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EU-projects on understanding religion in multicultural society


How do we teach about religion in a multicultural Europe? What connections are there between religion and conflict, or between religion and welfare? These topical questions are the focus of two major EU projects to be led by Uppsala University, Sweden.

Two projects about religion in a multicultural society have been granted EU funding from the Sixth Framework Program and the Socrates Program, respectively. Both will be directed from Uppsala University. The first one is a research project, to be directed by Professor Anders Bäckström. The project, which has received mSEK 12 over a three-year period, is a continuation of a previous project on religion and welfare, focusing on the importance of a majority religion for the welfare systems of various European countries.

"Now we will be looking more closely at minorities. Europe is changing; so much is happening culturally. There is some concern among decision-makers about the position of minorities and Europe‚s ability to integrate," says Anders Bäckström.

In what way are minority cultures important to the systems of welfare, and how do they relate to the majority culture? Do they reinforce one another or create conflicts? Welfare looks different in Europe than in Sweden. In Sweden we are used to the government being responsible, but in eastern and southern Europe, for example, welfare is primarily family-based, although there are also church-run homes for the elderly. The project addresses issues of gender, minorities, church traditions, and social welfare and involves 14 partners in 12 countries.

"These issues have each been studied thoroughly, but no one has done a comprehensive analysis of them," says Anders Bäckström.

The second project will be directed by Assistant Professor Håkan Bengtsson and is a so-called thematic network project, the only such project being coordinated from Sweden. The focus is on the question of how religion is taught in a multicultural society. For example, how do we speak about the "other"? And how do we view holiness, and blasphemy?

"Europe has a heterogeneous population, with different religions and different Christian denominations, and there are a large number of departments of divinity and religious studies that educate clergy and teachers. The aim is to get all of them to begin to ask the same questions," says Assistant Professor Håkan Bengtsson, who will be directing the project and hopes to spark many fruitful discussions.

The project addresses instruction about religion in a broad perspective, but two fields will be of prime interest. How does teaching take up the role of religion in conflicts, and what are the connections between religion and social welfare? In this way the two projects tie in with each other and cross-pollinate each other.

"These projects are highly topical. Many people have not been prepared for religion playing such a decisive role in how people form their lives. It‚s important to be able to find a way to be true to one‚s own tradition and at the same time provide space for others in a coherent society," says Håkan Bengtsson.

There will be a kick-off meeting for this thematic network program at Uppsala University on March 31 - April 1.

Anneli Waara | alfa
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