Joël Valk, MA (Corderius College Amersfoort): Representational Image Use in RE Text
Books: The Case of the Dutch Perspectief Series. Presentation given on the seminar ‘The
Study of Religion and Good Teaching Materials’, Leiden University, 31 October 2018.
1. The Perspectief series
This presentation looks at a specific case, the popular full colour multimedia RE textbook
series Perspectief. Perspectief is used in approximately 20 % of catholic and 20 % of
protestant secondary schools in the Netherlands (Bertram-Troost & Visser, 2017) and is a full
colour textbook series with many images.
Personality development is the main object, with
many sections dedicated to the answers of religious and non-religious life stances on life’s
questions. Perspectief (perspective) aims to give several perspectives (i.e. life stances) to look
In this case study (Valk, 2017) photos of art works were chosen, as art is an important means
of communication in religions (Plate, 2015) and has a certain meaning of its own (Panofsky,
2008). Based on an analysis of 59 photos of artworks used in the Perspectief series vol. 1, 2
, as well as of the texts they support, this presentation evaluates the educational value of
the art reproductions in Perspectief. What are the functions of the illustrations, how are they
used and do the illustrations enhance the pupils’ understanding of the text? Do they, for
instance, serve an instructional purpose?
The educational value of images in a textbook depends on their functionality and relevance.
Images can enhance learning only when they really are integrated in the text. This means, that
the narrative refers to the image (sentences like: ‘as you can see the on image below’) and the
image caption refers back to the narrative. When this doesn’t happen, the image doesn’t have
any function anymore and can becomes decorative. Such interesting but irrelevant images
harm the learning process of understanding and recollection (Mayer, 2009). It gets even worse
when images show something different than is said in the text. And this goes for even the
smallest details. For example, experimental research shows that when the text says something
about a man smoking a pipe and the illustration shows someone smoking a cigarette, this
produces negative test results (Bos-Aanen, Sanders, & Lentz, 2002).
2. Key findings
So to find out the educational value of the 59 selected photos, I had to find out their relevance
and functionality. The intended use of images in Perspectief is almost only representational:
something or other in the text, is represented in the image.
The actual use of the images in
relation to the text is different, as I will show you here in four distinct categories. This original
selection encompassed figurative art in general. In this presentation I will show only images
from a religious context. The relation of these images to the text was as follows:
Online samples can be viewed at: https://issuu.com/thiememeulenhoff/docs/perspectief_leer-
Meant for the first three classes (12 till 14-year-olds) in secondary education.
The so-called ‘image questions’ in the online available tests mainly ask to identify who or what is represented
on the image.
Figure 1. Text frame (‘Christianity’) on Martin Luther, with a portrait of Martin Luther, painted by Lucas Cranach.
Perspectief series vmbo-t, havo, vwo, volume 2, page 33.
1. Representational. Nine percent of the selected images were used in this way. The image
shows something or other that is described in the text. A text about Martin Luther is illustrated
with a portrait of Martin Luther, painted by Lucas Cranach (also mentioned in the caption), as
you can see in figure 1.
2. Representational, but… Thirty two percent of the selected images were used in this way.
Here we see images that, just like the ‘Representational’ category are used to illustrate a point
made in the text, but what is in this text is not the whole story, is sometimes not even correct,
the representation might only be in part or, as you can see in the example in figure 2, the
image even is manipulated to fit the text. In this case the text tells the reader about creation
stories in Hinduism. The image that is used to illustrate the point made in the text about
Brahma the creator who was born from a lotus emerging from the navel of Vishnu, also shows
Lakshmi massaging Vishnu’s feet – the so called Anantashayanam, Sheshashayin, or
Jalashayin (see the original image on figure 3) – but that part is cut off in the illustration.
Figure 2. Text frame (‘Hinduism’) on Hindu creation stories from the Vedas, with a painting of Vishnu and Brahma,
Perspectief series vmbo-t, havo, vwo, volume 1, page 98.
Figure 3. Vishnu and Lakshmi, painting, ca. 1870. Victoria and Albert Museum, IS.19-1949 (Vishnu and Lakshmi, n.d.).
