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Religion in Education. A contribution to Dialogue or a factor of Conflict in transforming societies of European Countries

Final Report Summary - REDCO (Religion in Education. A contribution to Dialogue or a factor of Conflict in transforming societies of European Countries)

The main aim of the project REDCO was to establish and compare the potentials and limitations of religion in the educational fields of selected European countries and regions in order to identify approaches that can contribute to making religion in education a factor promoting dialogue in the context of European development. The project aimed at analysing conceptual and practical approaches to mutual understanding in the field of religious education. It analysed how theoretical and practical approaches in schools and universities that encourage openness towards others and mutual respect across religious and cultural differences can be strengthened, without excluding existing tensions between people of different religion, culture and political opinion.

Projecting into the future, we cannot hope to solve this task at the national level alone. A European perspective needs to be established by means of comparative studies. Theoretical, conceptual and empirical analysis will help to lay the foundation for our understanding of the contribution religion in education can make towards the current transformation processes in various European countries. By comparing different approaches we hoped to gain the necessary historical perception and analytical clarity to address the core questions of dialogue and conflict in Europe and to find ways to stimulate a process of growing European identity/ies.

On the basis of the findings of REDCO, we support the policy recommendations of the Council of Europe and the Toledo Guiding Principles. However, we suggest a need for a degree of differentiation at the national level regarding the implementation of policies in the educational system. This is due, for example, to different national traditions, norms, legal systems and pedagogical approaches in dealing with religion in education. Each national context needs to be taken into account when policies are applied. At a European level we suggest making room in the classroom for dialogue and discussion about and between different religious (and non-religious) worldviews. Against the background of our research on the views of students we underline the importance of dialogue at classroom level which emphasises the exchange of different perspectives of students, concerning religions and worldviews. Proceeding from this general assumption, the following points should be taken into account both when addressing different national contexts and the European level.

Their main achievements can be summarised as follows:

1. Profound analyses of the historical background of religion in education in the participating countries, the potential for conflict or opportunities for dialogue, of the current legal and institutional frameworks for religion in education in the different countries and regions, and of approaches used in participating countries, also focussing on the potential for a perspective in the development of European identities.

2. Proceeding from the empirical work we produced 11 reports with analyses of a qualitative written questionnaire. The same questions were answered by pupils in all of our countries. Fieldwork in schools and communities started in the second half of the first year. We discussed topics and approaches in detail in a plenary meeting in Granada in May 2006 and reported on our field work in our plenary meetings in Tartu in September 2006, and in Melilla in February 2007. Initial difficulties to get access to schools in Granada were successfully resolved. In all other countries the field work was possible without any major hindrances.

3. During the first year, theoretical issues were raised mainly in seminars, and this preparatory work was followed up more thoroughly during the second year. The debate about the interpretive approach as a common theoretical framework showed that there was a need to further develop the balance between the descriptive and the prescriptive aspects of our approach. More input from the different projects on their use of the approach was provided in year two. A discussion of 'non-foundational education theory', 'neighbour religions', 'citizenship education' and 'identity-formation' was included in the participants' deliberations.

Last but not least we intensively continued our debates on theory. The interpretive approach as a common theoretical framework was discussed thoroughly and productively. In successive discussions by the REDCO project team, a number of factors became clear. The interpretive approach should be seen exactly as portrayed in the project proposal. It was a theoretical 'stimulus', but did not provide the theoretical framework for the project as a whole. The key concepts of the interpretive approach were used both in field research in relation to methods and data analysis and in pedagogy. The approach provided a framework and stimulus for the discussion of issues in both of these contexts. Our project includes scholars and researchers versed in a range of epistemological and theoretical positions and methodological approaches. This was regarded by the project team as very healthy, and permitted a constructive dialogue on issues of epistemology, theory and method. The importance of the key concepts of the interpretive approach lay not in their ability to impose any uniformity in theory, epistemology or method, but to assist in the identification and clarification of issues in theory, methodology and pedagogy. Other concepts were also included: The concept of 'neighbour religions' was embraced by participants to focus on local religious diversity and neighbourhood interaction. The relationship between different forms of religious education and education for democratic citizenship and the question of plural identities of young people were regularly discussed by the project team.

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