Religion in Education in Secular State

Religion should not be explained at school according to a lot of country because school is supposed to form citizens. Then, citizens should not really know about religion as it would go against the country’s values. But is religion education against being a good citizen? Secular education means that there are no religion classes at school and that the school is assuming to teach a common culture. But can we introduce religion education at school to help being more tolerant in society? Based on researchers’ articles and observations of classes as a student, secular education is studied especially in France and Sweden.

France remains in fact a leading country where this education takes place. On the other side, Sweden is trying to introduce non-confessional religious teaching to help students to understand better the diversity that exists. The results are showing that this type of education is erasing some religions and that it is teaching a culture of the majority: it neutralises the society and its people while it also has a Western-oriented point of view.

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As a proposition to solve the problem, secular education should try to include different minorities of the country to permit to everyone to be able to follow in the best way diverse classes and to feel as a part of the society, and not excluded anymore.

Currently, religions are considered as a reason for a lot of conflicts. Because of this, secularity is established in a lot of country. Secularity can be defined as a separation of religion from the public sphere into the private (Kittelmann, 2015).

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Enlightenment movement tends to think that religion is out-dated and does not have modern ideas. The development of a welfare state following the Enlightenment ideas in Sweden probably helped to consider that religion should not be part of the politics. In France, Dreyfus affair is causing a gap between the right wing and the left one. The latter grows up as anticlerical. Then, some countries decided to not give any religion education in their schools to let some conflict out of young people’s life or because it goes against values of the country. They consider that it is about private identity as Habermas describe it which means that it is up to the personal conceptions (Habermas, 1992). To be accepted on public space, believers should modernize their faith and accept to be criticized (Larouche, 2006).

According to him, it is easier to accept diversity in the private domain because in the public one, it requires activism and consent (SOURCE). No one should use their religion to debate on subjects at school or show their religion. This secular education is defined, in France, by teaching a common culture (Peillon, 2013). But what is exactly a common culture when the society is multicultural? Which culture is indeed taught? Does the culture include different minorities? In fact, this education is showing a certain worldview as we will see in the paper. Teachers are not demonstrating something neutral in term of religion but they’re teaching a culture of the majority. Is it then possible to introduce religion education at school in our current societies? Is it possible to identify any solutions introducing a neutral teaching towards religion? Through a comparison between France and Sweden that are adopting different strategies in their politics, we are going to study if school can help citizens to live in communities that respect diversity through a religion education. (SOURCE)

As a secular state is supposed to teach a common culture, is it something against this policy to introduce religion at school? We can say that as not the majority of the people are religious therefore teaching religion would not be teaching something representative. But on which develop do we create a universal culture? This is about consensus, equality and justice. It is defined as a “même traitement pour tous, apprentissage de la même langue, offre des mêmes prestations, inculcation des mêmes valeurs, enseignement des mêmes connaissances» . But these principles are not timeless. Therefore how do we decide the values we follow? Even if this does not value any religion, it also avoids having a position that is not as agreed with the government. (Taylor, 2011). We can see that there is no equity, no introduction of multiculturalism and it is about neutrality, unifying a people according to some republican values.

This is the laïcité in France. Critics are saying that this is a sort of assimilation as a negative attitude against foreign culture and favourable attitude for their culture. Some organizations are afraid that it will bring to neutralizing society and its people and that there is a sort of an instrumentality to this culture. It tends to the fact that government merely wants to explain how to become a valuable French citizen. But in 1980, there is a right to difference introduced in schools; it should help to introduce diversity but not really in religion. In fact, the Charte de laïcité in France, which establish 12 rules to follow to be secular in school, certify that people cannot wear any ostentatious religious sign at school. It brings to the Hijab question. This raised some questions in France and Sweden. In the latter, the veil, the hijab and the burqa were recently banned in schools whereas France banned them in 2011. Their arguments were that it is against neutrality of religion at school and that it is an oppression sign. Women would not be free and not wear it by choice. But in fact, it is a misunderstanding because many women who wear it are doing it by willing. Moreover, in practice, schools are authorizing the cross at school because it is more discreet and it often became something non-religious. We are supposed to “not favour Christianity over Islam but also religion over against nonbelief in religion or vice versa” (Taylor, 2011). In fact, there is no equality through the actions towards different religions at school. This common culture is promoting a belief in science, some worldview and it tends to consider religion as old and against some values that can be seen as universal. Bourdieu explains that in fact, school is teaching a dominating culture. (Bourdieu, 1979).

