Religious education

For an overview of religious education as taught in schools around the world, see religious education in primary and secondary education.

In secular usage, religious education is the teaching of a particular religion (although in England the term religious instruction would refer to the teaching of a particular religion, with religious education referring to teaching about religions in general) and its varied aspects: its beliefs, doctrines, rituals, customs, rites, and personal roles. In Western and secular culture, religious education implies a type of education which is largely separate from academia, and which (generally) regards religious belief as a fundamental tenet and operating modality, as well as a prerequisite for attendance.

The secular concept is substantially different from societies that adhere to religious law, wherein "religious education" connotes the dominant academic study, and in typically religious terms, teaches doctrines which define social customs as "laws" and the violations thereof as "crimes", or else misdemeanors requiring punitive correction.


Since people within a given country often hold varying religious and non-religious beliefs, government-sponsored religious education can be a source of conflict. Countries vary widely in whether religious education is allowed in government-run schools (often called "public schools"). Those that allow it also vary in the type of education provided.

People oppose religious education in public schools on various grounds. One is that it constitutes a state sponsorship or establishment of whatever religious beliefs are taught. Others argue that if a particular religion is taught in school, children who do not belong to that religion will either feel pressure to conform or be excluded from their peers. Proponents argue that religious beliefs have historically socialized people's behavior and morality. They feel that teaching religion in school is important to encourage children to be responsible, spiritually sound adults.[1]

Religious education by religion

In Christianity, catechesis refers to the religious instruction of children and adult converts.

The Church Educational System of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) provides religious education for the youth and adults in 145 countries.[2]

In traditional Muslim education, children are taught to read and sometimes speak Arabic and memorize the major suras of the Qur'an. Many countries have state-run schools for this purpose (known as Madrasah Islamiyyah in Arabic; meaning "Islamic school"). Traditionally, a settlement may pay a mullah to teach children. There is a historic tradition of Sufi mullahs who wander and teach, and an ancient tradition of religious universities. However, the study of Islam does not suffice. Students must pass the state mandated curriculum to pass. Religious scholars often serve as judges, especially for criminal and family law (more rarely for commercial law).

Pertaining to Jewish religious education in a secular society, Michael Rosenak, an Israeli philosopher of Jewish education, asserts that even when non-religious Jewish educators insist that the instruction of Judaism is not only a religious matter, they agree that “the religious factor” was very important to its culture before secularism dawned on society, and that “an understanding of natural history and literature requires a sense of historical Jewish sensibility.[3]

Approaches in various regions


In the People's Republic of China, formal religious education is permitted. Religious education usually occurs in scheduled sessions in private homes.[4] Religious teachers usually move on a weekly or monthly circuit, staying as guests in private houses in exchange for teaching.


In India, there are a number of private schools run by religious institutions, especially for Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains and Buddhists. During the era of British rule, Christian private schools were quite prominent and widely attended by both UK (British) and Indian students. Many of the schools established during this era, especially in areas with a heavy Christian population, are still in existence today.

The school teaches academic education according to the standard UK curriculum, alongside devotional subjects of bhajan/kirtan singing and instrumentation and also Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy.[5] ISKCON has instituted a number of seminaries and schools of tertiary higher education. In addition to typical formal education, ISKCON also offers specialized religious/spiritual instructional programs in scriptural texts, standardized by the ISKCON Ministry for Educational Development[6] and the GBC committee on Vaisnava Training & Education, categorized by level and difficulty; in India, they are primarily provided by the Mayapur Institute for Higher Education and Training[7] and the Vrindavan Institute for Higher Education.[8] ISKCON also offers instruction in archana, or murti worship and devotional ceremony, through the Mayapur Academy.[5]

In addition to regular formal education, a number of religious institutions have instituted regular informal religious/spiritual education programs for children and adults. ISKCON temples have established a number of such


In Japan, there are many Christian schools and universities with mandatory religious education. Any religious education at private middle and high schools requires the teacher to be accredited by a university teaching the religious education standards.[9] Private schools with a traditional connection to Buddhist sects generally do not mandate any religious study. Religious or political education, or clubs that promote a specific religious or political group, are prohibited at public schools.


In Pakistan, Muslim students must take Islamic studies from primary to higher education. The subject is optional for non-Muslim students, who can choose the subject of ethics instead.

South East Asia

In Thailand, Burma and other majority Buddhist societies, Buddhist teachings and social decorum are sometimes taught in public school. Young men are expected to live as monks for several months at one time in their lives during which they can receive religious education.



Because of Austria's history as a multinational empire that included the largely Islamic Bosnia, Sunni Islam has been taught side by side with Roman Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox classes since the 19th century. However, children belonging to minority religions, like Jewish, Buddhist and Latter Day Saints also study religious education in their various denominations. At many schools, secular classes in Ethics can be attended alternatively.


