Education About Islam in Norwegian Religious Education

Bengt-Ove Andreassen

State-Church Relations and the Muslim

Communities in Norway

State and Church in Norway

Norwegian society, characterised by “self-understanding of liberal open-mindedness” (Lundby and Repstad, 2018, 13) is often described as neo-corporatist and secular. Notwithstanding this secularity, 70% of the Norwegian population (updated 2019) belong to the national Church of Norway {Den norske kirke), and there are still close bonds between church and state. These bonds go back to the first Norwegian Constitution, which was written in 1814 as part of an attempt to break free from the Danish king and become an independent nation-state. This attempt failed, however, and after the Treaty of Kiel in 1814 Norway became a part of Sweden. This union was dissolved in 1905 when the Norwegian dream of full independence was realised.1

In 2012, adjustments concerning religion were made in the Constitution, following a process of disentangling the Evangelical Lutheran state church from the nation-state. Adjustments were made in the Constitution’s paragraphs concerning religion. Chapter A, Article 2, now reads: “Our values will remain our Christian and humanist heritage. This Constitution shall ensure democracy, a state based on the rule of law and human rights”.2 Chapter B, Article 16, now reads:

All inhabitants of the realm shall have the right to free exercise of their religion. The Church of Norway, an Evangelical-Lutheran church, will remain the Established Church of Norway and will as such be supported by the State. Detailed provisions as to its system will be laid down by law. All religious and belief communities should be supported on equal terms.3

Even after the adjustments in the Constitution in 2012, there is still a special focus on Lutheranism, and there is no legally defined relationship between Islam and the state. However, from the vantage point of religious minorities such as the Muslims, the focus on human rights and

Education About Islam in Norway 197 the legal requirement that all “religious communities should be supported on equal terms” are important. This means, among other things, that formally approved and registered religious and secular humanist groups receive financial support from the state. This arrangement has been applied since 1969.4

The Muslim Communities in Norway

As in most European nations, the Norwegian Islamic landscape is rather fractured and polarised (cf. Bangstad, 2017, 497), which becomes visible in the many registered Islamic organisations, including Ahmadiyya as well as Sunni and Shi’a groups. According to official statistics, there were 175,507 registered members in different Muslim religious groups in 2019.5 The Muslim groups counted 156 organisations that had names referring to Islam. A general estimate is that there are about 200,000 to 250,000 Muslims in Norway, which is about 4-6% of the total Norwegian population (cf. B0e, 2018; Bangstad, 2017; Pew Research Center, 2017). The majority of Muslims live in Oslo and its surrounding area (in Oslo and Viken County). In addition, approximately 10% of the Muslim population is registered in Muslim groups in the counties in the West (Vestland and Rogaland) and South (Agder). Muslim groups are much smaller in other parts of Norway (Trondelag, Nordland, and Troms).

The Muslim presence in Norway is largely the result of labour migration (mainly from southern Asia, northern Africa, and Turkey) in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1975, when a general ban on labour immigration was enforced, this migration ended. However, due to different international crises and family reunification, the number of Muslim immigrants was still growing after 1975. In the 1980s, Muslim migrants from Iran and Iraq primarily came to Norway because of the war in their own lands. During the Balkan conflict in the 1990s, Muslim refugees from the Balkan area (especially Bosnia) came to Norway and, after the turn of the millennium, refugees from Somalia, Afghanistan, and Syria also found their way to Norway. Estimates suggest that most Muslims are from (or have parents or grandparents from) Somalia, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan,1’which also implies that most Muslims in Norway belong to the Sunni tradition.

The abovementioned migration has resulted in generations with different cultural and religious backgrounds, born and grown up in Norway. Not surprisingly in this context is the recurring issue about the contact with parents’ or grandparents’ birth countries. To provide their children with a proper Qur’an school (kuttab) or to find a Muslim spouse, some Muslim parents send their children to their home country, but the risk of radicalisation in such cases has become a matter of public debate. In this debate, references to Norwegian Muslims joining the Islamic State (IS) are often macle, even if this is in reality a marginal phenomenon in Norway.'

