REDCo II : Models of religious education

Excerpt from

Gerdien Bertram-Troost, Julia Ipgrave, Dan-Paul Jozsa & Thorsten Knauth, “European Comparison: Dialogue and Conflict” in … REDCo II (Qualitative survey), pp. 409-410


Models of religious education and their impact on pupils’ attitudes towards dialogue and conflict

Now we have shown pupils’ views on religious plurality and the role of religion in education with regard to dialogue and conflict, we will go further into the influence of the way attention is paid to religion in school (including different models of religious education) on pupils’ opinions on religion as a factor of dialogue or conflict. The main issue is whether a certain model for religious education influences the way pupils look upon religion as a factor of dialogue or conflict. When gauging the role of religion as a factor of dialogue or conflict, it is vital to see how religion is present and integrated in the school environment. Opportunities for dialogue however greatly depend on the nature and depth of its integration in school which, as we have shown in this volume, in turn depends greatly on contextual factors determined by both historical and current developments (see also Jackson, Miedema, Weisse & Willaime, 2007). Here we will make a distinction between three ways of integrating religion in school: ‘no place for religious education as a school subject’, ‘segregation by religious affiliation’ and ‘mixed-faith religious education’.


No place for religious education as a school subject

The legal framework and educational policy of some countries show reservation towards religious education as a school subject. This applies on one side to Estonia and Russia. A secularist tradition of keeping religion out of the public sphere remains strong in both countries as a heritage from their socialist past. This is mirrored in the attitudes of pupils showing a lack of experience with religious education affecting attitudes towards the place for religion in school. Against this background the possibilities of dialogue are limited. On the other side, this reservation toward religious education in public schools applies also to France, (with the exception of Alsace and Moselle) with its unique principle and tradition of laïcité. In the French case pupils mainly believed that the secular school ensures equality for all by keeping religion and religious affiliation outside the school context. They viewed this form of equality, created through excluding differences, positively, but criticised a position that made the school a solitary sphere of an equality absent in society at large. The principle of laïcité seemed to pacify conflicts in school, whereas outside school it did not affect existing conflicts. Pupils spoke about separation, exclusion and prejudice as notable elements in societal tensions. From their words it seemed that with this way of dealing with religion in school (namely, leaving it out), conflicts of religious heterogeneity are locked out, and unresolved, granting the pupils no more than a temporary respite.


Segregation by religious affiliation

Another way of integrating religion in school is the model of segregating of pupils according to their religious affiliation (e.g. in the shape of confessional religious education). This institutional framework allows for mainly intra-religious exchange. This was regarded as positive as long as it served as a secure space in which the students could express their religious views openly without causing offence, feeling embarrassed, meeting criticism or ridicule. Young people in this case felt protected from  discrimination due to their religious commitment. On the other hand, the data seems to indicate that a confessional religious education (as, in our sample, is the case in North Rhine Westphalia and Spain) runs the risk of confirming existing dividing lines in the social life of pupils. The common result of our analysis is that a lot of pupils do only socialise with peers with the same religious  background or the same attitude towards religion. The question remains unanswered whether pupils in these contexts can conceptualise a religious education characterised by mutual exchange between pupils of different religious backgrounds and worldviews.


Mixed-faith religious education

The model ‘no place for religious education in school’ as well as the model ‘segregation by religious affiliation’ have an influence on the pupils’ readiness for interreligious dialogue. However, even contexts with mixed-faith religious education have to face problems of division along religious and ethnic lines. These lines (as shown by the Hamburg data) appear to be less obvious and more implicit. However prejudices and conflicts can, to a certain extent at least, be corrected through interreligious dialogue in mixed-faith  religious education classes. Respondents reported positive experiences of this approach and made clear that it leads to a more differentiated and complex understanding of other positions.

Where the respondents favoured mixed-faith religious education classes, the value of learning directly from each other was mentioned as very positive. The benefits of discussion and sharing different viewpoints were cited. In some participating schools these were not only the young people’s aspirations but also their experiences of religious education.