The religious landscape of Europe is becoming increasingly diverse, resulting in a need to develop religious education. The School of Applied Educational Science and Teacher Education at the University of Eastern Finland took part in the European-wide Innovative Religious Education Network: Educating to the Religious Diversity, IRENE, project.
The objectives of the project included, e.g., facilitating the exchange of experiences and transfer of knowledge in religious education, as well as improving teaching methods related to diversity and multiculturalism between the participating countries. In addition, the IRENE project encouraged those involved in religious education to play an active role in society, and it has built strategic partnerships and collaboration between the project partners.
“The project resulted in, e.g., a roughly 200-page educational guide, the abstract of which concludes that religious education in the context of schools and religious communities is a major challenge in all countries participating in the project. This is especially true if teachers fail, in their delivery of religious education, to consider the pedagogical requirements set by today’s socio-cultural demands,” says Lecturer of Orthodox Religion Pedagogy Risto Aikonen, who led the project at the University of Eastern Finland.
He says that two main models of religious education were identified in the course of the project’s research.
“In the context of the church, the model is confessional and serves the educational mission of the church, making it uniform and mono-voiced. This type of religious education mainly serves the pastoral needs of the Christian faith and is not directly suitable for religious education in schools.”
In southern Europe where Catholicism is prevalent, the model is used in schools maintained by the Catholic Church.
“However, a non-confessional and multi-voiced model of religious education, which doesn’t place as much emphasis on traditions and identity, is better suited for schools. This model provides support for an ecumenical view in religious education and fosters pluralism.”
This is a challenge faced especially by Orthodox countries of southern Europe, where religious traditions and national identity largely coincide.
In the countries participating in the project, there were also views representing an in-between space between the two main models. In these cases, there is a balance and understanding between Christian traditions and religious education, and neither aspect of those two is emphasised in religious education delivered by schools.
In addition to Finland, the countries involved in the project included Estonia, Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece.