The place of religious education in school

Last week’s Westminster Faith Debate examined religion in schools in Britain. But there’s a danger that we get so sucked into our own national preoccupations that we lose perspective. My work on research and policy extends into Europe, and I want to give a wider European perspective to the United Kingdom debates. Above all, I suggest that – along with key European Institutions, such as the Council of Europe – we need to ground our thinking about religious education in a human rights framework that recognises freedom of religious or non-religious belief as a value.

There is a recognition that every young person in Europe has a right to hold a particular view, whether religious or secular, within the limits of the law, and that societies need to develop a culture of living together in peace. There is a view that all young Europeans should have a knowledge and understanding of religious diversity in Europe and beyond, but there is no naiveté that this understanding will automatically increase tolerance. In addition, there need to be opportunities for critical and reflective engagement, through moderated dialogue and exchange, for example, and the appropriate sensitivities, attitudes and skills need to be cultivated. This is part of the Council of Europe’s message in its White Paper on intercultural dialogue.

But we shouldn’t study religions and other worldviews in state schools simply for instrumental reasons. We must not lose sight of the importance of an education which covers all areas of human experience – such as mathematical, scientific, aesthetic, philosophical (including ethical), linguistic, historical, and religious/spiritual. A combination of intrinsic and instrumental justifications gives attention to all aspects of human experience, as well as addressing pressing issues.

My research team’s work in various projects in the UK and in Europe, including the Religion and Society programme, provides some observations relevant to the development of policy. Read more

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