Liberal theology dominates in Swedish schoolbooks


Northern Europe


Photo ICON, Gustaf Hellsing

Books for religious education in secondary schools in Sweden present Christianity primarily from a liberal theological perspective. That is the conclusion reached by a group of researchers from two universities in Sweden.

Together with his colleagues David Carlsson (Mälardalen University) and Peder Thalén (University of Gävle), Johan Liljestrand, senior lecturer in religion didactics at the University of Gävle, researched how Christianity is presented in Swedish textbooks for upper secondary school. "The school has a prominent role in conveying Christianity to young people, not least when we live in a secularised society where not many people confirm themselves or go to church", Liljestrand explains in the Norwegian newspaper Dagen.

The researchers went through ten textbooks in religious studies for high school to pick out recurring themes. The result, which has been published in an article in a peer-reviewed journal, shows that one form of Christian interpretation takes precedence over others: Protestant liberal theology. "It is not the case that the teaching materials are crammed with liberal Christianity, but we see a clear tendency in that direction", the senior lecturer at Gävle University concludes.


Liljestrand, Carlsson and Thalén highlight four different points. They believe that a "modernised Christianity" dominates the image at the expense of other views: biblical criticism, current ethical issues in the international arena, social justice, and criticism of power. According to Liljestrand, "the teaching materials show in different ways a Christianity that is critical of the gospels and prefers to see them as stories or sermons."

With the help of a usage text analysis, the researchers examine how the books take a stand for a preferred form of Christianity. "It can, for example, be about using words with certain connotations, such as that the role of the church has become more "relaxed" concerning homosexuality. In this way, thought figures are built up where specific thoughts appear more rational and current than others. Values emerge in which liberal Christianity is privileged, Liljestrand says. The consequence may be that other Christian orientations end up in the shadows and are not considered seen as real alternatives.



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