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7 Undergraduate Education Towards RE: The “Religions and Global Diversity” Programme at University College Cork (UCC)
Religion, Education and Religious Education in Irish Schools
These criteria have very recently (2014) been revised, with the Teaching Council
now looking retrospectively at what a student has studied, rather than accepting
completion of a “recognised” degree programme as a qualification. The latest iteration of the Teaching Council’s subject requirements for RE suggests a little more
emphasis on religious diversity, for an intending teacher is required to have studied
in their degree at least the following:
Sacred Texts including the Bible
Christianity—Origins and Contemporary Experience
Secular Belief Systems
Systematic Theology and Philosophy of Religion8
Details of modules in the UCC “Religions and Global Diversity” programme can
be found via the UCC Study of Religions Department’s website at http://www.ucc.
ie/en/studyofreligions. Here, we draw attention to just two modules in the programme taken by intending RE teachers. “Authority & Community in Contemporary
Christianities” is a fieldwork-based module which has students going out into the
local community to research at first-hand—using ethnographic methods of observation, interviews and audio, photo and video documentation—diverse expressions of
local Christianity, ranging from the lives of members of traditional Catholic religious orders to charismatic house churches, LGBT Christian groups and the activities of street evangelists. The module “Research Project in Religious Education”
similarly involves fieldwork; in this case interviews with parents and teachers of RE
in a primary or post-primary school. Students taking these modules are carrying out
first-hand research among real religious and educational communities. We find that
this “hands on” approach to learning, which holds some challenges for undergraduates more used to studying passive written and visual materials relating to religions,
typically generates excellent results and fosters a high level of enthusiasm and
engagement which we can confidently expect students to carry with them into their
future careers as RE teachers.
An in-depth, nationwide study of classroom practice in RE in today’s Ireland has
yet to be conducted and there are undoubtedly some well-informed, gifted, innovative and inspirational teachers involved in RE, but many pupils and some teachers
This listing makes it clear that the Teaching Council regards “World Religions” and “Christianity”
as quite separate categories. In our experience, Irish policymakers still use discriminatory categories, such as “other religions” and “non-Christians”, in public discourse about RE.
See the Teaching Council’s PME Declaration Form (used by applicants) at http://www.teachingcouncil.ie/_fileupload/Subject%20Declaration%20Forms%20Updated%20December/
Á. Hyland and B. Bocking
will describe RE as a “doss” subject (i.e. not one requiring their time or attention)
and experienced observers agree that there is a need for very significant improvement at all levels across the subject. A significant increase in the number of pupils
taking the new NCCA RE curriculum to Leaving Certificate level may provide an
effective driver for change, but while total numbers of Junior and Leaving Certificate
students have risen in recent years, the proportions taking RE as an examination
subject remain unchanged at 50 % and under 3 %, respectively. The question of
Church control of primary education and most secondary education in an increasingly religiously diverse republic is a highly sensitive political issue. Although
change seems to be afoot, Church-controlled teaching of RE and of education in
general largely holds sway. Former Education and Skills Minister Ruairi Quinn
aimed initially to have up to half of Ireland’s 3100 primary schools “divested”
(handed over from religious to secular control) within a few years. However, as of
January 2015, not a single Catholic primary school had been handed over to another
patron. As the Irish Times reported early in 2015, “UN human rights monitors have
criticised ‘the slow progress in increasing access to secular education’ in Ireland and
are warning the Government it faces fresh censure in the absence of reform”
(Humphreys 2015b; for a detailed analysis see Mawhinney 2015).
In this increasingly fluid and unpredictable context, a pupil’s experience of “RE”
in Ireland depends on which school she or he attends, who within that school is
teaching the subject, and how and where that particular teacher acquired her or his
knowledge and understanding of religions.
Alles, G. (2007). Religious studies: A global view. London: Routledge.
Central Statistics Office. 2012. This is Ireland: Highlights from census 2011, part 1. Dublin:
Stationery Office, 42–43. Retrieved from http://www.cso.ie/en/media/csoie/census/documents/
census2011pdr/Table%20of%20Contents,Foreword%20and%20Appendices.pdf. Accessed 14
Coolahan, J., Hussey, C., & Kilfeather, F. (2012). The forum on patronage and pluralism in the
primary sector: report of the Forum’s Advisory Group, 1. Retrieved from http://www.
The- Forum- on-Patronage-and-Pluralism-in-the-Primary-Sector-Report-of-theForum%E2%80%99s-Advisory-Group.pdf. Accessed 14 Aug 2012.
