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Oslo, 2-5 September 2004 - The Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief


Problems and Possibilities for Relating Citizenship Education and Religious Education in Europe


By Robert Jackson and Karen Steele



Current discussions of citizenship in Europe centre around the changing nature of the concept in a continent that has been faced with the fall of communism, increased immigration and demographic changes and an expanding political and economic union, together with the impact of global developments and events such as the attacks on American targets on September 11th 2001. In addition, there is the diversity inherent in a collection of countries that have their own languages, histories and political systems. As Preuss and colleagues highlight in relation to the EU:


It is...difficult to grasp the concepts of citizenship as they are used and understood in the member states of the Community. The reason is that the concept of citizenship is not a purely legal one and that it is rooted in the political culture of the respective country. (Preuss et al. 2003: 8)


Exploration of citizenship in the European context is further complicated by the perceived challenges posed by the ‘Europeanization’ of the nation-states, and by the difficulties that national diversity poses to the concept of a European citizenship.


Thus, it is not surprising that citizenship is very much on the agenda of education systems in Europe. Whether influenced primarily by fears of the young’s disengagement with political processes, by concerns about social cohesion in culturally diverse societies, or by political change in former communist countries, citizenship education has emerged, either as a discrete curriculum subject or as a dimension of the wider school curriculum (Paludan and Prinds 1999). In those societies, such as Norway, where the term ‘citizenship’ (or its equivalent) is not used, other elements are emphasized such as democratic values, virtues and political literacy (Skeie 2003). On a major Council of Europe project in Education for Democratic Citizenship (EDC), the subject is inclusive of Human Rights Education, Civic Education, Peace Education, Global Education and Intercultural Education as well as activities in which participation in society can be learned, exercised and encouraged ( Thus, citizenship education is variously understood. Many versions combine a primary consideration of rights and responsibilities within the nation state with some discussions of these issues in relation wider groupings, such as the European Union or with the planet as a whole. Citizenship education often gives some attention to global environmental and economic issues, such as global warming, sustainable development or the power and wealth of multinational companies (Jackson 2003, Chapters 1 and 4).


Religious education (RE) is also high on the agenda of many European countries, though the understanding of this term varies significantly in different parts of Europe. Moreover, there has been a dramatic growth of interest recently in bringing the dimension of religious diversity into intercultural education across Europe. Directly as a response to the events of 11 September 2001 and their global consequences, the Council of Europe is encouraging the addition of the dimension of religious diversity to intercultural education, including civic education, across Europe. A project on ‘intercultural education and the challenge of religious diversity and dialogue’ was approved by the education committee of the Council at the end of September 2002, and a major conference on the topic was hosted by the Norwegian Government in June 2004. At the time of writing, Norway holds the presidency of the Council of Europe until December 2004, and the Prime Minister of Norway spoke at the conference of the vital importance of the study of religions and inter-religious dialogue in developing intercultural understanding. This Council of Europe project aims to produce materials for policy makers and practitioners across the 45 states of the Council of Europe by the end of 2004 (Jackson 2004: Chapter 10).


Thus the time is right for a consideration of the relationship between citizenship education and religious education in Europe.[i] In a paper of limited length, it is impossible to do full justice to range and diversity of ideas in these fields across the whole of the continent. However, by dealing with selected examples, we hope to convey the main issues in the debate and to indicate some positive ideas about the relationship between the two fields. The backdrop for such a discussion is the increasing plurality to be found within Europe, both ‘traditional’ plurality, the overt religious and cultural diversity resulting mainly from the migration of peoples, and ‘modern’ or ‘postmodern’ plurality, the multitude of cultural and spiritual choices available to individuals as a result of massively improved global communications (Jackson 2004, Chapter 1; Skeie 1995). Education in citizenship and in religion needs to take account of these different but inter-related forms of plurality. There needs to be an informed exploration of the debates about identity and belonging in relation to the nation-state, and also in relation to global and more local issues. These issues are related in a variety of ways, but especially so in ‘multicultural’ societies where some citizens have transnational links with other family members or co-religionists (Jackson and Nesbitt 1993; Østberg 2003).