3. Decorative. Thirty two percent of the selected images were used in this way. The
illustrations that are used have no functional relation to the text. Figure 4 shows an example of
this way of image usage in the Perspectief series, on so called ‘Project pages’. On these pages
pupils find information about the ‘Heroes’ project, with several assignments. Although there
is an assignment on ‘Biblical heroes’, the illustration where you can see the head of (a
nineteenth century replica) of Michelangelo’s David is not mentioned in this assignment,
neither does this illustration have a caption where pupils can find information on the statue.
The same goes for all the other illustrations, including the two photos of art works.
Figure 4. Project Heroes, double page spread in Perspectief series vmbo-t, havo, vwo, volume 2, page 50, 51.
4. Mismatch. Twenty seven percent of the selected images were mismatches of images and
text. The example in figure 5 shows a text frame (‘Hinduism’ and ‘Buddhism’) on
reincarnation. The larger part of the text talks about the Hindu idea of reincarnation. Only the
last sentence mentions: “Buddhists also believe in reincarnation.” The illustration shows a
Buddhist samsarachakra from the Dazu rock carvings in China. This clearly is a mismatch of
text and image, as the text doesn’t say anything about the realms of rebirth in Buddhism,
which are depicted in the samsarachakra. The image doesn’t help pupils getting a better idea
what the Hindu view of reincarnation is either, because it represents something completely
different. There is no guidance for pupils in understanding what this very complex image
actually is about. The caption (“Buddhist wheel of reincarnation”) is too brief to decode the
image, as is the reference to Buddhism in the text. The use of this specific image also raises
other questions, because this ancient sculpture not even shows the canonical version of the
samsarachakra, but one that is very typical only for the Dazu region (Teiser, 2008).
Only rarely are the selected photos of artworks used in a really representational, relevant and
functional way, as is shown in figure 6. Most of the images are not discussed within the
narrative of the text and are deemed either to be just a decoration or worse, a mismatch. Direct
reference to one of the pictures is rarely made. Even very complex images like the
samsarachakra are not interpreted. Only a minority of the images has (brief!) captions in
These other two artworks, not mentioned in the presentation as they are not religious images, are (l.) the
allegorical figure of War on the Millennium Monument in Budapest (Gerö, 1997), and (r.) the allegorical figures
Freedom and The Nation, and a figure representing a Lebanese martyr of May 1916, on the Monument on
martyr’s square, Lebanon (Volk, 2010). Further discussion of these images in Valk (2017).
which the pupils can find more information. Images are cut in half, printed backwards, and as
I will show you, even misidentified (cf. Masur, 1998).
Figure 5. Text frame (‘Hinduism’ and ‘Buddhism’) on reincarnation in Perspectief series vmbo-t, havo, vwo, volume 1, page
Figure 6. Diagram of the actual uses of the 59 selected photos of artworks in the Perspectief series. The colours show the
ways that the images can have educational value (from green: good, to red: bad).
Function of the selected photo's
3. Causes and negative side effects
What are the causes of this kind of use of illustrations in the Perspectief series? How can this
happen? The answer is: bad selection of photos and no knowledge of what the images actually
mean. I will explain this with two examples used as an illustration to a text frame
(‘Hinduism’) on the Hindu view of time and the future (figure 7).
Figure 7. Text frame (‘Hinduism’) on the Hindu view of time and the future. Perspectief series vmbo-t, havo, vwo, volume 3,
This particular text was written by and bought from an external party. Then the images were
selected, based on text specific words. In this case it was Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, who are
mentioned in the text. Most of the images used in Perspectief are chosen from the stock photo
website Dreamstime.com. As you can see on figure 8, the ‘Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva’ image
on this website is the same image on the left in the text frame in figure 7. It’s a beautiful
image, gold statues, white background, clear blue sky. There’s one problem though, these
statues do not represent Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. They are statues of Lakshmana, Rama
and Sita, from the Ramayana.
Figure 8. Photo on www.dreamstime.com. Caption reads: “Hindu Trimurti: Gold Statues of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, the
Great Trinity of Hinduism”.
Figure 9. Detail of the lower part of the text frame (‘Hinduism’) on the Hindu view of time and the future. On the left
Lakshmana, Rama and Sita, Hindu Temple, Malibu, California. On the right: Brahma statue, Ministry of energy, Bangkok.