Council for Catechetics of the Irish Episcopal Conference. (2011). Recognition of qualifications to
teach Catholic religious education in Catholic primary schools in the island of Ireland. Irish
Catholic Bishop’s Conference: Maynooth. Retrieved from http://www.catholicbishops.
ie/2011/11/08/recognition-qualifications-teach-catholic-religious-education. Accessed 14 Aug
Cussen, J. (2012). Hibernia College and Vincent Twomey facts are sacred. Retrieved from http://
factsaresacred.ie/reliables/hibernia-college-and-vincent-twomey. Accessed 19 Feb 2015.
Department of Education. (1965). Rules for national schools under the Department of Education.
Dublin: Stationery Office.
Department of Education and Skills. (2010). Whole school evaluation report, Muslim N.S.,
Clonskeagh, Dublin 14. Retrieved from http://www.education.ie. Accessed 14 Aug 2012.
Religion, Education and Religious Education in Irish Schools
Donnelly, J. (2012) Hibernia College/Dail question from Clare Daly TD teach don’t preach.
Accessed 19 Feb 2015.
Humphreys, J. (2015a). Non-religious patrons to run four new primary schools. Irish Times 13 Feb
2015. Retrieved from http://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/non-religious-patrons-torun-four-new-primary-schools-1.2102032. Accessed 19 Feb 2015.
Humphreys, J. (2015b). Forum head calls on Church to speed up schools handover. Irish Times 2
Jan 2015. Retrieved from http://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/forum-head-calls-onchurch-to-speed-up-schools-handover-1.2052481. Accessed 19 Feb 2015.
Irish Human Rights Commission. (2011). Religion and education: A human rights perspective.
(Dublin: IHRC, 24th May). Retrieved from http://www.ihrec.ie/publications/list/religion-andeducation-a-human-rights-perspective. Accessed 19 Feb 2015.
Mawhinney, A. (2015). International human rights law: Its potential and limitations in effecting
change to the place of religion in the Irish education system. Journal of Intercultural Studies,
36(3), 291–305. doi:10.1080/07256868.2015.1029891.
McGarry, P. (2012). Survey finds Ireland second only to Vietnam in loss of religious sentiment.
Irish Times 8 August 2012. Retrieved from http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2012/0808/1224321714657.html based on the WIN-Gallup International/RedC survey
report Global Index of Religion and Atheism (2012). Retrieved from http://redcresearch.ie/
Accessed 14 Aug 2012.
National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. (2012). Religious education syllabus.
Retrieved from http://www.curriculumonline.ie/en/Post-Primary_Curriculum/Junior_Cycle_
Curriculum/Junior_Certificate_Subjects/Religious_Education (Junior Certificate syllabus) and
(Leaving Certificate syllabus). Accessed 14 Aug 2012.
National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. (2015). Curriculum and assessment. Retrieved
from http://www.ncca.ie/en/Curriculum_and_Assessment. Accessed 20 Feb 2015.
O’Kelly, E. (2012). State gave commitments to Catholic Church on education. RTÉ News, 7 June
2012. Retrieved from http://www.rte.ie/news/2012/0328/educationfoi.html. Accessed 14 Aug
RTÉ. (2012). Education Dept ignored NCCA warning over religion teaching. Retrieved from
Friday 30 March 2012. Accessed 19 Feb 2015.
Sakaranaho, T. (2009). “For God and eternal values”: Muslim national schools in Ireland. In
E. Aslan (Ed.), Islamische Erziehung in Europa/Islamic education in Europe (pp. 203–217).
Wien/Köln/Weimar: Boehlau Verlag.
Teaching Council. (2013). Post-primary curricular subject criteria http://www.teachingcouncil.
Accessed 22 May 2013.
Religious Education as a Compulsory Subject
in Russian Public Schools
Abstract Religious education in Russian schools, officially introduced in
September 2012 after being approved by means of an ‘experiment’ over 3 years,
remains a new and rather contradictory issue in the public perception. It is, therefore, of great importance for the study of religions in Russia. However, the empirical research on public debates done earlier (e.g. Willems J, Religiöse Bildung in
Russlands Schulen: Orthodoxie, nationale Identität und die Positionalität des
Faches “Grundlagen orthodoxer Kultur” (OPK). LIT, Berlin, 2006; Ovchinnikov V,
O pravoslavnom obrazovanii v Rossii. In Alexej M & Filatov S (eds) Pravoslavnaya
tserkov’ pri novom patriarkhe. Rossiiskaia politicheskaia entsiklopediia, Moscow,
2012, 261–310.) has to be updated. Educational strategies and the formative experiences of pupils also await an accurate religious studies analysis. Since the practice
of comparison is constitutive for the study of religions, it is evident that research has
to be grounded on regional data comparing experiences in religious education from
supporters of different religious traditions. In this chapter, I make some preliminary
remarks about the legislative process relating to religious education in Russia and
describe briefly the debates on its implementation. I proceed then with a short report
on a pilot draft of a bigger research project in the field of religious education and its
perception in regional Russia.
Legislative Quirks of Religious Education in Russia
As in other countries, religion and education were closely connected in earlier
Russian religious history. However, as time went on, ties with the government began
to change. Leaders such as Peter the Great introduced Western technology and culture to Russia and began to secularize educational institutions. In 1917, the Russian
Revolution brought about an even greater change. The Soviet regime initiated total
secularization of the state. Religious education of children was outlawed, all
V. Zhdanov (*)
Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Erlangen, Germany
© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
J. Berglund et al. (eds.), Religious Education in a Global-Local World,
Boundaries of Religious Freedom: Regulating Religion in Diverse Societies 4,
religious primary and secondary schools were closed and atheism was taught in all
public schools (Glanzer and Petrenko 2007: 55–56).
Lenin’s famous ‘Decree on the Separation of Church from State and School from
Church’ was adopted on January 23, 1918. Clause 9 of the decree stated rigorously:
“The school is separated from the church. Teaching of religion in all government
and public as well as private institutions that teach general subjects is not allowed.
Citizens may teach and be taught in religion in private.” This document was declared
expired on October 25, 1990, with the introduction of the new law ‘On Freedom
of Religion’. The new legislation lifted all restrictions on worship activities and
simplified the procedure for registration of religious organizations. Not only did
religious freedom become possible, but also religion was generally released from
However, since another federal law, ‘On Education’, was passed in 1992, government agencies have interpreted it as still prohibiting the teaching of religion in
state schools (Kozyrev 2002). That law did recognize the right of all churches to
teach religion within their institutional structures and in private circumstances, but
it established “the secular character of education in government and municipal
educational institutions” as a matter of principle. The more conservative 1997 law
‘On Freedom of Conscience’ was actually the first legislation to address the issue of
religious instruction in state schools. It was favourable to religious associations by
allowing them the opportunity to teach in these same schools, as long as the courses
remained “outside the framework of the education program” (Article 5, Clause 4)
and were strictly voluntary (Basil 2007: 29).
It took another 2 years before the possibility to teach religion in state schools
became a reality, i.e. shifted from the legislative to the executive level. The first
success of the church was a letter from the Minister of Education, ‘On Granting
Religious Organizations the Opportunity to Teach Religion to Children Outside
Educational Programmes in the Premises of State and Municipal Educational
Institutions’, issued on July 4, 1999 (Mitrokhin 2004). On April 24, 2001, a roundtable meeting, ‘Religious Education in Russia: Problems and Prospects’, was held
at the Parliament of the Russian Federation. The final document produced from this
meeting was considered a breakthrough where the importance of spiritual education
in schools was concerned. The participants agreed that spiritual upbringing and
religious education in Russia’s schools should be given priority. They agreed in
principle that the secular character of Russia’s state school system should not
exclude education based on a religious outlook (Kozyrev 2002). Eventually an order
from the Ministry of Education was issued, on July 1, 2003, that finally legalized the
access of religious organizations to the state and to municipal educational institutions. However, teaching religion just outside the school curriculum was obviously
not the ultimate goal of the church. It was only one of its first victories in the religious education legislative process.
The Russian Orthodox Church was actively lobbying for the full integration of
religious instruction into the state school curriculum during these years. It took
almost two decades to win state support for the teaching of religion, and finally
President Dmitry Medvedev supported the idea of introducing religious classes at
Religious Education as a Compulsory Subject in Russian Public Schools
general schools. Entirely unexpectedly, on July 22, 2009, in Barvikha, the President
declared: “I have made up my mind to support… the idea of introducing a basic
course of religious culture and secular ethics in schools.” The President offered the
teaching of the foundations of religious culture, the history of religion and secular
ethics as an experiment. Over 3 years, six types of religious courses were offered
experimentally in 21 Russian regions. Four of the courses were religious—the
basics of Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism or Buddhism—and the remaining
two were the basics of world religions and secular ethics. According to the Russian
Education Ministry’s data, the largest number (42 %) of students were interested in
ethics, 30 % of students opted for the basics of Orthodox Christian culture, 18 % for
the basics of world religions, 9 % for the basics of Islam and 1 % for the basics
In February 2012, Vladimir Putin evaluated the experiment positively. He said
that the pilot programme of religious classes in 2009–2011 had received a favourable response. The courses involved half a million children, 20,000 teachers and
30,000 schools across the country. Early 2012 was the time to legalize religious
education in public schools for good and for all. The new law ‘On Education in the
Russian Federation’, which includes a clause on religious education, was approved
by the Federation Council on December 26, 2012, and went into effect on September
Controversies Over the Issue of Teaching Religion
in Public Schools
According to sociologist Roman Lunkin, this new law is “essentially a church
law—for the support of Orthodox education has become one of its basic features”.
