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Essentialism i religionsundervisningen, ett religionsdidaktiskt problem

Author(s): Torsten Hylén

Journal: Nordidactica : Journal of Humanities and Social Science Education
ISSN 2000-9879

Volume: 2012;
Issue: 2012:2;
Start page: 106;
Date: 2012;
Original page

Keywords: Essentialism | Religous education | Religious studies | Family resemblances | Prototype theory | Benson Saler | Religionsdidaktik

Essentialist concepts of religion are common in the teaching of religion in schools and to a certain extent also in the academic discipline of religious studies. In this article, a num¬ber of problems with essentialist perceptions of religion are discussed. In the first part of the article a thesis is maintained, according to which essentialist conceptions of religion or spe-cific religions are too limited to be of value in the teaching of religion. This is done through exam¬ples of essentialist expressions on religion. The examples are grouped according to a typol¬ogy of different kinds of essentialism. Two main categories, each with two sub-categories are identified. Thus, the category of essentialism regarding the substance of religion is divided into transcendental or theological essentialism (which presupposes the existence of a sacred power of some kind, the experience of which is the basis for religion), and core essentialism (where it is presupposed that certain ideas or concepts constitute religion as a general category or specific religions). Likewise, the category of essentialism regarding the function of religion has two sub-categories: positive and negative essentialism. These kinds of essentialism presup¬pose that religion or specific religions are inherently good or harmful respectively to human be¬ings. Examples from each of these categories are given and discussed. In the second part of the arti¬cle, Benson Saler’s open concept of religion is presented as an alternative to essentialist or bounded perceptions. It is based on Ludwig Wittgenstein’s idea of family resemblances and on proto-type theory. In connection with this, it is argued that a certain kind of conscious ethnocen¬trism is needed as a point of departure in the study and teaching of religion. The metaphor of educa¬tion as a journey from the familiar out into the unfamiliar and back again is suggested as a possible pattern for such teaching. Finally, some examples of non-essentialist ways to intro¬duce religions are offered.
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