Caption reads: “Below left: The trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, portrayed as three gods – often also portrayed as one
god with three faces, as is visible on the right”. Perspectief series vmbo-t, havo, vwo, volume 3, page 39,
Confronted with the results of my research and the error of the caption of the photo of Rama,
Lakshmana and Sita in Perspectief, chief editor of the Perspectief series Desiré Brokerhof
told me in an interview: “If there are errors in the way we treat images, then that should be
corrected. And if you want to know, I am to blame, I am the one that chooses the images and
write the captions. And I don’t know the first thing about these images. I trust the information
provided by the photographers who upload their images at the stock photo website
So one of the causes of the specific use of images in Perspectief is the way that the photos are
selected, only after a text is written and not simultaneously, by someone who had no
iconographic knowledge and hence did not recognise that it was Lakshmana, Rama and Sita
on this particular photo. And this is no exception, as you can see on the image on the right in
figure 9. This isn’t the Trimurti either, but Brahma instead. And it’s a very particular statue of
Brahma, because you can find this in Bangkok, venerated mostly by Buddhists, not Hindus
(McDaniel, 2009). Apart from the fact that these images have little to do with the text frame
which talks mainly about the yuga time periods in Hinduism, one can conclude that this way
of selection not only doesn’t enhance learning, it also has a negative side effect: pupils are
Another cause can be found in the way these photos are treated as carriers of information, as
meaningful images. The results of my research were published in the magazine Narthex, four
months prior to the interview I had with Brokerhof (Valk, 2018). The editors of Perspectief
were offered the possibility to react to the – in some extent – shocking results. Brokerhofs
reaction, published at the bottom of the article, was very different from what he said to me in
the interview. This is what he wrote: “When we developed this series, our aim was to publish
attractive books, which represent the contemporary reality of religions and life stances.
Because a beautiful and attractive book enhances the learning process. In making these books,
visual art is not our focus. We’re compiling the information, the assignments and the imagery
from a Religious Studies point of view to help today’s teenagers in their philosophy of life.
(…) In short, Joël Valk’s research has other premises than we as editors have. The answer to
the question whether the images in our textbook series have educational value, should
therefore be viewed from another perspective” (Brokerhof, 2018, emphasis mine). But the
selected images in my research were not selected because of their value as art works, but as
meaningful images. The results of my research did not show that these artworks were not
treated well as art, but that the meaning they have was not recognised nor understood.
Interview with Désiré Brokerhof, august 20th, 2018.
4. Interpreting rituals
Maybe visual art (images with meaning) is not the focus and hence of minor importance in a
Religious Education textbook series. What about rituals (acts with meaning) then? If the
answer to the question whether the images in Perspectief have educational value should not
Figure 10. A photo of a statue of Gandhi (made by Karel Gomes) in the Churchilllaan in Amsterdam. Perspectief series
vmbo-t, havo, vwo, volume 2, page 73.
be viewed from the perspective of how photos of visual art are treated, but how photos of
rituals are treated, what will be the outcome then?
As a test case I will show you four
examples, all of which can be found in the second volume of the Perspectief series.
The first example (figure 10) shows a photo of a statue of Gandhi made by Dutch sculptor
Karel Gomes in the Churchilllaan in Amsterdam. There is no caption and no mention of the
statue nor the garlands placed there because of celebration of Gandhi Jayanti on October 2nd
in the running text. This is not just a representation of Gandhi, who is mentioned in the text.
This is a photo of a particular moment in time, when a particular ritual was performed.
Figure 21. A photo of a ritual performed at an Islamic wedding, Cairo, Egypt, dec. 2012. Perspectief series vmbo-t, havo,
vwo, volume 2, page 131.
The second example (figure 11) shows a photo of an Islamic wedding ceremony as a
supporting image in a text frame about love and relationships in Islam. The caption reads: “Of
course the bride wears a veil at a traditional Islamic wedding.” The actual ritual (we see a
hand with a certain object above the bride’s head, and I still don’t know what kind of ritual
this is) is not mentioned. What will pupils think when they see this image? I’m sure they have
questions about what’s happening in the photo. But nobody can tell them.
The seminar ‘The Study of Religion and Good Teaching Materials’, where this presentation was given was part
of the larger conference, ‘Interpreting Rituals: Historiographical Perspectives and Pluralistic Contexts’ at Leiden
Figure 12. A photo of a man receiving a cross of ashes on Ash Wednesday. Perspectief series vmbo-t, havo, vwo, volume 2,
On the third example (figure 12) you can see a photo of a man receiving a cross of ashes on
Ash Wednesday, 25th of February 2004, in Heerlen, as a supporting image in a text frame on
the roman catholic sacrament of Penance (Confession). Ash Wednesday and the sacrament of
Penance are two different things, as you may know. The caption reads: “A believer receives a
cross of ashes as a sign of forgiveness.”
Figure 13. A photo of a youngster (amidst adults) carrying a Torah scroll container on his bar mitzvah ceremony at the
Western wall in Jerusalem. Perspectief series vmbo-t, havo, vwo, volume 2, page 134.
The final example shows a photo of a youngster on his bar mitzvah ceremony at the Western
wall in Jerusalem as a supporting image in a text frame on the Shema Yisrael. The caption
reads: “Jewish men carry the prayer scrolls [sic]. The Shema Yisrael is in the little boxes on
their foreheads.” That this is actually during a bar mitzvah ceremony is not mentioned.
These examples of photos of rituals not recognised nor explained show that it is the way these
images are treated that determines their educational value, not what is represented, be it visual
arts, rituals, or another subject matter.
The editors of Perspectief do not know what images like artworks actually are, what they
mean and how they work within a textbook series. The result is something which we cannot
call of good quality, because the way these representational images are used does not
enhance, but hinders learning and real understanding. In doing this the Perspectief textbook
series becomes a construction of a non-existing reality. Good teaching materials about
religion need alternative and better ways of using representational images.
What then will help us in using images to produce good quality teaching materials? First, of
all, the answer “requires image didactics, which explores methods of visual acquisition in
classrooms, particularly the complexity of images and their reception by pupils.” (Fuchs &
Henne, 2018). I do have something to say for my own in this respect, which I will do in a
chapter on image didactics in a forthcoming Dutch Religious Education didactics handbook.
When I ask my pupils about the first thing they look at when they open a new school book,
they always answer: the images. They want to know why the images that are used are chosen.
Images appeal not only to the senses, but also to the emotions. When the images used have no
real function, they are disappointed. And I understand them. Images are a very powerful
means to educate, because they stir up the emotions and make the pupils curious. And that is
what I as their teacher love most, that they start asking questions. Because when they ask
questions about the representational images in their textbook, the artworks and rituals on the
photos, they are asking questions about primary sources: this is what it’s all about when we
educate our pupils and students.
So secondly, editors and educators need to have a visual memory. When it comes to
representational images, educators and editors need to have a visual memory combined with
iconographical knowledge. They have to know the images and types of images that represent
the religion they teach about by heart. Even when you’re only studying contemporary forms
of religion or worldviews, it is necessary to have an understanding of older images, because
they keep coming back. In the western world people communicate with images more and
more, also with images coming from religious contexts. You can visit art and photo and
ethnological museums (very much recommend) but you can also take a look at these
museums’ websites. Their complete collections, including scholarly justification of the
description and more are online, for free. This is a beautiful tool to enrich your knowledge.
Photos and artworks and rituals are as good a primary source as texts. In this, the eye needs
training, not only to be able to ‘unlock’ what is visible (and if it is in a book, to connect that
with the text) but also to see what people do with these images. Art Museums (and the same
goes for archaeological sites) are excellent places to come and view an artwork and interpret
all the different meanings, but they are not helpful in showing the religious function of these
images and objects. Their artistic or cultural value may be great, but are these images
representative within the contemporary religion?
And finally textbook didactics need to change: concrete things first, not abstract ones like
religious ‘concepts’, like the way life’s existential questions are answered in different life
stances. These concepts in textbooks tend to be very generic, while the artworks or rituals that
are reproduced to illustrate a point made in the text are not. They have a very specific
meaning and happen only once in that particular way. So we should start with concrete things:
practice. Religion is practice!
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