According to Lunkin, “Consultations with the ministry [of education], the government and the deputies were conducted behind closed doors all the time, and on the eve
of the voting… on December 7, representatives of the church met vice-premier Igor
Shuvalov, after which all the secularist amendments were rejected” (Lunkin 2012).
These amendments concerned the controversial provisions of Article 87, ‘Features
of Studying the Foundations of Spiritual and Moral Culture of the Peoples of the
Russian Federation. Peculiarities of Theological and Religious Education’. Clause 3
of Article 87 provides that educational programmes should be “examined in a centralized religious organization for compliance of their content with the doctrine as
well as the historical and cultural traditions of this organization”. Clause 6 suggests
that “appropriate centralized religious organizations” will take part also in the elaborating of “teaching methodology support” for religious classes. Furthermore, Clause
12 of this article states that both an educational organization, i.e. a public school, and
its teaching staff can be accredited by centralized religious organizations.
Interestingly, such a “centralized religious organization”, referred to in the law,
can, in reality—according to sociologist Roman Lunkin—be only the Russian
Orthodox Church (Lunkin 2012). The new law ‘On Education’ made religious
education in Russian public schools compulsory. President Vladimir Putin signed
the law on the last day of 2012, just before the long winter vacation period. Public
reaction was moderate, not only because of the date of signing but probably also
because of the continual debating of this topic in the mass media over the previous
years. Generally, two opposite views featured in public debates.
First, the church view says that the teaching of Orthodox spirituality is indispensable for the upbringing of a moral person and a conscious patriot of Russia.
Familiarity with Orthodoxy is necessary even for the children of people who are not
Orthodox (atheists, Muslims, etc.), because they are citizens of Russia and Orthodox
Christianity is the foundation of the culture, mentality and condition of our country.
This position refuses to recognize the ideological and religious diversity of Russia.
Practically, it seeks to convert students into church attenders and evaluates all of
the other ideological positions as marginal and alien to Russian interests (Filatov
The second position is secular. It denies religion the right to be represented in the
school in any form, because it would essentially be an indoctrination of children
into a certain world view. Thus, the presence of religion in schools will seriously
hinder the formation of independent and responsible citizens of the country. And,
finally, this fundamentally contradicts the Constitution, which stipulates the absence
of any official ideology in Russia (Filatov 2012: 40–41). Indeed, the official position of the Russian Orthodox Church concerning religious education, as reflected in
the social doctrine of the church, sounds dogmatic: “From the Orthodox viewpoint,
it is desirable that the whole system of education would be built on religious grounds
and based on Christian values.” In view of this, many parents—even Orthodox
believers—are not likely to wish for their children to be indoctrinated in school in
the spirit of Orthodox patriotism in a manner similar to indoctrination in MarxismLeninism (Kozyrev 2002).
Religious vs Secular?
Perhaps this is the reason for statistics that must be disappointing for the church
leaders. According to a public opinion poll by the Levada Center, 43 % of Russians
consider religious education in schools as not necessary and only 22 % agree that
children should attend religious classes in state schools. Only 9 % say that the
church should be responsible for religious education, and more than half—54 %—
consider that it is parents who should be in charge of the religious education of their
children (Levada Center 2013).
The clergy is, naturally, concerned about these and other figures. According to
church statistics, nearly 80 % of Russian citizens belong to the Orthodox tradition.
The church, however, realizes that most Russians are Orthodox only in name. Thus,
the policy aims to turn these nominal Christians into active members of the church.
This follows on from concerns expressed by Patriarch Kirill about the small
number of students in schools in the capital who take lessons in the ‘Fundamentals
of Orthodox Culture’. According to the Patriarch, there are pressures on parents to