Discussions like these reveal that a more visible Muslim presence in Norway in recent years has resulted in public tensions over radical Islamism, (Muslim) immigration, and globalisation, which has also triggered new right-wing populism (cf. Doving, 2012). In 2017, a report on attitudes towards Jews and Muslims in Norway (Hoffmann and Moe, 2017, 11) showed that 34.7% of Norwegians held negative attitudes towards Muslims. Given this cultural climate, it is not surprising that, in 2018, the Norwegian parliament (Stortingef) sanctioned a law prohibiting all clothing that covered the full face in teaching situations. The law includes kindergarten, primary, secondary, and upper-secondary schools, university colleges, and universities, and is applied equally to students and teachers. Even though the law is primarily directed towards Muslims and the use of the niqab and burqa, it was formulated in more general terms to avoid conflict with the constitutional right to religious freedom (Andreassen, 2019b). On 22 August 2019, the government issued a press release announcing the development of a programme (Jiandlingsplan) for the prevention of discrimination and hatred against Muslims.8 The press release did not say whether the programme wotdd include suggestions for teaching Islam in schools.

Religion and Education in Norway: General Overview

Norway has a long tradition of the public school as an enhetsskole - a school that should include all. The school system is regulated by the state through the Education Act and national curricula, which are formally part of legislation and thus have legal status equivalent to school law. Because legislation concerning the establishment of private schools is very stringent, the number of private schools is very low. Urtehagen skole, established in 2001, was the first Muslim school in Norway. This primary school, which was located in Oslo, followed Norwegian curricula, according to the law for private schools and, like other private schools, was inspected by the Ministry of Education. For religious education (RE), the structure of the school subject Kristendomskunnskap med religions- og livssynsorientering (KRL: Christianity, Religion, and Worldviews; cf. infra) was followed, but with a special emphasis on Islam; hence the title of the course was abbreviated as IRL (Islamic Knowledge with Religious and Philosophical Views). Due to internal conflicts, however, the school was closed in 2004 (Boe, 2018, 55). This same year, Urtehagen upper-secondary private school was established. This school is primarily engaged in adult education to prepare students for the social studies test (citizenship test)9 for those who apply for Norwegian citizenship, and to prepare students for further schooling. The school offers one-year courses in two different

Education About Islam in Norway 199 modules, social sciences and media. In social sciences, students learn about Norwegian society and about children and youth. The media module includes much of the same content as the social sciences module, but students also learn to use a camera for recording and editing films. According to the school’s website,10 the teaching is in Norwegian, and every student has classes in Islam, health, Arabic, data, and sports. Most of the students are women.

At present (2020), there are no Muslim primary schools in Norway. However, the Foundation for a Muslim Primary School (Stiftelsen Den muslimske Grunnskole) has applied several times to establish a Muslim school in Oslo. In 2018, its application was turned down by the Ministry of Education and Research because the school did not meet the requirements for curricula. In a press release, the Minister of Education also argued that a Muslim school would weaken the preconditions for language training and socialisation with other Norwegian children and thus oppose the idea of integration.11

At the university level, the Faculty of Theology at the University of Oslo is the only university in Norway that has a programme that includes Islamic theology, which was established in 2011. The programme is entitled Interreligious Studies and Islamic theology,12 and the main idea is to include Islamic theology as a part of interreligious studies and religious dialogue. In 2019, a master programme entitled Leadership, Ethics and Dialogue {Lederskap, etikk og samtalepraksis) was started. The programme focuses on chaplaincy and religious leadership in a Norwegian context, and is intended to include perspectives from Islamic theology.

Religious Education in Norway: The Current Situation

In 1997, a new integrative and compulsory (albeit with a limited option for exemption)13 RE subject labelled Kristendomskunnskap med religions-og livssynsorientering (KRL) was implemented for primary and secondary school (years 1-10, ages 6-15/16) and replaced the separative model with the subjects Christian Knowledge and Ethics Education. Teaching from then on included religions such as Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, in addition to Christianity. Thus, 1997 marks the starting year of an integrative, non-denominational and non-confessional model for RE in Norway. There is one RE subject for primary (years 1-7) and secondary (years 8-10) schools, currently abbreviated KRLE, and one RE subject for upper-secondary (years 11-13, ages 16-18) schools, labelled Religion and Ethics {Religion ogetikk).

Private schools are legally required to offer RE that is bound to the main structure as the official RE curriculum. However, unlike state schools, private schools can put a special emphasis on one religion, as in the abovementioned IRL subject in Urtehagen primary school during the period 2001-2004. Another possibility for private schools is theorganisation of confessional RE in addition to the official non-confes-sional RE subjects KRL and Religion and Ethics. However, since there are no Islamic private primary or secondary schools in Norway, there is (as yet) no separate (confessional) RE subject in Norway. Given the fact that all teaching about Islam is thus included in the two integrative RE subjects, I will provide a short historical background for these subjects in the following paragraphs.

Religious Education in Primary and Secondary School (Years 1-10)

With the introduction of the new subject KRL in 1997, the curriculum placed Islam in the main subject area labelled “Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Philosophies of Life”.14 However, the Norwegian Humanist Association and some religious minorities, especially Muslims, strongly opposed KRL and argued that it failed to meet the requirements of a genuinely neutral and thus “common” subject. From their viewpoint, it bore the imprint of the Christian statement of intent, as written in the first section of the 1997 Education Act (Andreassen, 2013, 140): “Primary and lower secondary education shall, with the understanding of and in cooperation with the home, assist in providing pupils with a Christian and ethical upbringing (...).” (cited after the official English translation printed in The Royal Ministry of Education, Research and Church Affairs, 1993)

This is one of the reasons why the Norwegian Islamic Council and the Norwegian Humanist Association, in conjunction with an independent group of parents, brought a lawsuit against the Norwegian state, claiming the right to full exemption from KRL. Their case went through the entire Norwegian legal system, and in August 2001, the Norwegian Supreme Court also ruled against the applicants, deciding that both Norwegian law and curricula were in accordance with Norway’s human rights obligations. At the same time, the court raised the question of whether the law was being practised in accordance with these obligations and, by so doing, indirectly invited the applicants to file another lawsuit in the future (Hostmaelingen, 2004, 300). Accordingly, one group of parents, supported by the Humanist Association, filed a petition with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (ECtHR, FolgerQ and others vs. Norway, Appl. no. 15472/02),15 while another group filed a petition to the UN’s Human Rights Committee in Geneva (Leirvag et al vs. Norway, Comm. no. 1155/2003).16 From this point on, Norwegian RE entered a legal discourse on religious freedom and human rights (cf. Andreassen, 2013, 142-146; Plesner, 2013).

Due to criticism from the ECtHR and the UN’s Human Rights Committee, the curriculum for RE in primary and secondary schools was adjusted in 2005 and in 2008. In a circular (F-10-08)17 issued in June 2008, the Ministry of Education and Research announced that the name had been changed from KRL to RLE (Religion, Philosophies of Life and Ethics'), but the teaching aims and competencies concerning Islam were not adjusted.

Following a political compromise, the curriculum was adjusted again in 2015 and, at the same time, the subject’s name was changed to KRLE {Knowledge of Christianity, Religion, Philosophies of Life and Ethics). In addition, it was stated in the curriculum that “about half of the teaching time of the subject will be used for Knowledge of Christianity” (The Norwegian Directory for Education and Training 2015, 2). This particular formulation, along with the change of name, were the only things that were changed in 2015 from the 2008 RLE curriculum. The changes primarily created more space for Christianity and, consequently, less space for other religions, philosophy, and ethics. As a part of a curriculum reform for all subjects in the Norwegian school system, a completely new curriculum for KRLE was to be implemented in autumn 2020. One of the few things that will be continued in this new curriculum is that half of the teaching time will be used for teaching Christianity. Islam will still be taught together with other religions.

Religious Education, in Upper Secondary School (Years 10-13)

From 1935 to 1976, the RE subject in upper-secondary school was named Knowledge About Christianity (Kristendomskunnskap). In 1976, the name of this subject was changed to Religion, and it included religions other than Christianity. Twenty years later, a new curriculum was implemented and the subject name was changed to Religion and Ethics (Religion og etikk) (The Royal Ministry of Education, Research and Church Affairs, 1996). Like the curriculum for RE in primary and secondary schools, the new curriculum also revolved around Christianity. However, given its national and international importance, Islam was also emphasised in the 1996 curriculum, which was something new in the Norwegian context:

Dealing with non-Christian religions, it is natural that those religions which are strongly represented in Norwegian society are given particular emphasis. Islam is such an important religion, both internationally and in Norway, that it has been allotted more space than other non-Christian religions in the subject (The Royal Ministry of Education, Research and Church Affairs 1996, 3; author’s translation).

The special focus on Christianity and Islam was continued in a new curriculum for Religion and Ethics, issued in 2006. This will apply until autumn 2022 when the newer curriculum will be introduced. At the time of writing (2020), and thus until 2022, the four main subject areas in the present curriculum are: (1) Theory of religion and criticism of religion, (2) Islam and an elective religion, (3) Christianity, and (4) Philosophy, ethics, and views on life/humanism (livssynshumanisme) (The Norwegian Directory for Education and Training, 2006, 2).18

The statement about the importance of Islam in the 1996 curriculum was removed. However, being the only mandatory religion along with Christianity, Islam is still provided special attention in the RE curriculum for upper-secondary school.

Education about Islam in Norway: Curricula, Textbooks, Teacher Training, and Inspection

Since 1974, education about Islam has been mandatory in uppersecondary school RE. In primary and lower secondary, teaching about Islam was mandatory in ethics education, and since the 1974 curriculum for Christian knowledge appeared, there was also an opening for teaching Islam as part of this course. From this point on, RE in primary and secondary schools was controlled by the Ministry of Education, but there was hardly any inspection of the teaching. When the RE curricula are adjusted, religious communities are invited to send their comments as part of an organised consultation process. Apart from that, religious communities are not involved in Norwegian RE.

Islam in the New KRLE and Religion and Ethics Curricula

The curricula introduced in 2020 are inspired by the so-called 21st century movement (cf. Andreassen, 2019a, 81-85) and thus focus on general competencies rather than content. For the teaching of Islam in RE, this means that a tradition of specific teaching goals with the intention of providing pupils knowledge (in addition to different skills) is replaced by a focus on general competencies. In the new curriculum, implemented in 2020, the introduction to the curriculum includes the statement that:

The curriculum facilitates that Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, New religious movements and secular humanism can be taught, individually and/or together [in comparison] (The Norwegian Directory for Education and Training 2019/2020a, 1, author’s translation).

This is the only time that Islam is mentioned in the new curriculum for KRLE. Only Christianity is also mentioned explicitly in the teaching aims. Nevertheless, the explicit reference to Islam (as well as to other religions/worldviews) in the introduction implies that teaching about Islam (and about other religions and worldviews) is mandatory, although it is up to the teacher to decide how much time to spend on these.

When teachers are working with the new curriculum, they will have to relate the general teaching aims in their different levels to Islam. For example, formulations concerning aims for teaching in years 5 through 7 are formulated as follows: Pupils should be able to “explore and discuss

Education About Islam in Norway 203 diversity within religious communities” and to “describe and present some central ritual practices and ethical norms from Eastern and Western religions and secular humanist traditions” (The Norwegian Directory for Education and Training, 2019/2020a). In secondary, years 8 through 10, one aim for teaching reads that pupils should be able to “explore and present key features of Christianity and other religions and secular humanist traditions and their geographical spread today” (The Norwegian Directory for Education and Training, 2019/2020a, author’s translation).

A first reading of the curriculum seems to suggest that the amount of focus on Islam is reduced. However, as the overall aims for teaching also apply to the religions listed in the introduction, Islam should be taught quite extensively. In all probability, the teaching about Islam (together with the other religions mentioned in the introduction) will depend on how teachers relate the aims for teaching (general competencies) to Islam.

The new curriculum for Religion and Ethics in upper-secondary schools is also focused on general competencies. In that there are no longer any main subject areas, Islam no longer figures in the heading of a main subject area, as in the 2006 curriculum. However, in the 2019-2020 curriculum, Christianity and Islam are the only religions that are mentioned explicitly in the aims for teaching and are thus mandatory to teach. In one of the aims for teaching, it reads that pupils should be able to “present and compare key features of Eastern and Western religions and secular humanist traditions, including Christianity and Islam” (The Norwegian Directory for Education and Training, 2019/2020b). In all the other aims for teaching, there are no specific references to any religion, but only general competencies, such as: to explore, present, elaborate on, analyse, discuss, and take another’s perspective. The extent to which Islam is taught is also likely to vary between teachers. In upper secondary, Religion and Ethics is not subject to the same regulations as the KRLE curriculum concerning its emphasis on Christianity. As a result, teachers teaching Religion and Ethics in upper secondary can, to a larger extent, emphasise their own priorities.

