Papers and resource materials for the global meeting on



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


Inter-faith Education and Turkey


Paper for Working Session III, Thematic Workshops, 1. Inter-faith Education


By Dr. Recep KAYMAKCAN[1]



Regarding religion as the foundation of civilization is not a novel or recent idea. In the history, for long years religion has formed and to large extent still does form the basis of individual identity. For instance, in terms of recent World Value Survey (2000-2001) about two-thirds of the population in Turkey which is a traditionally secular Islamic country say they are first Muslim and then Turkish rather than the other way around. After the tragic event of 11 September  the role of religion in the contruction of civilization  has widely  been discussed. In this context, Huntington’s  controvertial thesis the Clash of Civilizations” has been so widely debated both in academic publications and the media.


Huntington cclaimed that the end of the Cold War brought new dangers. He argued that “...the most pervasive, important and dangereous conflicts will not between social classes, rich and poor, or other economically defined groups, but between people belonging to different cultural entities. ... For fourty-five years the Iron Curtain was the central dividing line in Europe.  That line was moved several hundreds miles east. It is noe separating people of Western Christianity, on the one hand, from Muslim and Orthodox  peoples on the other”.


It is obvious that the realization of this futuristic and controversial  thesis “clash of civilizations” will not bring for human beings peace, tolerance, freedom and human rights. According to this thesis religion is an important component of civilization. We  believed that in order to non-realization of this thesis and cooperation between civilization  religious education make, at least, a modest contribution. To do so, the understanding others, positive and emphatical approaches to the evaluation of other religions and beliefs are crucial. In this context, the contribution of inter-faith approach to religious education (it is possible to use another word to describe inter-faith education) will be increased. In this short paper, I would like explain briefly the following topics pertaining to inter-faith religious education: Islam and plurality, models of religious education, recent changes in the Turkish religious education policy.


Islam and Plurality


Learning how to live together with “other” and “the others” and understanding of other are a very important component of inter-faith education.  When we look at Islam we can find a plenty of evidence that recognize and support inter-faith and culturel dialogies and in a sense pluralism. Hovewer, interperatation of a religious texts and implementation may be different in terms of a given time and place. Because we are children of our age and every human beings is under the influence on his or her own  living environment and societies to understand of his or her religion. This is probably valid for every religious understanding and interpretation. Let us provide a verse from the Qur’an which recognizes pluralism and diversity and condemns discrimination and prejudies based on tribalism and racism.


“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of male and female and made you  into nations and tribes that ye may know each other (ta’aruf) (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)” (Qur’an. 49 Hujurat, 13).


In this Qur’anic verse ta’aruf...means to know/recognize/understand each other. This encourages a partnership role between different people in knowing each other and sharing the knowledge and recognition of each other, and this, in a sense, leads to a culture of a pluralism and tolerance in societies.


Generally speaking, the majority of Muslim scholars of Qur’anic exegesis reach conculusions that diversity between different people can only prove the richness of God’s creation; some Islamic scholar, adds that the differences between the human beings, in fact, provide good ways for the people for the competing one with another in promoting good and proving solidarity among themselves.


We can understand that the concept of taaruf  (know each other) requires the condemnation of all prejudices and discrimination based on tribalism or racism since the main point is the equality in creation and pluralism in human society.


Models of Religious Education in Schools

John Hull describes the three main types of school religious education in the world. These main types religious education used firstly  by Michael Grimmitt like thus: learning religion, learning about religion, and learning from religion.

1. Learning religion: A single religious tradition is taught as the religious education curriculum, and is taught from the insider perspective. The teachers are expected to be believers in the religion themselves, and the object of the instruction is to enable pupils to come to believe in the religion or to strengthen their commitment to it. This type of religious education may be also described as confessional or traditional religious education. Learning religion means that the pupils are expected to learn that the religion is true, and to learn to live in accordance with that religion. This type of religious education is challenged when religious or secular  pluralism appears in the society. .

2. Learning about religion: Instead of religion being taught from the insider perspective, religion is now taught from the outsider perspective. Sometimes this kind of religious education may be called ‘education in comparative religion’, and may be based upon anthropology. It is more common, however, to find that religious education of this ‘learning about religion’ type is influenced by developments in the study of religion itself. This approach may be called ‘learning about religion’ because of its descriptive, historical and critical approach. It tends to appear as a reaction against the mono-religious ‘learning religion’ situation, and is often motivated by the desire to create a purely educational religious education. This kind of religious education, learning about religion, has a significant role to play in the prevention of religious intolerance Hovewer, this approach often makes little or no explicit contribution to the pupils’ search for moral and spiritual values.

3. Learning from religion: In this type of religious education pupils are expected to participate in the beliefs and practices of the religion being taught, whereas in ‘learning from religion’ the distance between the pupils and the religious content which is typical of ‘learning about religion’ is strictly maintained, and yet at the same time the life-world of the pupil, rather than the internal structure of the religion, tends to inform the curriculum. The question at stake is to what extent, and in what ways, children and young people can gain educational benefit from the study of religion. This becomes the kind of religious education which has as its principal objective the humanisation of the pupil, that is, making a contribution to the moral and spiritual development of the pupil. This approach may also called edification.

