A Solution to the Ethnic Identity Problems in Swedish Schools with the Help of Bahá'í Material

By Per Akerdahl

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #28
London School of Economics: London, England
July 14–16, 2000
(see list of papers from #28)

    The center of the Christian Syrian community in Sweden in the town of Sodertalje, situated 45 kilometers southwest of Stockholm. The Syrian-Orthodox church in this town has two bishops who are spiritual guides to a community of growing affluence. The reaction of the majority community of ethnic Swedes has not always been positive to this influx of immigrants that have arrived during a period of about twenty-five years and there have been a number of incidents between ethnic Swedes and ethnic Syrians in schools as well as outside schools.

    In one of the high schools of that town, there has been a problem with the clash of one group of Swedish students, being Satanist and one group of Christian Syrian students. I was asked to solve this problem and I chose to do this by the help of the basic principles of the Swedish school system. The common basis of values in the Swedish school system is a set of humanistic principles, very close to the Bahá'í principles. This resulted in that I held discussions with these classes, using the Bahá'í principles as a way of describing the foundation of values of the Swedish school and the Bahá'í martyrs as a means of connect these discussions with the existential questions of the students. In this way I could bind together the humanistic principles of the Swedish school system with the identity development of the students.

    I could also combine the statement on ethics in the basis of values that says that ethics of Swedish school rest on "Christian tradition and Western humanism." This statement is well known as a theoretical statement, but of little help to the teacher. One of the reasons for this is that Christian tradition and Western humanism not always have been supportive, but often been antagonistic towards each other. In analysing discussions between teacher and students in the classroom this problem often become a major obstacle to understanding the intention of the author. When using the Bahá'í principles, however, this problem disappears as the Bahá'í Faith is neither burdened by the Christian tradition or the history of Western humanism. Therefore these principles are acceptable both to Christian Syrians and to ethnic Swedes, especially when the principles are discussed in connection to a presentation of Bahá'í martyrs who died for these very principles. This method has been used in order to solve the urgent problem of the clash between the Christian Syrians and the ethnic Swedes as well as another clash between a Swedish history teacher and representatives of the Syrian Christian community regarding Syrian Christian ethnic identity.

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