In Finland religious education is mandatory subject both in comprehensive schools (7–16 years) and in senior/upper secondary schools (16-18/19 years). Most of Finnish students study Evangelical Lutheran religious education. A student can receive religious education according to his or her own religion if the denomination is registered in Finland. Since religious education is a compulsory subject, pupils who do not belong to any religious group are taught Ethics. Also some non-Lutheran pupils participate in the Evangelical Lutheran religious education.[10]


In France, the state recognizes no religion and does not fund religious education. However, the state subsidizes private teaching establishments, including religious ones, under strict conditions of not forcing religion courses on students and not discriminating against students according to religion. An exception is the area of Alsace-Moselle where, for historical reasons (it was ruled by Germany when this system was instituted in the rest of France) under a specific local law, the state supports public education in some religions (Catholic, Protestant, Jewish) mostly in accord with the German model.


Historically, the various confessions in Germany have contributed to primary and secondary education and do so still. Education in Germany still embodies the legacy of the Prussian education system introduced by Frederick the Great in 1763. The curricula of the various states of Germany since then have included not only basic technical skills but also music (singing) and religious (Christian) education in close cooperation with the churches. This has led to the churches being assigned a specific status as legal entity of public law, "Körperschaft des öffentlichen Rechts" in Germany, which is a legacy of a 1919 Weimar compromise still in force today.[11]

Most of the federal states of Germany, which has a long history of almost even division between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, have an arrangement whereby the religious bodies oversee the training of mainline Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish religious education teachers.

In one of the federal states this includes Orthodox Christian teachers as well. In Berlin, Bremen (see Bremen clause) and Brandenburg, religious education is not mandatory. E.g. in Bremen, state-authorized "Bible studies" were offered which were not supervised by a specific confession.

The training is supposed to be conducted according to modern standards of the humanities, and by teachers trained at mostly state-run colleges and universities. Those teachers teach religion in public schools, are paid by the state and are bound to the German constitution, as well as answerable to the churches for the content of their teaching. Children who are part of no mainstream religion (this applies e.g. to Jehovah's Witnesses and members of the New Apostolic Church) still have to take part in the classes of one of the confessions or, if they want to opt out, attend classes in Ethics or Philosophy instead. The Humanistischer Verband Deutschlands, an atheist and agnostic association, has adopted to the legal setup of the churches and is now allowed to offer such classes. From the age of 14, children may decide on their own if they want to attend religion classes and, if they do, which of those they are willing to attend. For younger children it is the decision of their parents. The state also subsidizes religious and Waldorf education schools by paying up to 90% of their expenses. These schools have to follow the same curricula as public schools of their federal state, though.

The introduction of Islamic religious education in Germany has faced various burdens and thresholds, but it is being introduced currently. While there are around three million Muslims, mostly of Turkish origin, now in the country (see Islam in Germany), not many of them are members of a legal entity with which the states could arrange such matters (unlike the Christian churches' representatives and the humanists). In 2013, for the first time in German history, the state of Hessen acknowledged a Muslim community, the reform-oriented Ahmadiyya, as Körperschaft des öffentlichen Rechts for all of Germany, which has been deemed a historical milestone.[12] Ahmadiyya applied for the status just to be able to offer religious education in state schools, but is allowed now to maintain its own cemeteries and have its members' fees collected by the state's church tax system.[12]


In Greece, students at public schools typically learn the basics of the Greek Orthodox faith. Students can opt out of these classes, if their parents state, in paper, that their children are not of the Greek Orthodox dogma.[13]


In Poland, religious education is optional in state schools. Parents decide whether children should attend religion classes or ethics classes[14][15] or none of them.[16] Since 2007, grades from religion (or ethics) classes are counted towards the grade point average.


Religious education is optional in Romanian state schools. Parents can freely choose which religion their children will study, but a majority of religious classes focus on the Romanian Orthodox faith, which is the majority religion in the country.


Institutional education in general, and religious education in particular, is centralized in Turkey. This approach began with the Unity of Education Law, which was first drafted in 1924 and preserved in subsequent legal reforms and constitutional changes. Due to the secular revolution, previous practices of the Ottoman education system were abandoned. The newer Unity of Education Law was interpreted as totally excluding religious instruction from public schools.

