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Religion and Society

In Europe God is Taught in this Way

Author: The Italian Bishops’ Conference, National Service for the Teaching of the Catholic Religion (ed.)

 

 

Title: L’insegnamento della religione, risorsa per l’Europa

 

 

Publisher: Elledici, Leumann (Turin), 2008

 

 

This volume presents the results of research carried out between 2005 and 2007 on the teaching of religion in European schools. The research was promoted by the Council of the European Bishops’ Conferences upon the initiative and with the operational support of the National Service for the Teaching of the Catholic Religion of the Italian Bishops’ Conference. Religious instruction (hereinafter referred to as RI) in schools is undoubtedly one of the litmus papers in order to understand the type of relationship that exists between religion and politics, churches and states, even the more so when, like nowadays, questions are being asked about the cultural foundations of European society, the role of historically majority religions (the Christian confessions) and the claims put forward by the religious minorities. From this research the picture of the European reality (29 nations were considered) appears to be rather varied, even in the presence of common elements. A factor that is common to the research carried out in the single countries is to be identified in the cultural nature of the RI and in the highlighting of one of its principal aims: to foster the human and spiritual growth of the pupils in reply to the questions of sense. In almost all European countries (except Bulgaria, Belarus and France, with the exception of Alsace) some form of RI is given according to two predominant modalities: instruction modelled on the sciences of religion run by the state and instruction with confessional contents in which the Christian churches have a significant role. The first model is adopted in the Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden and Denmark), the second model, in which the state does not lay any claims with regard to religion but considers that religion is part of the historical and cultural patrimony of the country, is prevalent in the other countries. In Italy and Ireland only one confessional teaching (Catholic) exists and one is guaranteed the possibility to not avail of religious teaching or to choose another activity. In other countries (Belgium, Germany, France (Alsace), Croatia, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Finland, Romania) RI of different confessions is offered or a general RI. In some ex-communist countries (Lithuania, Serbia/Montenegro/Macedonia, Czech Republic, Hungary) the confessional RI is an optional subject and pupils are free to do it outside school hours. In other countries (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Croatia) or regions (Alsace), the aim of the teaching is, both in the state schools and the religious ones, of a pastoral nature intertwining with demands of a catechetical type. In other cases again (Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales) the catechetical aims are reserved for the teaching of religion offered in Catholic schools. In almost all the countries (except Bulgaria, Hungary and Belarus), the RI teachers are employed and paid by the state and they are recognised a juridical status that is identical or analogous with that of the teachers of other subjects. In the countries in which the teaching of religion also has a pastoral nature, the ecclesiastic authority has a voice in the matter of the appointment or in the approval of teachers. In conclusion, from this rich and well-documented survey it appears that, data in hand, the model of RI based on the sciences of religion (a merely descriptive model when not syncretistic) and today championed by many as a laical and post-confessional model cannot at all be considered as the natural and inevitable result towards which things are going in Europe. It appears on the other hand that RI can today constitute also a fundamental pillar for the recognition of the positive role of religion in the public sphere of European countries.

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