In the first two kinds of religious education, learning religion and learning about religion, religion is taught for its own sake, whether as an object of faith to which the children are summoned, or as an object worthy of critical study. However, in the third kind, learning from religion, the central focus switches to the children as learners. Religion itself has become instrumental to the humanisation process. It is because, in this third kind of religious education, the main concern is to make a contribution to the education of the children that this third kind may be described as educational religious education.

To be sure, learning from religion  will make a great deal of contribution for inter-faith education, to develop the culture of tolerance and freedom of region. Within this approach the place of religious education in school will be more acceptable in  secular and plural soceties. However, this type of religious education is not common practice in the world. For this reason, a countries implemented the approach of learning from religion in schools should  share their experiences with other countries.


Recent Changes in Turkish Religious Education Policy


Religious education is a compulsory part of school curriculum in primary and secondary schools in Turkey. Traditional religious education ( we can called this semi-confessional or nearly learning religion approach) in schools had long legacy in the  RE curriculum, textbooks and pedagogical understanding. However, taking into consideration shortcomings of this approach of RE in state schools a shift has been observed from confessional towards a pluralistic (inter-faith) religious education in Turkey. I would like to illustrate this with recent changes in the presentation of non-Islamic religions, particularly Christianity.


Religious education curriculum for primary school changed in the late 2000. In line with this new religious education curriculum, new textbooks are issued for religious education in September 2002 by the Ministry of National Education and private sectors. It should be noted that secondary curriculum for religious education has not yet been changed and the preparation for this level of curriculum revision is in process by the Turkish National Ministry of Education. The new religious education  curriculum for primary level supports the teaching of non-Islamic religions, and the purpose of teaching them is explained in the new curriculum like thus: “By gaining basic knowledge and understanding other religions by pupils, they will contribute to the development of more tolerant attitudes towards the followers of other religions” (MEB 2000). Moreover, it places great emphasis on the importance of teaching  other religions to contribute the creation of peace culture and tolerance in a globazing world (ibid).


We find in this new curriculum and textbooks important changes in relation to content and new educational approaches. One of the significant developments can be seen in the presentation of Christianity in the textbooks. In what follows we will try to illustrate briefly some points in relation to these new developments:


Firstly, the old textbooks for RE used to give the classification the religions as divinely originated and non-divine, then subdivide divinely originated religions as distorted and undistorted religions.


In this classification, Christianity was considered as distorted divinely originated religion. From the beginning, this connotes prejudice against Christianity. We cannot see this kind of classification of religions in the new textbooks. Hence, this kind of approach can be considered a significant positive step for the understanding of Christianity and other world religions.


Secondly, we find that the space given to non-Islamic religions in the new textbooks are increased considerably. However, in the previous textbooks, Christianity used to be dealt with in the sixth year of primary school. Christianity is being presented throughout 6., 7. and 8th classes of secondary.


Thirdly, in discussing ethical issues and presenting ethical values, the new textbooks refer to and quote from the Qur’an as well as the other Scriptures. In this context we come across many passages from the Bible. For instance:

In the presentation of truthfulness, the following quotation from New Testament is provided by one  textbook:


For “he that would love life and see good days, let him restrain his tongue from what is bad and his lips from speaking deception (Peter 1, 10,3)


With this approach the new textbooks try to lay stress on the points of agreement rather than conflicts on ethical values among religions. It seems that particular attention is given to ethical issues which are common among different religions rather than controversial theological issues.


In the new primary RE curriculum and textbooks  promising chances have been observed and important steps have been realized in line with non-confessional way of religious education. The case of presentation of Christianity indicates that the traditional Islamic perspective about ahl al-kitab has been limited, priority has been given to common points between Islam and Christianity, and objective approach tried to be applied. As we know that giving a space for non-majority religions and more importantly way of treatment of other religions are a decisive indicator about the characteristic of a system of religious eductaion in schools. It is expected that growing efforts should be given to present Christianity in a non-confessional manner for preperation process of secondary RE curriculum and textbooks.


Conclusions and Suggestions


1.      It seems to me objective approaches to the presentation of other religions are not enough for inter-faith education. What should be done is to present the religions emphatically and to display them contemporary forms rather than historical and theoratical dimensions. Living experiences of an adherent of a religion makes more sense and understanding for children and youth in schools, they may have an oppurtunity to participate the discussion and reflection in a religious education topic.  Religious education should give place diversity in a religious tradition.


2.      First of all, a policy makers, teachers for RE must believe the importance and necessity of inter-faith education in schools. Apart from that, the academics in theology faculties and teachers for RE pay attention to the accurate presentation of other religions in order to overcome traditional or modern approaches’ obstacle. For this, we should re-evaluate critically present situation of our understanding of other religions in terms of  content, teaching materials, methods etc to implement inter-faith education in a given society school. Moreover, a priority should be given  concepts such as inter-faith education, tolerance, pluralism in the initial and in service training for RE teachers.


3.       Traditional religious education has a long history in school education and huge majority of teaching materials have prepared for confessional approach in RE. One of the main diffucuties to implement inter-faith education in school stems from lack of teacing materias. To overcome this teaching materials to support inter-faith education should be given a priority.


4.       In the preparation of curriculum and textbooks for RE the issues of common points among religions must receive a particular attention rather than conflics among religions. To do so, ethical issues which are more common among religion rather theological matters may be a good starting point.




[1] Associate Professor of Religious Education, Sakarya University, Turkey, E-mail: