International Knowledge Transfer in Religious Education
In 2018 a group of scholars in the field of Religious Education in different European countries met at Berlin in order to draft a brief manifesto. It was decided to start a broader discussion on this topic in different countries and in leading periodicals of the field. The full manifesto can be found below:
International Knowledge Transfer in Religious Education
- A Manifesto for Discussion -
In October 2018, a group of scholars in the field of religious education in different European countries met at Berlin for a consultation organized by the Comenius-Institute (Peter Schreiner) and the chair of religious education at the University of Tübingen (Friedrich Schweitzer). After intensive discussions concerning the challenge of international knowledge transfer in religious education, this group decided that it is time to start a broader discussion on this topic in different countries and, if possible, also in leading periodicals of the field. Moreover, it was considered a good starting point for this kind of discussion to draft a brief manifesto which could initiate and stimulate further discussions.
International knowledge transfer is an ideal which has come to play an increasingly important role in academia as well as in politics.
This is true for all fields of knowledge, be it in the natural sciences or the humanities. Scientists are encouraged to make their findings accessible at an international level. The European Union actively supports international knowledge transfer, for example, through programs like Erasmus+ and so-called mobility agreements between universities in different countries.
In the natural sciences, international exchange has always played a key role. It is hard to imagine that new groundbreaking findings in biology, chemistry or physics should not find the interest of colleagues in other countries. The same certainly applies to mathematics. Another example is the field of medical research. Other fields, however, seem to show less international openness, possibly because they are strongly rooted in different cultural or national contexts and therefore see less reason for appropriating findings from other countries, although more and more, internationalization has become important in all fields of research.
The observation of increasing internationalization also applies to the academic discipline of religious education.
Since the 1970s, international conferences and symposiums have become more and more frequent. International structures like the International Seminar on Religious Education and Values (ISREV), the International Society of Empirical Research in Theology (ISERT), the Nordic Conference of Religious Education (NCRE), etc. are an institutional outcome of this development. There also is a growing interest in international-comparative research in religious education which underscores the quest for internationalization and transnational cooperation. Today, international exchange takes place at many different levels in religious education. In this sense, international knowledge transfer has become a taken for granted part of the work of religious education. The importance of both international and transnational perspectives for religious education has been successfully demonstrated. Yet the question for which public or publics these international meetings are of importance has rarely been addressed.
Internationalization in religious education also implies academic exchange between different denominational traditions in religious education. Closer collaboration between researchers from different Christian traditions both at the national and international level is a promising perspective which should also be pursued more intentionally in the future.
Yet there also is the observation that religious education has not reached the point at which one could speak of an integrated field of research.
It seems to be the rare exception that international groups of researchers would be working on certain problems and even more, that the solutions for certain problems or at least the analysis of such problems offered by individuals or groups in the field would become part of the common cumulative knowledge upon which religious education should built in the future. Can religious education be viewed, at least in part, as a research discipline producing results which are of international importance for both, theoretical and empirical insights and also in terms of their applicability in practices of religious education?
At present, one may observe contradictory developments in this respect.
In many countries, there is a strong tendency towards developing religious education as a field of research of its own right. Religious education strives to be more than the application of research done in other fields. Moreover, there have been discussions not only on research results but also on methodologies as well as on criteria for research (although this is probably more true for European countries than, for example, the United States of America). At the same time, it certainly is not the rule that research results on religious education are considered of interest beyond the given country. Much religious education literature is not even read outside the national contexts. Many contributions are published only in the vernacular and there is no encouragement in religious education to learn or to use foreign languages, with the exception of English. Yet only a very small portion of knowledge pertaining to religious education has been published in English. This is true for many countries, among them, for example, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Although there have been attempts to publish more in English, for example, in the Scandinavian countries, the general presumption in religious education still seems to be that research results from one country are not of interest or importance in other countries or that they are not transferable due to their context-dependency. For the advancement of religious education as an academic discipline but, ultimately, also for the practice of religious education, this is a serious obstacle which should no longer go unaddressed.
What Can Be Done
First of all, there is a need for clarification and agreement.
Academic international and transnational relationships most naturally include a transfer of knowledge which raises important questions.
v What kinds of knowledge are transferred?
v What makes such transfer possible?
v What exactly does transfer mean in this case?
v Is there knowledge in religious education that can be applied internationally and by whom?
Some of these questions refer to the philosophy of science underpinning research in religious education.
v Should the validity of knowledge in religious education be considered general / universal or should it be seen as particular and regionally bound?
v Is this knowledge valid only in one country or is it valid internationally, independently of its national context of discovery?
v And what type of knowledge is transferred with what normative status?
v Who might possibly benefit from it?
In order to reach clarification and agreement concerning such questions additional international work will be necessary.
