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a journal of analysis and comment advancing public understanding of religion and education
(more on the Journal)

Volume 32 Number 1
Spring 2005

European and Danish Religious Education:
Human Rights, the Secular State, and
Rethinking Religious Education and Plurality1

Tim Jensen

My modest contribution to our discussions about religious education (RE) in the USA and Europe, and Robert Jackson’s Rethinking Religious Education and Plurality,
2 takes the form of a critical survey of religious education in Europe and in Denmark, and an outline of my ideal kind of religious education: a religious education that can and ought to be a compulsory subject in public schools, elementary as well as upper-secondary, in all of Europe and in the US; and a school subject, consequently, that does not conflict with various secular constitutions or Human Right declarations and conventions. This is a religious education which, on the contrary, befits a truly secular state3, promotes the ideals of Human Rights, and meets the needs of a pluralistic world and society, including the needs of future citizens who, one way or the other, have to cope with what Jackson calls traditional as well as modern plurality (e.g. the fact that religions, truths, and gods are many, and not just many versions of the same one and only religion, truth or god). Actually, I think it ought to be a must for a secular state to make such a religious education (which differs from what Jackson recommends) a compulsory school subject in line with all other subjects, be it history, mathematics or languages.

Consequently, I do not pretend to be impartial. My kind of religious education is based upon a certain point of view in regard to religion, religious education and the obligations and interests of the state in regard to the education of its citizens. The descriptive part of the paper, then, is accompanied by a normative part, the latter connected to personal as well as professional opinions on religion and education, the well-being of the state, the positive value of scientifically based knowledge, and the importance of religious education as one of many instruments available to provide for knowledge and intercultural understanding.

I am not an educationalist well-versed in pedagogy. The transformation of my ‘ideal-type’ of religious education into classroom practice at the various levels of schooling is a task for the teachers. I know, however, from my own experience of more than 15 years as a religious education teacher in an upper-secondary school that it is possible. I am an historian of comparative religions, and one point of departure for me in the academic study of religions is that religion and religions are part and parcel of the history of mankind, and that religions matter. Religions matter in the lives of individual citizens, and in international as well as domestic politics. In order to be and become a well-educated and well-integrated citizen of a modern nation state as well as of the world, one simply has to know something about religions. Not only about one’s own or one’s parent’s religion, but about other religions as well.

My point of departure includes a non-religious (or secular4) approach to religion. I consider religion an historical and human variable, a social and cultural system and discourse distinguishing itself from other such systems and discourses primarily by way of including a reference to a postulated transempirical, transhistorical, and transhuman agency which cannot be either falsified or verified.

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