In 1956, as a result of multiparty democracy, a new government led by the former Democratic Party was established. This new government introduced a religion course into secondary schools. After the military coup in 1980, religious education in school was transformed. The new program of the "Culture of Religion and Knowledge of Ethics" integrated the course with the purposes and principles of general education to educate students to be critical and active participants in the educational process.[17] The content of religious education is still prepared by the state.[18] The state ensures that children are first exposed to accepted interpretations of Islam before exposing them to other religious teachings.[19]

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, Catholic, Church of England (in England) and Jewish schools have long been supported within the state system, with all other schools having a duty to provide compulsory religious education. Until the introduction of the National Curriculum, religious education was the sole compulsory subject in state schools. State school religious education is non-proselytising and covers a variety of faiths, although the legislation still requires it to include more Christian content than other faiths.[20] The Church of Scotland does not have schools, although it does often have a presence in Scottish non-denominational institutions. There is no National Curriculum for Religious Education in England. In England and Wales, the content of the syllabus is agreed on by local education authorities (LEAs), with the ratification of a Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE) comprising members of different religious groups, teachers and local councillors. Parents can withdraw their children from all or part of the lessons on religious, sex and relationship education if they want.[21]

North America


In Canada, religious education has a varying status. On the one hand, publicly funded and organized separate schools for Roman Catholics and Protestants are mandated in some provinces and in some circumstances by various sections of the Constitution Act, 1867.[22] On the other hand, with a growing level of multiculturalism, particularly in Ontario, debate has emerged as to whether publicly funded religious education for one group is permissible. For example, Newfoundland withdrew funding for Protestant and Roman Catholic schools in 1995, after a constitutional amendment. Quebec abolished religious education funded by the state through the Education Act, 1998,[23] which took effect on July 1 of that same year, again after a constitutional amendment.[24] Quebec re-organized the schools along linguistic rather than religious lines. In Ontario, however, the move to abolish funding has been strongly resisted. In the 2007 provincial election, the topic of funding for faith-based schools that were not Catholic became a major topic. The provincial conservative party was defeated due, in part, to their support of this topic.

United States

In the United States, religious education is often provided through supplementary "Sunday school", "Hebrew school", or catechism classes, taught to children at their families' places of worship, either in conjunction with worship services or some other time during the week, after weekday school classes. Some families believe supplementary religious education is inadequate, and send their children to private religious schools, called parochial schools when they are affiliated with a specific parish or congregation. Many faiths also offer private college and graduate-level religious schools, which may be accredited as colleges. Under U.S. law, religious education is forbidden in public schools, except from a neutral, academic perspective.[25] For a teacher or school administration to endorse one religion is considered an infringement of the "establishment clause" of the First Amendment. The boundaries of this rule are frequently tested, with court cases challenging the treatment of traditional religious holidays, displays of religious articles and documents such as the Ten Commandments, the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance (which since 1954 has described the U.S. as "one nation under God"), and how prayer should be accommodated in the classroom.

See also


  1. Jackson, Robert (2014). Religion, Education, Dialogue and Conflict: Perspectives on Religious Education Research. Routledge.
  2. "History of Seminary",
  3. Michael, Rosenak. Commandments and Concerns: Jewish Education in Secular Society. 2011. Jewish Publication Society.
  4. "China and Inner Asia Sessions". Retrieved 2010-05-02.
  5. 1 2 "Sri Mayapur International School". Retrieved 2011-06-22.
  6. "ISKCON Ministry for Educational Development". Retrieved 2011-06-22.
  7. "Mayapur Institute for Higher Education and Training". Retrieved 2011-06-15.
  8. "Vrindavan Institute for Higher Education". Retrieved 2011-06-22.
  9. [中学校・高等学校教員(宗教)の免許資格を取得することのできる大学]
  10. Administrator. "Religious Education in Finland". Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  11. Bedeutung und Voraussetzungen für den Erwerb des Status der Körperschaft öffentlichen Rechts für Religions- und Weltanschauungsgemeinschaften gem. Art. 140 GG in Verbindung mit Art. 137 Abs. 5 WRV (BMI Website of the German Ministry of Interior about of the legal background of the corporation status of religions and other World view associations)
  12. 1 2 Der Islam gehört nun offiziell zu Deutschland (Islam is a part of Germany now, quoting a famous speech of President Christian Wulff), by Freia Peters, Die Welt 2013
  13. "Ρύθμιση μαθητικών θεμάτων", Υπουργείο Εθν. Παιδείας & Θρησκευμάτων, 10/07/2008
  14. Art.12
  16. §3
  17. "International Association for Religious Freedom". Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  18. "Religious education in Turkey - Worldbulletin News". World Bulletin. Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  19. Shively, R. L. (2008). page 702 Politeness and social interaction in study abroad: Service encounters in L2 Spanish. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
  20. Religious Education Department for Education and Skills, QCA. p. 10. "The Education Act 1996 states that an agreed syllabus must reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian, while taking account of the teachings and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain."
  21. "The National Curriculum - GOV.UK". Retrieved 2015-06-05.
  22. Constitution Act, 1867, s. 93; Alberta Act, S.C. 1905, c. 3, s. 17; Saskatchewan Act, S.C. 1905, c. 42, s. 17.
  23. Education Act, R.S.Q., c. I-13.3 , chap. 5, Division 1: Establishment of French Language and English Language School Boards
  24. Constitution Act, 1867, s. 93A.

Further reading

 "Education, Moral". Encyclopedia Americana. 1920. 

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