The Goal and Character of Religious Education in 2023

In 2023, the goal and character of religious education have become the subject of controversial debate. This debate is taking place in various regions around the world, each with its own unique perspectives and priorities. In Europe, for example, there are calls to replace religious education with worldview education, while others argue for a more spiritual approach. In Latin America and Africa, the focus is on decolonialization and overcoming a dominant Christian bias. Additionally, there are questions about what teachers of religious education need to know and what competencies are required to offer effective instruction in this subject.

The Diversity of Institutional Contexts

The practice of religious education at schools is carried out within diverse institutional contexts. These contexts vary from denomination-specific forms to non-denominational approaches. Denominational religious education can range from confessional layouts to a “learning from religion” approach. Non-denominational religious education can take the form of religious studies or a formative frame of reference that allows for identification with religions and worldviews. There are also cross-sectional types of religious education, such as in Finland, which combines denominational and multi-religious perspectives. Furthermore, even within one national context, the character of religious education can vary. For example, in Germany, denominational education is the default, but in some federal states, religion is taught in a non-denominational manner.

Coherent Frames of Reference in National Academic Discourses

Despite the diversity of institutional contexts, national academic discourses on religious education tend to have coherent frames of reference. These frames of reference shape the discussions and debates within each country. For example, in Italy, the discussion on religious diversity in the classroom takes place within the framework of denominational education. In contrast, in England and Wales, the debate on replacing religious education with worldview education is happening within a non-denominational frame of reference. Similarly, in Finland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, there is a shared understanding that religion should be taught beyond specific denominational accounts.

Transnational Understanding of Science in Academic Discourses

The academic discourses on religious education are embedded in a transnational understanding of science. While there may be national and regional particularities, the overall goals, epistemology, categories, and methods of this academic discourse remain relatively consistent across countries. The goal is to overcome colonial structures and biases, and the methods and theories used to achieve this goal are shared among scholars. This transnational understanding of science ensures that the academic discourse is grounded in rational standards and research agendas that transcend national boundaries.

The Relationship Between Institutional Contexts and Research

The question arises as to how the institutional context on a national level shapes research in religious education across different countries. From a systems theory perspective, religious education and the academic discourse on religious education can be seen as separate systems, each with its own goals and priorities. According to Luhmann, the goal of the educational system is to transmit knowledge and competencies, while the scientific system aims to corroborate the truth of its hypotheses. These goals may be incompatible, suggesting that the dominant institutional context of religious education does not necessarily influence the academic discourse.

However, from an ecosystemic perspective, institutional contexts do frame the actions of individuals within those contexts. Religious education researchers are members of faculties and departments at universities and teacher colleges, which often reflect the dominant model of religious education in their respective countries. This suggests that the nature of these faculties and departments may shape the researchers’ activity and, consequently, the academic discourse on a national level.

Research Questions and Conclusion

Given the complex relationship between institutional contexts and the academic discourse on religious education, several research questions arise. How much of the character of the academic discourse can be explained by systems theory or ecosystemic theory? To what extent do national and regional particularities influence the overall discourse?

In conclusion, the goal and character of religious education in 2023 are subjects of ongoing debate and discussion. This debate takes place within diverse institutional contexts, but there are coherent frames of reference within national academic discourses. The academic discourse on religious education is rooted in a transnational understanding of science, ensuring consistency in goals, epistemology, and methods. The relationship between institutional contexts and research is complex, with both systems theory and ecosystemic theory offering different perspectives. Further research is needed to explore the influence of institutional contexts on the academic discourse on religious education in different countries.