28. jul. 2017

Representations of Hinduism and Buddhism in Norwegian Textbooks

The following is an abstract of my master thesis (2008) about how Hinduism and Buddhism are represented by Norwegian textbooks in Religious Education in upper secondary school. In the thesis I analyzed four textbooks (1948, 1970, 1997, 2006). My later research on all available textbooks in the school subject after 1935 and until today has confirmed the main conclusions in the master thesis.

This thesis takes a closer look on representations of Buddhism and Hinduism by four Norwegian textbooks, from 1948, 1970, 1997 and 2006. Using discourse analysis and a postcolonial theoretical perspective, the aim is to discover continuity and changes in the representations. The findings are then discussed in regard to the tutorial laws and curricula, which the different books relate to.

In regard to Buddhism, the main findings are that although the same topics are covered in each book, the attitude towards this religion has changed dramatically. The oldest book, from 1948, represents Buddhism as a religion which encourages its followers to a lifestyle far from the "Norwegian" ideal. Trough emphasis on both explicit and implicit differences between Christianity and Buddhism, progress and social and cultural activity are found lacking in the latter. In the book from 1970, one can detect a small change in this attitude. The main focus is still on what is recognised as Buddhism’s inactive aspect, but some social, cultural and political activity is also recognised. In 1997 passivity as a negative aspect is no longer a main focus. The Buddhist attitude to life, as found in the Buddha’s teachings, is now seen as a positive and ethical passivity, which encourages Buddhists to care for others. The book from 2006 also represents Buddhism in this way, and emphasises how the Buddha’s teachings encourages his followers to peace and care for the environment.

In the representations of Hinduism we find a more constant attitude. Mainly the same topics are covered by the books in regard to this religion as well. All of the books emphasises the exotic and bizarre – which is mainly found in representations of asceticism (in 1948, 1997 and 2006) and the holy cow (1970). The caste system is in the book from 1948 represented as a characteristic feature of all of India, regardless of religion, whereas the books from 1970, 1997 and 2006 represent caste as an essential characteristic of Hinduism. All of the books represent the caste system as an institution which maintains social injustice, and as a feature of India/Hinduism which is not compatible with "modern" progress. The representations of both Buddhism and Hinduism are used to promote Norwegian ideals as expressed in the tutorial laws and the curricula. In the first two books these ideals are explicitly Christian, and both Buddhism and Hinduism are represented as Christianity’s radical other. In the two latest books however, where Norwegian ideals no longer is seen as first and foremost Christian, Buddhism is seen as "our" significant other – representing attitudes and ideals "we" can relate to. Hinduism is though seen as "our" radical other in the latest books as well.

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