There is a logical culture as some knowledge is overvalued. This culture is somehow linked to the cultural capital that he introduced. People who are dominating the society have more chances to succeed at school. Even in this case, school is not representative of the society and is teaching a culture that not everyone can understand or have. This dominating culture does not include all the diversity in the society and is not adapted to everyone. Everyone cannot feel represented in classes; they could feel excluded. If we look for a more proper understanding of religions, we should help them to recognize the other, to avoid prejudices. Lots of people are still linking Arabic to Islam even if there are less religious people than before. School should help to improve understanding of others. But in a secular state, religion is considered as a private space, so religion should not be in school. But, in fact, because of history as a subject, we are taught implicitly about Catholicism and about Lutheranism in France and Sweden respectively. In history, a lot of major religion of the country is taught as it is the basis of the country. Philosophy is mostly expounded with authors that are believers. This means that religion is part of the education no matter what. The fact is that religion is implicit and people can have many prejudices, misconception about what defines religion.

Naturally, subjects are never objective and are always explaining a worldview. They are instructed in order to transmit some values that are in agreement with Swedishness for example. Moreover, secularism is also a worldview in itself and chose to call for tolerance, relativism. (Wekler Philip, 2011 ). But for being able to be tolerant about religions, students should learn religious references as they are part of identities. Students would be better citizens as they would have an open-minded point of view, responsible while they face religion in public space (Larouche, 2006). According to the current curriculum, it doesn’t encourage people to better understand religion. Politics are finally mostly avoiding the problem of multiculturalism at school. They are about standardisation, neutralisation and giving the majority’s speech at school. But is it impossible to rethink this curriculum? Is it possible to find a solution more integrative about religions that are a significant part of people’s identity?

Religion education is already introduced in some secular state. But why did they do that? What are they doing in this class? Does it really help to better understand religion? They presumably achieved that to help to respect religion. Some scholars think that liberal goals are achieved by supporting religious pluralism in the public realm instead of banishing religion (Wekler Philip, 2011 ). Teachers noticed that students associate religion with the exercise of power, lack of knowledge and oppression. These prejudices are due to a belief that our current society is more enlightened that the past (Kittelmann, 2015). Moreover, people think that believing in God or not makes you believer or not. But this idea is showing that we only think that the basis of a religion is to believe in a God or not but this is a Western-oriented idea. In fact, some Eastern-religions – such as Buddhism – are not based on thinking that God created everything, they do not believe in a God. All of our ideas on religion are Western-oriented; they remain common ideas that are not always true. What we believe is neural is in fact something subjective, it is a worldview in itself. Then, Sweden tried to introduce non-confessional religion education at school.

At one time, France intended to introduce them right after terrorist attacks in 2015. National education minister required the secular teaching of religious facts and to put an emphasis on moral and civic education. Unfortunately, the government decided to decline this proposal whereas lots of students think that it could help them to live in communities. Instead, the government decided to ask the teachers to discuss more about religious facts. In history curriculum, Christianity and some Judaism are studied to show how it was linked to different groups in historic societies. But in fact, in philosophy or literature, Christianity is also studied through authors that are Christian and no other religion is really explained at school. Then, the non-confessional religious teaching in Sweden seems to represent the perfect way to learn about religion. Students are taught together regardless of religious affiliation. They are supposed to possess a neutral and objective picture of the different religions, to examine them from the outside. Thanks to this, there is no pursuing of a Christian or Lutheran perspective (Zilliacus Harriet, 2016). From year 1 to year 3, students have to learn psalms and the basics about the ecclesial year (Falhén, 2017).