Islam in Teacher Training

There are different ways of becoming a teacher in Norway. Students have to specialise in teaching years 1-7 (primary school) or years 5-10 (primary and secondary school). Within these specialisations, students can choose RE as one of their teaching subjects, where it has the same name as the subject in primary and secondary school: KRLE.

Teacher education for primary and secondary schools is regulated by national guidelines for both 1-7 and 5-10.19 The guidelines for KRLE are very general and do not mention any special competency concerning Islam. It is only stated that Islam is one of the religions that shouldbe included in KRLE. Consequently, the teaching and focus on Islam vary between institutions.

Another teacher education model at the universities is a five-year integrated teacher education, usually referred to as teacher education years 8-13, as it qualifies graduates to teach years 8-10 in primary and years 11-13 in upper-secondary school (cf. Andreassen, 2013, 155). If students choose RE as one of their subjects, they attend Islam courses at study of religions departments20 to achieve a total of 60 credits (50 credits in religion courses and 10 credits in subject-related didactics [religions-didaktikk]). Courses may vary a great deal between institutions. In some departments, for instance, there are various courses on Islam, while other institutions and departments struggle to offer any course in Islam at all. As a result, the competency of teaching graduates varies according to the courses each study of religion department offers.

Islam in Norwegian Religious Education Textbooks

In Norway, there is no national committee appointed by the government to approve RE textbooks. The biggest publishing houses all offer textbooks for RE which are intended to be in accord with the current curriculum. However, bearing in mind all the adjustments in the RE curriculum in recent decades, not all publishers have adjusted textbooks accordingly, and this has resulted in a gap between some of the textbooks and the curriculum. Furthermore, schools have not necessarily asked for updated textbooks because they lack money to buy new ones.

In primary and secondary school, Islam was introduced through KRL textbooks in 1997. Because the representation of Islam for Norwegian primary and secondary pupils was something new, the textbooks’ content and scope varied substantially. In accordance with the 1997 KRL curriculum, a significant amount of the content on Islam focused on Muhammad, and on the use of what in the 1997 curriculum was referred to as the “aesthetic dimension”, which was intended to serve as a general pedagogical adaptation for teaching religions in primary school (The Royal Ministry of Education, Research and Church Affairs, 1997, 90-91). Illustrations and images in the chapters on Islam are mostly pictures of ornamental art, landscapes, people, and maps. Some calligraphy and figurative art were also used. There were also some reprints of miniature paintings and manuscript illustrations depicting Muhammad and his family in some of the textbooks (Undheim, 2017, 133). The focus on the aesthetic dimension in the 1997 KRL curriculum, which also suggested that the pupils should make drawings from different religious traditions, was one of the reasons why some Muslim groups engaged in a lawsuit against the Norwegian state and the subject of KRL (Flaskerud, 2010, 133).

In 2008, following the revision of the RE curriculum for primary and secondary schools, miniature paintings and some of the classical figurative art depicting Muhammad were removed from the textbooks (Undheim, 2017, 134). In the aftermath of the Danish cartoon crises in 2005 (see chapter on Denmark and introduction in this volume), it seems that publishers were afraid of causing conflict with Muslim groups. Even though one of the textbook authors argues that the illustrations were removed for pedagogical reasons (Opsal, 2006, cited in English in Undheim, 2017, 139), publishers seemed very cautious about pictures and illustrations in chapters on Islam.

Analysing a new textbook introduced in 2014, Norwegian scholar Ann Midttun (2014) argued that this new textbook reproduced old textbooks and seemingly was not up to date. Its main perspective was on the majority Sunni traditions, on central dogmas, rituals, and festivals, leaving rather little room for diversity and variations within traditions when it came to lived religion. Even though there is no extensive research that has systematically analysed Islam in RE textbooks, Midttun’s findings illustrate a general tendency in RE textbooks for primary and secondary education on Islam. However, in the latest textbook for RE in secondary school, with the title Store spQrsmal (English, Big Questions) (Hove, Jorgensen and Sandboe, 2016) one can see how the authors have tried to include more about lived religion and how Islam can be practised in different ways by the use of interviews with young Muslims in Norway. An interesting feature in this book is that three illustrations depict Muhammad. One small drawing is part of an Islamic timeline and shows Muhammad’s back (Hove,Jorgensen and Sandboe, 2016,102). The other two are Turkish art pieces of Muhammad receiving his first revelation from the archangel Gabriel/Jibril, dating from the 16th century (Hove, Jorgensen and Sandboe, 2016, 107, 109). Before the launch of a range of new RE textbooks in accordance with the new curriculum for primary and secondary schools in 2020, it will be interesting to see whether the new textbooks will be able to adjust the representation of Islam in accordance with research that has criticised such representation. It is also interesting to see the ways in which the textbook Store spÿrsmâl has included illustrations of Muhammad, which publishers seemingly tried to avoid in textbooks developed in the period from 2008 to 2015.

