The Education Department of the Council of Europe launched its first initiative on Education and Religious diversity in the aftermath of the 9/11 events.
The purpose of its work was not so much to examine religious education and the role it plays in official curricula but to construct an approach to intercultural learning that promotes dialogue, mutual understanding and living together. Such an approach differs from the monoreligious and monocultural approach still to be found in many European curricula. Indeed, it could be argued not that we have too much religious education but that we have too little or none at all. Our major concern is that we tend to ignore or marginalise some important values in giving priority to knowledge and short-term results, instead of focusing on what education is really for and on individual and social development.
Religious and moral values are a highly sensitive area, involving beliefs and concepts about the world. Such values cannot be approached simply from a narrow curricular perspective, nor can they be reduced to a mere transmission of knowledge.
They must be developed gradually, with pupils becoming aware of and acquiring such values individually and to lasting effect. In other words, acquisition of religious and moral values must be the outcome of real individual experience and skill. Similarly, the development of religious and moral convictions must be consistent with democratic values as a whole, namely respect for human rights, pluralism and the rule of law.
Given this perspective, the learning approaches, methods and experiences promoted by the Council of Europe are based on three principles:
- religion is an important cultural fact (similar to other identity sources such as languages, history or cultural heritage);
- beliefs about the world and values must be developed gradually, based on real personal and social learning experiences;
- an integrated approach to spiritual, religious, moral and civic values must be encouraged.