Academic journal article Education Research International

How Finnish Muslim Students Perceive and Deal with Religious and Cultural Difference: Negotiating Religious Tradition with Modern Liberal and Postmodern Ideals

Academic journal article Education Research International

How Finnish Muslim Students Perceive and Deal with Religious and Cultural Difference: Negotiating Religious Tradition with Modern Liberal and Postmodern Ideals

Article excerpt

Recommended by Kirsi Tirri

Faculty of Theology, University of Helsink, 00014 Helsinki, Finland

Received 21 February 2012; Accepted 18 June 2012

This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Since 9/11 scholars from many fields have been showing interest in religion and its relation to xenophobia and violence [1-4]. While religions are factors in many conflicts, they also contribute to dialogue and peaceful coexistence. There is a lot of empirical support for the hypothesis that religiosity correlates negatively with deviant behaviour (see [2]). On the other hand, there are also studies showing how religiosity increases intolerance, negative intergroup attitudes, or xenophobia [3, 5]. These ambiguities might result from the deficiencies in operationalizing religiosity and tolerance found in many studies. Due to the diversity of religious cognition and experience, as well as the complexity of the concept of tolerance, many studies have drawn simplistic conclusions about their relationship [3, 6]. Furthermore, religions are often considered subordinate to cultural diversity and the special challenges in dealing with religious differences left unnoticed. These confusions have motivated this study, the purpose of which is to gain deeper understanding of the dynamics of dealing with religious and cultural difference by concentrating on one specific group and context--Muslim students in Finland.

Tolerance, religiosity, and diversity are understood in distinct ways in different discourses and ideological frameworks affecting religious education. Confessional religious education aiming at religious socialisation is grounded on the ideals of religious traditions, but it has been challenged by liberal and postmodern paradigms. However, often these approaches overlap, which is also the case in Finland. In order to be able to elaborate the multidimensionality of the dynamics of dealing with difference, this study examines the ways in which the students' ideals and ways of perceiving and dealing with difference have been affected by these overlapping educational discourses that draw from liberalism, postmodernism, and religious tradition.

The liberal paradigm of religious education is the result of questioning the traditional confessional models. Confessional education, which means enculturation to the beliefs, values, and practices of religious tradition, became problematic in the light of the liberal ideals of autonomy and tolerance, which relate to reducing beliefs to matters of subjective opinion and questioning religious education based on exclusive truth claims [7]. In the liberal framework, tolerance is regarded as a necessary ground for individuality, autonomy, and freedom, that is, the core values of liberalism that demand respect for all individuals. However, difference must be balanced with unity, which sometimes also leads to modifying difference so that it fits into the demand for unity [8, 9]. In modern liberal states this ideal of social unity has sometimes resulted in understanding equality as cultural assimilation. Difference is tolerated only in the private sphere and unity is equated with homogeneity. For example, uncritical acceptance of dogma based on authority or revelation is unwelcome, which makes it hard to accommodate deep forms of difference, such as passionate religious identity: this explains why Muslims have become "the critical case of multiculturalism" in many liberal societies [10, 11].

The liberal paradigm is nowadays extensively criticised. Religious education based on these liberal ideals is in risk of misrepresenting how religions understand themselves and creating a conflict of values. For example, some fundamentalist Christians regard liberal education in its promotion of tolerance as indoctrination and as a threat to their cultural integrity [12]. …

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