Teaching RE – for what purpose? A discourse analysis of teachers’ talk about their teaching in relation to the children’s existential questions


  • Katarina Kärnebro Pedagogiska institutionen Umeå universitet


existential questions, RE didactics, primary school, teacher interviews, transformative education, discourse analysis


In the 1960s, existential questions [sw. livsfrågor] were introduced as a theme of the Swedish subject “Knowledge of Religion” to make space for students’ own questions. However, studies on the recent curriculum changes show that teachers experience that there is a stronger emphasis on knowledge about a predetermined content than before. Based on interviews with eleven upper primary school RE teachers, this article investigates what the teachers consider today when planning their teaching, and highlights the discourses that teachers construct, engage in or sustain when talking about their professional and pedagogical actions. The aim of the study is to contribute to a deeper understanding of the enacted curriculum when it comes to students’ existential questions, and to discuss some implications of how the teachers view RE - as a transmission of knowledge or as a transformative practice for the learners. The results indicate that Teaching for the syllabus is a dominant discourse in the teachers’ talk, at the cost of Teaching for understanding democratic values and Teaching for engagement. The dominant discourse stems from perceived systemic constraints, and constructs the students as objects of teaching, which leaves little regard for the students’ own questions.


Katarina Kärnebro, Pedagogiska institutionen Umeå universitet

Katarina Kärnebro has a PhD in Educational work and is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Education, Umeå University, with special interests in gender studies, subject didactics, citizenship education and social justice.