The Nature of Citizenship Education

A wide range of terms is used world-wide to denote a form of teaching and learning that in some way encourages good citizenship. These include citizenship education, civics, social studies, life skills and moral education. In addition, there are connections with a variety of subjects (e.g. history, geography, economics, politics, languages, environmental studies and religious education). Discussion of citizenship education therefore encompasses a diverse and complex curriculum area.


Following an analysis of the over 300 known definitions of democracy associated with citizenship education (based on Davies 1999), David Kerr (2003a and b) identified a number of linked themes and concepts that are common to citizenship education:


They include the themes of: the preservation of something, such as democratic society and its associated rights; the notion of participation in society; the preparation or capacity building of young people for active and informed participation; a focus on inclusion or integration into society; a concentration on contemporary society, the encouragement of partnerships; and the promotion of an international perspective...The definition also highlights a number of key concepts that underpin citizenship education, including democracy, rights, responsibilities, tolerance, respect, equality, diversity and community...Citizenship education also involves the dimensions of knowledge and understanding, skills, attitudes and values. These dimensions are brought together through teaching and learning approaches, which have the primary goal of shaping and changing the attitudes and behaviour of young people through into their adult lives. The lifeblood of citizenship education is modern society and discussion of the topical and sensitive issues it throws up. Citizenship education enables consideration of these issues, often set within an appropriate historical framework, from a range of perspectives. (Kerr 2003b: 7-8)


Much of what is described above reflects what McLaughlin (1992) calls a ‘maximal’ interpretation of citizenship. This definition of citizenship education is broad and inclusive, it encourages investigation and interpretation, and it is as much about process as content. However, there can also be a form of citizenship education that leans towards a ‘minimal’ interpretation of citizenship. This is often referred to as ‘civics education’. It promotes a form of citizenship that is narrow and exclusive. It is content led and knowledge based, allowing little opportunity for students to question and challenge.


Kerr provides a further framework for analysing approaches to citizenship education (Kerr 1999: 12f). He distinguishes between education about citizenship, education through citizenship and education for citizenship. Education about citizenship involves developing knowledge and understanding of national history and the structures and processes of government and political life. Education through citizenship requires a more active approach on the part of students, where they participate in school and community life; this practical experience reinforces the knowledge component. Education for citizenship includes the two approaches already described, but also equips pupils with skills, aptitudes and values which enable them to take an active and responsible role in adult life. Education about citizenship is closest to the ‘minimal’ end of the continuum described by McLaughlin, and is clearly the easiest to deliver. McLaughlin explains that this ‘minimal’ interpretation is open to a number of objections; the most notable being ‘...that it may involve merely an unreflective socialisation into the political and social status quo, and is therefore inadequate on educational, as well as other, grounds’ (McLaughlin 1992: 238). There is considerable support for a more ‘maximal’ interpretation of citizenship education. Will Kymlicka, for example, claims that there is an increasing trend amongst educational theorists and policy-makers to reject the passive model of civic education in favour of one that promotes more active and reflective forms of citizenship:


...citizenship education is not simply a matter of knowledge of political institutions and constitutional institutions. It is also a matter of how we think about and behave towards others, particularly those who differ from us in their race, religion, class and so on. (Kymlicka 1999: 88)


Citizenship Education in Europe

Print and Smith distinguish between the Central and Eastern European regions and the Western European countries. The former have developed an interest in citizenship education as a result of their status as newly established democracies: ‘[t]his has necessitated educating people with new values, conventions and behaviours for living in a democracy’ (Print and Smith 2002: 103). Western Europe, meanwhile, has faced problems ‘based on a mix of new demographies, growing prosperity and voter apathy’ (Print and Smith 2002: 103). Despite the differing motivations, it is clear that citizenship education is central to the idea of a modern, integrated, yet diverse Europe.


This has led to an increased demand on schools in Europe, and there has been debate about how these demands should be met: ‘there is considerable contestation concerning the place of democratic citizenship in the school curriculum’ (Naval, Print and Veldhuis 2002: 109). Various projects, seminars and publications have attempted to trace developments in citizenship education, and to identify and promote principles that will enhance citizenship education in Europe.


Naval and his co-writers have identified a ‘new approach to democratic citizenship’, for 21st century Europe based on scholarship and an analysis of policy and curriculum documents on civics and citizenship education worldwide. They advocate programmes which:


...draw not only upon traditional views of civics and citizenship education, characterised by learning about government, democratic institutions, national allegiance, the legal system, national constitutional and political history, as well as the responsibilities of citizens, but also expand them in the context of a globalising world where most countries are now democracies. Furthermore, learning about democratic citizenship emphasises understanding democratic principles and processes, broader conceptualisations of national identity, democratic values, citizen rights and responsibilities (including human, social and political rights), global and multiple citizenships, the rule of law and judicial independence, all designed to foster active, engaged, democratic citizens. (Naval, Print and Veldhuis 2002: 110)


Similarly, the Education for Democratic Citizenship project,[ii] supported by the Council of Europe and the European Commission, identified the project’s main goal as creating responsible and informed citizens in the context of European integration. It provided a set of practices and activities aimed at equipping young people to participate actively in democratic life. The focus was on the provision and application of information, values and skills linked to democratic procedures and principles. The approaches advocated by Naval and his colleagues and by the Council of Europe Project fit well with Kerr’s notion of Education for Citizenship, sitting on McLaughlin’s maximal end of the citizenship spectrum.


The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) Civic Education Study ( accessed 20/7/04) researched 28 countries (23 of which were European) and found that students with higher levels of civic knowledge are more likely to participate in political and civic activities as adults. Moreover, the study found that schools that model democratic processes are most effective in promoting civic knowledge and engagement. However, the study also found that an open and participatory approach to citizenship education is unusual, with only about 25 per cent of pupils across all countries reporting that they are often encouraged to state their own views during lessons, and an equal proportion stating that such discussion occurs rarely or never (Kerr 2003b: 21).


In addition, the IEA study reveals some conflict between teachers’ vision of citizenship education and classroom practice. While teachers declare a vision of the subject that emphasises critical thinking and values development, they also report that, in practice, the delivery of factual information using textbooks, worksheets and teacher talk is the commonest form of teaching (Kerr 2003b: 22). Thus, whilst there appears to be a trend towards a more maximal form of citizenship education in terms of discourse, the indications are that this is not necessarily converted into practice in classrooms across Europe.


The IEA study was unable to distinguish clear patterns between different parts of Europe in relation to civic knowledge, engagement and attitudes. Kerr (1999: 3) has identified a number of ‘broad contextual’ factors (historical tradition, geographical position, socio-political structure, economic system, and global trends) which interplay with ‘structural factors’ (organisation of education, educational values and aims, and funding and regulatory arrangements) to influence the definitions of and approaches to citizenship education taken by different countries. It is therefore unsurprising that there is little uniformity or pattern to the delivery of citizenship education in Europe. Nonetheless, Torney-Purta (2002: 134) does speculate on a possible trend where it seems that some of the post-Communist countries have succeeded very well in educating students to understand democratic principles, but were less successful in transmitting skills (Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia). In contrast, students in England, Sweden and Switzerland performed at or above the international mean on the skills subscale, but below the international mean on the subscale measuring knowledge of democratic concepts and principles.




The Nature of RE in Europe

Comparative data show that religious education is present as a compulsory or optional subject in many school systems of Europe (Kodelja and Bassler 2004: Annex B; Schreiner 2002a and b). Where religious education is not a subject in its own right, there is usually some treatment of religion in, for example, history, literature, philosophy, sociology or other studies. Moreover, there is increasing discussion about how and to what extent the treatment of religion in schooling shapes an individual’s self-concept and world view. There is an increasing interest in how far studies of religion contribute to social tolerance or to intolerance, stereotyping and prejudice. In some countries, there remain more fundamental struggles between those wishing to include religion in schooling, often led by religious institutions, and those who seek to exclude religion from schools (Kodelja and Bassler 2004: 1).


As with citizenship education, all models and approaches to religious education have their own history and ‘biography’ (Schreiner 2002a and b). Influences range from the religious landscape of the country, the role and value of religion in society and the structure of the education system, to the relationship between the state and religion and the historical tradition of each country. This has to be taken into account in order to understand the nature of RE in each country. Peter Schreiner explains the different European arrangements for RE thus:


[t]he variety of approaches ranges from confessional concepts where religious communities are responsible for RE (e.g. in many east European countries), through confessional cooperative concepts (e.g. in Finland, Germany or Austria) and non-confessional cooperative concepts (e.g. in Great Britain) to concepts focused clearly on a religious studies model (e.g. in Denmark). (Schreiner 2002b)


John Hull analyses the different approaches taken by European countries to religious education in terms of reactions to plurality in ‘such formerly monolithic societies’ (Hull 2002). One reaction is that experienced in France (with the exception of Alsace-Lorraine), where religious education is not permitted in publicly funded schools.[iii] In this case nurture into religious faith is left to the home and religious community. Another reaction, says Hull, is ‘...a pluralization of learning religion in which students are offered a system of parallel instruction’. Yet another reaction is to adopt a position that views religion from the outside.


Whilst highlighting the need for more specific descriptions, Schreiner (2002a) suggests that we can roughly differentiate between two main models of RE in Europe: the religious studies approach and the denominational or confessional approach.


Confessional/Denominational RE

Confessional or denominational RE covers a wide range of approaches to religious education, from a situation where only one faith tradition is taught in schools, to a more diverse approach. The defining feature of this type of RE is its assumption that the goal of the subject is to transmit or nurture faith and that the contents of RE, the training of teachers, and the development of curricula and teaching materials are mainly the responsibility of religious communities as opposed to the state. In many cases there is an opportunity to opt out and to choose alternative subjects such as ethics or philosophy.


In countries with a predominantly Catholic population (Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Poland for example), Catholicism is deeply embedded in the culture, which has an influence on how RE is taught. In Italy, for example, about ninety per cent of students attend the voluntary RE lessons which are taught by teachers who are in possession of a certificate recognised by the diocesan authorities, are appointed by the Catholic authority and are paid by the state (Gandolfo-Censi 2000). The aims of RE in Italy are:


·        to highlight the fundamental principles and values of the Catholic faith

·        to widen the knowledge about life, history and tradition of the church

·        to discover the Christian revelation through Bible reading

·        to get a basic knowledge of non-Christian religions

·        to answer the great questions about the meanings and objectives of life


Following an agreement with the state in recent years, Protestants – with the support of local administrations and along with other non-Catholics – have been organising courses and round-table conferences about Protestantism and other religions for both pupils and teachers (Gandolfo-Censi 2000).


Where there is a mixed religious situation as in Germany, the Netherlands or in Switzerland, religious education is predominantly religious instruction in the majority religion, or church of the state. Teaching about other religions may be included, especially at secondary level, but the teaching tends to be from the point of view of the dominant religion. The teachers may be professional teachers with or without a special and close relationship with the church, but they may also be clergy or teachers appointed and educated by the church.


In the case of Germany, Schreiner describes the situation thus:


...the provision for RE is a task and an affair of the state just as for any other ordinary subject...On the other hand the religious bodies in most states are responsible for the attainment targets and the content...for certification and recognition of RE teachers and for textbooks... (Schreiner 2000: 51)


There is a strong sense of a partnership between state and religious communities. This is what Schreiner (2002b) means when he refers to a ‘confessional cooperative concept’ of RE.


Religious Studies Approach

This approach is carried out under the sole authority of the state. RE is placed in the hands of the Ministry of Education and the local school authorities who produce the syllabuses and educate and appoint the teachers, although representatives of the religions may have a role in contributing to syllabuses, as in England and Wales, for example. We find such a non-confessional religious education approaches in England, Wales and Scotland, as well as in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. The aims are to develop knowledge and understanding, as well as to reflect on that understanding and to explore fundamental human experiences and questions. The neutrality of the state and the right of religious freedom are guaranteed with this approach.


Within the group of countries mentioned there are, however, many variations and differences. One of the major differences can be found in the English and Danish systems. In England, the state and local school authorities have involved the religious communities in drawing up national standards for syllabuses. In Denmark, such a procedure has never been tried nor proposed. As Tim Jensen puts it: may be because Denmark is not yet a highly multi-religious country, but it also has to do with the fact that the separation of church and school is thought to function in this matter. School is one thing and religion is another. In school, you teach, and in church, you preach, and you shouldn’t mix the two. (Jensen 1998)


Instead, Denmark places all responsibility for teacher training and curriculum development with the state (Holt 2000).


Models for RE in Europe

Michael Grimmitt’s three models of RE teaching have been highlighted as useful tools in analysing approaches to RE in Europe (Hull 2002; Schreiner 2002a and b). The first is educating into religion, which describes a confessional approach, where a single tradition is taught as the religious education curriculum by insiders. Teachers are themselves expected to be believers in the religion and the object of the instruction is to enable pupils to come to believe in the religion or to strengthen their commitment to it. A variation of the ‘learning religion approach’ is ‘faith-based’ RE, where various religions are presented in separate teaching, but still from the point of view of one religion. Many central and eastern European countries give this form of RE a high priority (Schreiner 2002b).


Educating about religion refers to the Religious Studies approach. Instead of being taught from the inside, religion is taught from the outside, from a descriptive and historical perspective. Holy scriptures like the Bible or the Qur’an are not taught as religious or sacred books, but as literature, often from a non-religious viewpoint. This approach involves learning about the beliefs, values and practices of a religion, but also seeks to understand the ways in which these may influence the behaviour of individuals and how religion shapes communities. Sometimes this kind of RE is called ‘education in comparative religion’ or ‘religious studies’ following disciplines such as the history of religions, the phenomenology of religion or ethnographic studies of religions. Hull’s concern about this approach is that religious education is likely to be vulnerable in a situation where the curriculum is crowded and where subjects such as that mathematics and science are considered to be more relevant to the modern state (Hull 2002: 109).


Educating from religion gives pupils the opportunity to consider different answers to major religious and moral issues, so that they may develop their own views in a reflective way. This approach puts the experience of the pupils at the centre of the teaching. The question is to what extent, and in what ways, children and young people can gain educational benefit from the study of religion. The principal objective of this kind of RE is sometimes stated as making a contribution to pupils’ moral and spiritual development or as helping pupils to develop their own point of view on religious matters. Hull highlights the strengths of this third approach:


... in speaking of the benefits which young people and society may derive from the study of religion, one is moving away from the domestic concerns of the religious communities, and the internal questions about the best way to study religion, into the wider issues with which government and the community at large are rightly concerned. (Hull 2002: 109)


The implications for citizenship education here are obvious.


The second and third of these approaches are often combined together, as in Michael Grimmitt’s approach to the subject, combining ‘learning about’ and ‘learning from’ religion (Grimmitt 1987) or Robert Jackson’s interpretive approach, in which both understanding and knowledge and reflection and constructive criticism are regarded as essential elements of an integrated learning process (Jackson 1997; 2004, Chapter 6).


Emerging Trends in RE in Europe

Peter Schreiner discerns a trend towards unity in the development of RE in Europe:


Looking to the different RE classrooms in Europe I would argue that there is a tendency that practice is converging in spite of the different ‘theories’. This can be underlined by an increasing awareness about the relation of religion and the pupils, their own individual religious practice, their religiosity and their ‘religious needs’. (Schreiner 2002a)


In addition to the increasing individualisation in religion and a new understanding of the active role of the learner, Schreiner, detects a different understanding of religion and culture. Both are seen as dynamically interwoven areas and every definition has no more than a provisional status. There appears to be a change in emphasis in RE in Europe, from presenting religion as an institutionalised tradition, to more acknowledgement of the personal aspects of believers.


This is a something of a generalisation, although it is true of developments in northern European countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries and the United Kingdom. However, the increase in conversation about the place of religion in schools, as encouraged by pan-European initiatives such as the Council of Europe project on ‘intercultural education and the challenge of religious diversity and dialogue’, together with European fora such as the Coordinating Group for Religious Education in Europe (CoGREE) ( together with work of research networks such as European Network for Religious Education through Contextual Approaches (ENRECA) (, may well lead to more consensus.



