticism?

  10. 10.

    Are you afraid to offend anyone with your critical teaching? If so, does it have any impact on how you teach?

  11. 11.

    Are there specific aspects of religious beliefs or practices that you are extra critical of?

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Hammer, A., Schanke, Å.J. ‘Why can’t you just eat pork?’ Teachers’ perspectives on criticism of religion in Norwegian religious education. j. relig. educ. 66, 151–164 (2018).

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  • Religious education
  • Criticism of religion
  • Stereotypes
  • Prejudice
  • Intercultural competence