Clearly new efforts are needed which go beyond the coincidental forms of exchange which often are characteristic of international conferences and seminars. Larger conferences are indispensable for becoming aware of research around the world; thematically focused seminars remain helpful for concentrated exchange on select topics sometimes chosen by international partners also working together with societal interest groups. Yet neither form of international exchange seems to have done enough for creating an integrated field of research on religious education which would imply, for example, that there are cumulative effects concerning research-based knowledge in religious education which can be applied in the field of religious education.
The general impression appears to be that there are an increasing number of national and international networks of academics, practitioners and politicians which are interested in research on religious education which can be seen as a hopeful sign in terms of internationalizing the field and working towards international knowledge transfer with an eye on theory-building, empirical insights and practical usability. At the same time, however, these initiatives appear to be often unrelated to each other, even if they are addressing similar questions, and their results are not presented in a way which would allow for connecting them to the insights gained by other researchers.
Describing the challenges entailed by international knowledge transfer in religious education and formulating general perspectives for the future is one thing. Yet more than this will be needed if international knowledge transfer in religious education is to become more successful in the future in respect to several different publics. For this reason, a number of exemplary possibilities are mentioned here.
- Mapping the research scene: While accounts of the practice of religious education in different countries have become available (mostly concerning Religious Education as a school subject but, in some instances, also concerning non-formal religious education), the same is not true for religious education as a field of research in different countries. Mapping the religious education research scene in Europe (and beyond) could therefore be a first important task in advancing international knowledge transfer in this field.
- Initiatives for methodological considerations: So far, comparative studies often do not focus on the diverse relationships and transfer processes between different countries. Moreover, the production, exchange, dissemination and reception of knowledge should be understood as historical processes. This means that religious education should develop a suitable methodological toolkit for analyzing international relationships and transfer processes. For these reasons, initiatives are needed to make the case for expanding the methodologies of empirical and comparative research by including historical and transfer-oriented approaches. Finally, research on international and transnational knowledge transfer in religious education also overlaps with the epistemological interests of reception and impact research as well as the history of knowledge and translation studies.
- Initiatives for sharing knowledge: Since some concepts of ‘transfer’ seem to imply uni-lateral relationships or even hierarchies between those who are in possession of a certain knowledge und those who should receive it, concepts like ‘sharing’ or ‘exchanging’ knowledge appear to be more applicable to the cooperative spirit characteristic of the field of religious education. What is decisive, however, is that initiatives are needed which follow the format of truly sharing knowledge, i.e. of investigating how different insights concerning a certain task or problem, for example, of successful teaching fit together.
- Investigating successful and non-successful forms of international knowledge exchange in religious education: Existing research, among others on transnationalization, shows that knowledge has indeed been transferred or shared in religious education on many occasions, although not in any systematic manner. Examples from past and present therefore entail the opportunity of investigating the question of how the international exchange of knowledge has proceeded in these cases and what made them successful or non-successful. Such investigations should also include a clear analysis of the criteria which allow for distinguishing between different degrees of success in this case.
The authors would like to invite colleagues from the field of religious education (and beyond) to contribute to a new debate on international knowledge transfer in religious education. They would appreciate theoretical contributions as well as additional practical suggestions and initiatives.
This manifesto has been sent to a number of leading journals in the field in order to start this discussion. Moreover, the authors themselves will continue to work on the issues raised by this manifesto in further international meetings.
Prof. Dr Dr h.c. Friedrich Schweitzer (University of Tübingen) / Dr Peter Schreiner (Comenius-Institute)
together with Benjamin Ahme (University of Tübingen), Prof. Dr Jenny Berglund (Stockholm University), Dr Yauheniya Danilovich (University of Münster), Dr Jonathan Doney (University of Exeter), Prof. Dr David Käbisch (University of Frankfurt), Prof. em. Dr Siebren Miedema (VU Amsterdam), Prof. Dr Hubertus Roebben (University of Bonn), Assist. Prof. Dr Dr Athanasios Stogiannidis (University of Thessaloniki)
Note from the Editorial
As Religious Education finds itself in a critical period of important changes in which public attention is often drawn to it, GjRE continues its work with a sense of responsibility, follows international standards, and discusses important questions. Our open-access Journal is available in two languages, Greek and English. It publishes double-blind, peer-reviewed scholarly articles, useful educational material, lesson plans, studies and research papers, which can be submitted throughout the year. It is addressed to anyone interested in Religious Education, to scholars and researchers who study the subject regardless of their background field and to RE teachers at all educational stages.
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The editorial board
Religious Education today
The framework for RE in Greek schools
According to the article 16 of the Greek Constitution (1975), a central aim of public education is “to develop the religious consciousness of the pupils”. Article 3 of the Constitution states that the prevailing religion in Greece is the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ. Therefore, the Constitution is often interpreted as obliging the state to provide RE within the Eastern Orthodox dogma. Moreover, the Church of Greece has the right to be heard in state education matters related to religion and the Church. After 2001 Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs as well as experts started to interpret the article 16 as expressing the state’s obligation to provide pupils with an education that develops their religious identity.