In upper-secondary schools, there are currently three textbooks for RE, all of which have rather comprehensive chapters on Islam. The presentations of Islam are characterised by a traditional historical, geographical, and academic approach. As the curriculum for Religion and Ethics in upper secondary includes the goal of competency concerning gender, all three textbooks also raise the question of gender in Islam. While one of the textbooks only refers to the typical gender roles based on classical Islam, two are more oriented towards Muslim women in modern societv. However, none of the textbooks mentions the growth of Muslim feminism (cf. Badran, 2009). As in textbooks for primary and secondary, textbooks for upper secondary also contain pictures of people and mosques, maps, and calligraphy.

Illustrations in textbooks are relevant, but there is a tendency in Norway to use pictures of dramatic events (attacks on the Twin Towers, and the ashura festival with people bloody after whipping themselves, for example) or from cultures which are culturally and geographically far away from Norway (Andreassen, 2017). Quite popular, for instance, are pictures of Bedouins with camels in the desert, from the Middle East and North Africa, signalling that Islam is something different from Norwegian or Western culture. Even though there are also pictures of Norwegian Muslims, their number is rather small. Compared to the textbooks for primary and lower-secondary schools, textbooks for upper-secondary schools appear to be more critical in their presentation of Islam. This is related to the present RE curriculum for upper secondary, which seems to be characterised by a more critical approach to religion in general, but which also focuses on specific topics such as gender in Islam.

Improving Education About Islam in

Norway: Recent Trends and Initiatives

The curricula implemented in 2020 will most likely make actual teaching in KRLE very different between teachers and schools. Teaching about Islam will, in all probability, still be influenced by public debate, popular culture, and news media, which often results in a stereotypic idea of Islam and Muslims (cf. Vassenden and Andersson, 2011; Von der Lippe, 2011). Research confirms that this is a continuous challenge in teaching about Islam because the Norwegian cultural context feeds pupils with prejudices towards Islam and Muslims, relating Islam to terrorism, extremism, and oppression of women (Toft, 2018). Notwithstanding these stereotypes, interviews with Muslim pupils show that they, in general, seem positive towards RE and to the fact that Islam is being taught as a part of RE (Gundersen et al., 2014, 13; Toft, 2017). However, many students have also experienced that teaching about Islam in school is different compared to teaching about other religions, mostly because Islam is related to terrorism and extremism in a way that other religions are not (Toft, 2017).

A first impression of the new curricula is that a focus on general competencies provides less focus on specific religions. However, working with general aims focusing on skills like analysis might strengthen the pupils’ abilities in critical reading, and thus for taking a critical stance towards communication about Islam in the media, popular culture, blogs, and social media. In that way, teaching about Islam could be improved. On the other hand, teaching about Islam will most likely continue to be influenced by the public discourse on Islam, which a new set of curricula cannot prevent. However, a reasonable expectation is that textbooks developed for the new curricula might avoid the stereotypical negative presentations about Islam and Muslims.

Besides Islam, there is a range of other religions (“Western” and “Eastern”) that must be taught in the new curricula, and it is unavoidable that some of the mandatory religions (or secular humanism) will receive less attention than others. Given the teachers’ role in interpreting the curricula, teaching about Islam will, in all probability, be largely influenced by teachers and textbooks. In order to be relevant, textbooks have to present a more or less finished structure for teaching, and thus they will emphasise some religions more than others. In their development, my guess is that most of the textbooks will put emphasis on Islam because it is the second largest religion in Norway. It is, however, still an open question to what extent publishers and textbook authors will pay attention to existing research criticising the representation of Islam in Norwegian RE textbooks.