Having examined the diverse and complex natures of both citizenship education and religious education in Europe, it is now possible to explore the possible relationship(s) that can exist between the two subjects. It is important to acknowledge the fears and concerns that are inherent for some educators in proposing this relationship.


The case of England and Wales highlighted some of these when a compulsory national curriculum for secondary citizenship education was introduced in 2001. Some feared that the ‘new subject’ was a direct secular threat to RE, whilst others saw a conflict between the aims of the two fields. These fears are based on very specific understandings of RE and citizenship education which need to be explored in each particular context (Jackson 2004: Chapter 8). In the case of England, many have overcome the fears, and the Professional Council for Religious Education (PCfRE) has stated its intention thus:


PCfRE intends to promote an open frontier between RE and citizenship education based upon partnerships of mutual esteem and a common concern for the education of the whole child in ways that take spiritual, moral, social and cultural development seriously. (PCfRE 2001)


The English model is built upon a maximal interpretation of citizenship (Gearon, 2003: 12) and a curriculum that encourages education for citizenship. This, combined with a non-confessional approach to RE that blends learning about religion with learning from religion, has led to a situation where the scope for a fruitful relationship is being investigated and, in many cases, realised. One indicator of this is the trend towards recruiting teachers to take responsibility for both curriculum areas (Blaylock 2003a: 25). As both Kerr (1999: 3f) and Schreiner (2001; 2002) have asserted, a range of factors need to considered in relation to the approaches taken in individual countries. A discussion of some possible models for RE and citizenship education in Europe is set out below. It is by no means exhaustive.


Confessional approaches and Citizenship Education

Conservative confessional approaches to RE tend to present a view of citizenship that is on the ‘minimal’ end of McLaughlin’s citizenship spectrum. At the extreme, they could be seen to promote a single unified national, cultural and religious identity, which clearly raises ethical and political issues. However, liberal approaches to religious education within confessional contexts can contribute very positively to ‘maximal’ forms of citizenship education that are concerned with issues of plurality and globalisation. For example, the contextual and dialogical approaches proposed by writers of a Christian Protestant background such as Heimbrock (2001), Schweitzer and Boschi (2004) and Streib (2001) from Germany or Bakker (2001) and Wardekker and Miedema (2001) from the Netherlands or the pluralistic approach from the German Catholic educator Hans Georg Ziebertz (2003), deal directly and deeply with issues of plurality at local and global levels.


The Religious Studies approach and Citizenship Education

As discussed, an important element of the citizenship debate concerns issues raised by social plurality, including issues of religious and cultural diversity. There has been an increase in discussion about citizenship education and issues of religious diversity and the contribution that the study of religions might make to our understanding of citizenship. Any such discussion must consider the aims of religious education. For example, in the Council of Europe project on ‘intercultural education and the challenge of religious diversity and dialogue’ outlined above, specialists in intercultural and civic education have found non-confessional forms of religious education (as found in the community schools of England or the KRL subject in Norway) to be more compatible with the goals of a ‘maximal’ form of citizenship education than the more confessional approaches. Hull explains how the increased emphasis on learning from religion in these countries addresses issues of diversity: we start to talk about the contribution of religion to these life-areas [mutual-understanding and toleration], we are already moving away from religious education as ‘learning about religion’ toward our third understanding of the subject, ‘learning from religion’. For young people to become more tolerant of others through the study of religion is to learn from religion. (Hull 2002: 109)


Interpretive and Dialogical Approaches to RE and Citizenship Education

The interpretive approach is associated with work at the University of Warwick in England (Jackson 1997; 2004 Chapter 6). It is concerned with developing skills to engage with religious traditions, and with the diversity and complexity of religious traditions and the associated concepts of culture, ethnicity and nationality. Careful consideration is given to the representation of religious traditions and students’ own perspectives are seen as an important part of learning process. This approach encourages reflection, constructive criticism of the material studied (at a distance) and involvement in the interpretive process. Learning can begin at any point on the hermeneutic circle (e.g. an overview of key concepts, or the experiences of class members).


