Religion, Modernity and Social Rights in European Education Evie Zambeta, University of Athens, Greece Abstract

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Intercultural Education, 19:4, 2008, pp. 297-304

Religion, Modernity and Social Rights in European Education
Evie Zambeta, University of Athens, Greece

Religion, as social construct and institutional reality, has played a pivotal role in shaping European societies. In spite of the impact of Enlightenment theories in the formation of European Modernity, institutionalised religions and established churches have managed to maintain their influence in the public domain. Educational systems, the par excellence institutions of Modernity, represent an interesting example of the peculiar co-existence between tradition and Modernity in European societies. The implications of the persistence of religion within the institutions of Modernity are both epistemological and political. While the foundations of modern knowledge on reason are challenged in several aspects of school knowledge, fundamentalism, nationalism and social exclusion can result from school systems that encourage catechism and religiosity. The aim of this paper is to discuss the role of religion in contemporary European education systems and to reflect on the socio-political implications of this relationship, especially in the realm of social rights.

The growing impact of religion as a socio-political force has recently become central to the interests not only of social scientists, but also of mass media and politicians (Haynes 1998). The increasing social awareness regarding religion has been analysed in several different ways, varying from interpretations relating religion to the politics of identity that fuel nationalist movements (Duijzings 2000) to interpretations that are prepared to see religion as part of culture without religiosity, such as the phenomenon which is coded as ‘religion without God’ (Kepel 1993). Social phenomena related to religious affiliation, such as the headscarf movement in several European countries or the faith schools movement (Gardner, Cairns et al. 2005), are challenging the foundations of European Modernity and represent fields of political contestation. The place of religion in public education systems represents one of these terrains of contestation.
Recent studies of the relationship between religion and education in Europe seem to adopt the view that the study of religion is a precondition for tolerance and social awareness of religious diversity, as well as a prerequisite for personal development and social responsibility (Jackson, Miedema et al. 2007). In certain cases religious education is perceived as part of ‘bildung’ and a presupposition of citizenship education in its broader sense. This position challenges the foundation stones of enlightenment thought as an attempt to distinguish between knowledge and faith or citizenship and congregation.
The resurgence of religion and the increasing fundamentalisms are expressed in education institutions today in several ways, either in the form of revitalisation of religious instruction in countries where secularisation had been performed as a top-down process (such as in the former communist countries) (Nagy 1998; Nagy 2003; Valk 2007), or as a backlash of denominational religious teaching in the form of faith schools in western countries. In some of these schools theories of creationism and “intelligent design” are replacing science (Schneider, Kertcher et al. 2006; Dawkins 2007). Rationality is under attack in several ways in modern educational systems and religion is one of the agencies of irrationalism within education. This paper argues that denominational teaching has both epistemological and social implications within educational systems.

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