The framework for RE in Greek schools is provided by the basic Law for Education (1566/1985) which orders that all students on a mandatory basis have to have been taught the ‘authentic’ tradition of the Orthodox Church (article 1, paragraph 1). Besides article 13, paragraphs 1-2 of the Constitution guarantee the basic right to freedom of religion and associate it with the development of religious consciousness. Moreover, according to the Law 1566/1985 the State has to provide RE to any religious community who wants to organize its RE on the condition that 5 students would apply for it. Since 2013 it is only the Roman Catholic community that this has applied to, although generally they have followed the official Curriculum and textbooks relating to Greek RE. There are a number of Muslims including migrants and the Muslim minorities in Thrace (North Greece), together with minorities of other religions. Only native Muslims who live in Thrace are recognized as a minority according to the Lausanne Treaty (1923). They are entitled to a bilingual educational system which is was attended by approximiately 11,000 students (2003 figures). At the same time an increasing number of Muslim adolescents register at Greek Secondary schools in Thrace because the Minority schools could not satisfy all the applications due to their limited capacity. Since 2013, Greek Ministry of education has, also taken a step further to introduce an optional Islamic RE in the Greek state schools of Western Thrace. In accordance with the RE Curriculum, the Islamic RE will consist of two hours lessons per week. One hour of reading the Qur’anic texts in Arabic, and one hour devoted to the learning about Islam.
Every student has a right to be exempted from RE through an application, which must be signed by the two parents, arguing that he has reasons related to other doctrine, religion or religious consciousness, in general.
RE in Greece (2016-17)
Today RE is an integral part of education, an ordinary subject in the curriculum. In primary school RE starts at the age of 9 (Year 3) and continues for 4 years until the age of 12 (Year 6) for two hours per week. In the secondary school (Gymnasium) RE is taught in all three years. The state provides seven years of RE for all students as have all the previous curricula of compulsory education since 1985. There are 3 more years of RE in Lyceum (2 hours per week in the two first classes and 1 in the third) and 2 years in Vocational education (1 hour per week in the first two classes).
2016-17 has seen the statutorial implementation of a new RE Curriculum that stared to be developed in 2009. It was implemented as a pilot scheme for 3 years, from 2011 to 2014. The new Curriculum of 2016 is explicitly infused with European RE approaches although there is a basic layer of a denominational RE. The basic aim of the curriculum is religious literacy, it is focused on educating citizens so as to develop religious consciousness, to enable individuals to begin to make sense of conflicting and contradictory understandings of the universe and for their place and to be open to dialogue and tolerant of diversity. At the same time 'Learning about' and 'Learning from', terms, derived from the British pedagogical and epistemological experience as well as constructivist approach are used in the rational of the curriculum. RE provision has changed from a curriculum focused on content and aims to one oriented on process and results and as a product of emancipated teachers dominated by representation of learning actions and interactions that facilitate students to enquire, construct and evaluate knowledge by themselves.
The basic criteria for the actions and interactions that the curriculum seeks to promote are:
- to contextualise knowledge with everyday life,
- to support the acquisition of knowledge together with its implementation,
- to present current issues, related to students' lives
by active learning procedures in developing their own coherent patterns of experience and knowledge.
As a result, the impact of the particular criteria is significant on the content of RE. The content of RE remains basically Christianity (Orthodoxy and other Churches and denominations), religions of the book (Judaism and Islam) and other world religions (Hinduism, Buddhism). Nevertheless the constructors of the Curriculum officially declared that the new Curriculum in any case is not confessional or catechetical. The new curriculum not only is still founded on the Orthodox theology and tradition but also its aim implicitly is to construct open minded religious identity.
Finally, to sum up the current Greek situation, it is vital to comment on the basis of the pedagogical approach to RE. Up until 2016, textbooks dominated everyday school practice. The Curriculum of 2003 remained content-focused, derived more from ‘Theology’ (related to a particular religion and faith) instead of ‘Religious studies’ (related to different religions, cultures and traditions). Despite the aforementioned situation in RE only a few parents wish to withdraw their children from RE even though it is possible by law and historically this has been the case with some minority groups.
During 2016-17, the State, after the opposition of the Orthodox Church and a number of RE teachers have published ‘student educational material’ for each year group to help support the changes to the curriculum since such a need appeared during the first year of the implementation.
Concluding, the new curriculum for RE provides a basic constructivist approach to teaching and learning from and about religions. The study of world religions is estimated at 10% of the whole RE curriculum. The content remains basically Christian in Greek compulsory education. It is, however, the most radical change in RE after the establishment of the Greek State in 1832 due to its pedagogical persective and its philosophical basis of the curriculum.