Dialogical approaches concentrate on pupil interaction in the classroom and, like the interpretive approach, give agency to pupils. Students are the starting points as well as the key resources and actors. Various forms of this approach have been used in Norway (Leganger-Krogstad 2003:169-90), Germany (e.g. Weisse, 2003:191-208) and England (Ipgrave, 2003:147-68).


Both of these approaches view RE as making a valuable contribution to citizenship education. Both are concerned with social plurality and issues relating to identity. Both also encourage skills that lead to an understanding of various aspects of plurality (local, global and national) in relation to the students’ own experiences. Students are helped to examine their own and their peers’ assumptions and to reflect upon their own identities.



Whilst we must not diminish the diverse nature of religious education and citizenship education across Europe (Kodelja and Bassler 2004), there do appear to be trends in each subject area, especially, as far as religious education is concerned, in Northern Europe. There is a move towards a more ‘maximal’ form of citizenship education, which takes greater account of social plurality. It is broad and inclusive; it encourages investigation and interpretation, and is much more about process than content. In parallel, religious education in some parts of Europe appears to be moving away from a purely confessional or denominational form of RE towards an approach that allows for more ‘learning from religion’, taking greater account of the experiences and the needs of the individual child. Inherent in this is an understanding of religion and culture that takes account of recent empirical and theoretical work on plurality and pluralism (as reflected, for example, in Baumann 1996; Heimbrock et al 2001; Jackson 1997; 2004; Skeie 1995; 2002; Ziebertz 2003; Østberg 2003).


Where these ‘new’ forms of RE and citizenship education meet, the potential for a strong relationship is huge. Interpretive and dialogical approaches to RE, for example, place students at the centre of the learning process, so that they may use the knowledge that they gain about different religious traditions to reflect upon and develop their own sense of identity in a way that acknowledges social plurality. Both the content and the skills promoted by this form of RE are directly relevant to a maximal form of citizenship education in Europe. As Lat Blaylock observes:


Religious education can offer young people the space, the stimulus and the tools of reflection that enable them to examine liberations and empowerments in local communities, in nation-states and in the global context, and to learn from the diversity of religious life and practice. Where religious education focuses upon the ways religions enable individuals to make meaning out of experience in the light of a community’s traditions, learners can find opportunities to reflect on their own sense of the meaning of identity, community or tradition. If religious education does this, its contribution to citizenship education may be out of all proportion to the time and attention the subject often attracts. (Blaylock, 2003b: 221)




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The Authors

Robert Jackson is Professor of Education in the Institute of Education at the University of Warwick, England, where he is also Director of the Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit ( He is Editor of the British Journal of Religious Education. His books include Religious Education: An Interpretive Approach (London: Hodder and Stoughton 1997); International Perspectives on Citizenship, Education and Religious Diversity (ed.) (London: RoutledgeFalmer, 2003) and Rethinking Religious Education and Plurality: Issues in Religious Diversity and Pedagogy (2004) also published by RoutledgeFalmer.


Karen Steele is Head of Religious Education and Citizenship at Kineton High School, Warwickshire UK and was a Visiting Research Fellow in Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit in 2004, sponsored by the Farmington Institute. She holds an MA degree in Religious Education from the University of Warwick and is currently researching for a PhD at Warwick in the fields of religious and citizenship education.


[i] See Jackson (2003) for international contributions to the debate about citizenship, education and religious diversity. The book includes European contributions from Germany, the UK and Norway.


[ii] For more detailed information see (downloaded 20/7/04) and Naval et al. (2003: 112f).


[iii] However over the last few years a serious discussion has started about the need for knowledge about religions in schools. Teachers have become increasingly aware that pupils do not understand history, art or even French without a basic knowledge of religion(s). Additionally Islam has an increasing influence on the French society. Following the publication of the Debray Report, initiatives are being developed to provide opportunities for teachers to include knowledge about religions in different subjects (Debray 2002; Jackson 2004, Chapter 10).