But is this non-confessional religious class really representative of different religions? Is it really neutral? If we only look at the study of Christianity, it already highlights some questions. When it is discussed as a religion, it is considered as problematic as other religions. But when it is compared to Islam, it has positive connotations. Learning Islam is just watching documentaries and working on study-questions individually. Lessons are presenting a secularist discourse hegemonic. Religion is still explored as something out-dated and belonging to history. This is a biased point of view where the atheistic position is associated as neutral, rational and critically thinking person. (Kittelmann, 2015). Finally, this class is trying to introduce lots of different religions, to integrate the multicultural society we live in, but is mostly providing general concepts, sometimes out of step of the reality. People are taught abstract concepts that are not consistently linked to students’ experiences. Because of this, these classes are a bit criticized. Students do not really succeed to link what they acquire to an actual strategy in life. Considering believing in God as a basis of a religion is criticized for being Western-oriented. In that sense, some critics think that even if they want to adopt a multicultural point of view, they are adopting an ethnocentric point of view. They spread characteristics of Western Religion as universal. Spreading this idea can be problematic because people will still have a biased point of view. Finally, there are different ideas to introduce religion at school while trying to stay secular such as non-confessional religion education or through history curriculum for example. But even these solutions are not genuinely without any problem. They are not neutral as nothing can be objective but more, they are spreading some ethnocentrism. Of course, they are also spreading ethnorelativism and are helping to put you in believers’ place.

To sum up, secular societies choose to establish religion in private space. Then, in public space there is no place to discuss about religion even if religion is here no matter what. Religion does not play a role into politics. Different religions are not supposed to be taught at school. Schools are supposed to merely teach about the country’s values. Freedom of expression is assumed to be present but not if you start to use your religion as a defence. This education can be really criticized for spreading prejudices and neutralizing society. But when we look closer, we can see that religions remain here in curricula no matter what. The fact is that this religion is here in an implicit way. This implicit way can bring to a biased point of view of religion. People can be instructed about Christianity for example without even being aware of it. People can still encounter some prejudices, some ignorance of the reality. Because of this, there is a willing from governments to try to introduce religions at school, in a more explicit way. This new way will pass by non-confessionals religious classes or by civic education. Students and teachers say that this is really useful.

However, these classes are still not really multicultural and do not help people because they do not permit people have discussions, students are questioning themselves all alone. Finally, secular state should guarantee that religious pluralism and worldviews can develop themselves on a respect basis (Larouche, 2006). Post-secular society is here to help integrate of everyone even in a religious state. For that, we have to admit that religious is part of everyone’s identity and that we cannot deny this and put it on private space. We have to be aware that students have a capacity to think and criticize so we can teach them some religion education, trying to be as neutral as possible. Teaching them religion will not make them less valuable citizens. In fact, they will be aware of different minorities, have a mean to criticize while limiting prejudices. They will be better citizens as they will not act because of prejudices, recognizing differences and learning how to be tolerant.


  • Bourdieu. (1979). La distinction [Distinction].
  • Falhén, M. (2017). Freedom of religion and secular education : Teachers define the meaning of religious freedom in everyday school practice.
  • Habermas. (1992). L’espace Public [Public space].
  • Kittelmann, F. K. (2015). Religious Education in Contemporary Pluralistic Sweden. Gothenburg:
  • Larouche, J.-M. (2006). De la religion dans l’espace public. Vers une société postséculière. [Religion in public space, Towards a post secular society]. Dans L. Jean-Marc, Ethique publique.
  • Peillon, M. d. (2013). Charte de la Laïcité [Charter of Secularism].
  • Taylor, C. (2011). Why we need a radical redefinition of secularism ? .
  • Wekler Philip, H. Y. (2011 ). Beyond the secular/sacred divide : State, Liberalism and Education in a Postsecular Age. Dans S. Amy, Religion, Education and Secularism in International Agencies (pp. 111-142).
  • Zilliacus Harriet, K. A. (2016). Secular ethics education as an alternative to religious education – Finnish Teachers’ views. Journal of Beliefs and Values .

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Religion in Education in Secular State. (2021, Oct 04). Retrieved from

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