Skip to main content

Religious education in a multicultural society: School and home in comparative context

Final Report Summary - REMC (Religious education in a multicultural society: School and home in comparative context)

Across European countries, the education system plays a role in the transmission of religious or secular beliefs and values, with consequent implications for societal cohesion. European countries differ in the structure of their primary school systems and in the nature of the religious/moral education provided. The institutional position of religion in schooling is, however, contrasted against a changing societal context, which has prompted renewed discussion of the role of religion in schooling. In spite of these public debates, there has been comparatively little attention to how the interaction between religion and education plays out at the school and family levels.

This study explores how the religious/secular beliefs of children are formed in the arenas of the education system and the family across different EU country contexts. The detailed objectives of the REMC study are:
1. To document the place of religion in educational systems across Europe;
2. To assess the importance of religion/belief as a basis for primary school choice in different systems;
3. To explore the factors influencing the formation of religious identity among children in different educational systems, focusing in particular on the interplay between home and school;
4. To highlight the implications of our findings for policy development at national and European levels.

This study draws on two sources of information: secondary analysis of existing data; and primary research on children, parents and schools. Firstly, secondary analysis of existing data was used to explore variation in levels of religious affiliation and religiosity, and to derive a typology of the place of religion in schooling, across Europe. Secondly, primary research was carried out in five case-study countries: Belgium (Flanders), Germany, Ireland, Malta and Scotland. This research involved in-depth qualitative interviews with teachers, parents, and children, supplemented with in-depth interviews with key stakeholders.

The place of religion in the primary school system is found to reflect the outcome of historical conflict and compromise. Thus, systems may no longer reflect the religious profile and practice of the current population, and may fail to keep pace with growing numbers of people with secular or minority faith beliefs. The structure of the primary school system shapes the context for school choice, which may limit the options open to minority faith/secular families. The nature of the religious/moral education provided for children varies across and within countries, especially in the relative emphasis on faith formation or learning 'about' religion. Across all countries, the communication of religious/moral values is not confined to formal class and occurs through a range of activities within schools. The formal and informal aspects of school identity have implications for the treatment of religious diversity.

School is not the only, and by no means the most, important site for the communication of religious/moral beliefs. The REMC study explores the construction of children's religious identity in the interface between home and school, and finds that children are active agents in their own belief formation. The study findings indicate relatively little explicit tension between home and school in relation to religious/moral beliefs. However, the absence of explicit conflict over religion and schooling at the micro level should not obscure the indication of tensions and accommodations at a number of levels in the education system, including tensions over the place of faith schools, curriculum content, and school engagement with diversity. The REMC study is innovative in its focus on the interface between home and school in the formation of religious identity among children in a cross-national context. As a result, the REMC study contributes to knowledge on religion and schooling, and provides a vital evidence base for policymaking at both national and European levels.

Related documents