The Norwegian educational system is mainly a system of uniform state schools, with integrative and non-confessional RE on the compulsory curriculum. Even though religious freedom is legally guaranteed, recent history has shown that it is difficult for Muslims to establish separate schools, and it is most likely that the Foundation for a Muslim Primary School will have to wait for a political change before reapplying. If we also take into consideration the general ban on wearing clothing that covers the face in educational institutions, we could say that Norwegian policy towards Muslims has been focused on national identity and, consistent with this, integration into Norwegian society. The reluctance towards founding Muslim schools and the ban on the full-face veil are different wavs of serving the same aim: integration of Islam into Norwegian society.

Islam has been a part of Norwegian RE since 1974, and it has steadily been given more attention in RE curricula and textbooks. As with the Norwegian education system in general, RE has been intended to serve a number of functions, among these providing knowledge and understanding as well as contributing to social cohesion. However, as with most things in schooling, there might be a discrepancy between ideas, how things are actually put into practice, and the pupil’s reception of what is learned. Curricula and textbooks still risk promoting a stereotypical representation of Islam, representing it as a pre-modern religion which is intrinsically related to problems of integration, terrorism, and extremism, as well as challenging Norwegian values related to equality of gender. Nevertheless, knowledge about Islam is considered important in the Norwegian context.


  • 1. Long before its official independence in 1905, Norway and the Norwegian parliament had already been acting fairly autonomously in the 1800s.
  • 2. Available from: [Accessed 8 May 2019].
  • 3. [Accessed 8 May 2019].
  • 4. The amount of financial support varies. In 2017, religious groups were supported with about 55€ for each member (Jacobsen 2018, 15).
  • 5. Information available from: [Accessed 11 February 2020].
  • 6. Information available from: [Accessed 23 August 2019].
  • 7. According to the Norwegian Security Police (PST, Politiets sikkerhetstje-neste), about 30 Norwegians have been killed fighting for IS, about 40 have returned to Norway, and about 30 are presumed still to be in Syria. Their status is not clear (see also Bangstad, 2017, 500).
  • 8. The press release came as a result of a mosque shooting in Oslo on 10 August 2019. No one was killed in the attack, but the terrorist killed his own stepsister before attacking the mosque.
  • 9. More about the Norwegian citizenship test can be found on the website of the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI), available from: https:// [Accessed 20 August 2019].
  • 10. Website available from: [Accessed 20 August 2019].
  • 11. Press release 20 December 2018. Available from: https://www.regjeringen. no/no/aktuelt/stiftelsen-den-muslimske-grunnskole-far-ikke-starte-grunnskole-i-oslo/id2623576/ [Accessed on 27June 2019].
  • 12. Available from: index.html [Accessed 21 August 2019].
  • 13. Pupils can only be exempted from parts of the teaching which they and their parents find in conflict with their religion or worldview. Typical reasons for pupils being exempted are visits to churches or mosques, being part of activities which might resemble religious rituals, dancing, role play, or other activities that might be perceived as in conflict with a pupil’s religion or worldview. The Norwegian Education Act does not allow pupils to be exempted from all the teaching about a religion, such as Islam. It is the teacher’s job to adapt the teaching so that most pupils can participate (see also Von der Lippe, 2018).
  • 14. This is the main subject area for years 1-7. In primary, years 8-10, the main subject area is labelledjudaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Other Religious Diversity, and Philosophies of Life.
  • 15. The judgment from the ECtHR is available from: https://hudoc.echr.coe. int/eng#("itemid":["001-81356"]| [Accessed 11 February 2020].
  • 16. The communication from the UN’s Human Rights Committee is available from: v_Norway.htm [Accessed on 11 February 2020].
  • 17. The circular F-10-08 is available from the government’s website (in Norwegian only): 2008/rundskriv-f-10-08-informasjon-om-endring.html?id=520814 [Accessed 25 June 2019].
  • 18. This is the official translation in English by the Directory for Education. Curriculum in English: [Accessed 1 July 2013].
  • 19. The national guidelines are published online (in Norwegian only) and are available from: [Accessed on 14 May 2019].
  • 20. Courses in Islam in other departments (e.g., history, sociology, anthropology) cannot formally be a part of the RE training for teachers. However, in agreement with the head of studies, there might be openings to include such courses in some institutions.


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