Editorial note: In quite a few European countries, Religion is an obligatory subject at school. For example in Sweden, or Ireland, where “religion is taught in a subject called Religious Education which is compulsory in many schools for the Junior Certificate, but available as an option for the Leaving Certificate”; but also in the U.K., as “Religious Education (RE) is a compulsory subject in the state education system in the United Kingdom. Schools are required to teach a programme of religious studies according to local and national guidelines.” (from Wikipedia) Malta, UK, Sweden, Iceland, Norway and Denmark – have religion as a compulsory subject with no other alternative offered, while in other European countries non-believers are often offered ethics as an alternative. For example Slovakia, which is “generally a religious country of Christian religion. The latest research results show that 84% of inhabitants are religious and Christians attend Mass and practice their religion in everyday life. There are catholic schools in Slovakia including primary schools, secondary schools and universities and Religion for religious children is a compulsory subject in primary schools. For the non-religious children their parents can choose Ethics as an alternative subject. Slovakia values freedom of religion” (From Slovakiasite). Now Russia is going to join them.
Obligatory religion (Original Title from The Voice of Russia)
From The Voice of Russia
By Milena Faustova
From September 2012, fundamentals of religion will be introduced as an obligatory subject in all schools of Russia. According to their own (or, probably, their parents’) choice, schoolchildren, starting from the 4th or the 5th year, will study fundamentals of Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism or Buddhism (these denominations have been officially recognized “traditional for Russia”), or a course which shortly tells about the history of all these religions. Those who will not want to study religion will be able to attend alternative classes of secular ethics.
A decree which outlines the details of teaching this new subject was recently signed by Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
The initiative to introduce such a subject in schools came as long as about 10 years ago from the Russian Orthodox Church, but it was only in 2009 that this subject was introduced in schools in 19 regions of Russia as an experiment.
Since the very beginning, this idea came under criticism of quite many people in Russia – mainly, atheistically-minded ones. Their main arguments, in fact, may be reduced to two major ones. First, Russia is a secular state where no religion may be an official or obligatory ideology. Second, Russia is a state of many religions and many nationalities, and dividing people into groups according to their religion may stir national and religious hatred.
“I believe that it would be wrong to divide children from a young age into groups according to their denomination,” expert in religions Ivar Maksurov says. “This may cause many problems.”
“I am not against introducing this subject in schools,” Mr. Maksurov continues, “but not in its present form. I believe, it must be thoroughly revised.”
Another problem that the introduction of the new subject is now facing is the lack of well-qualified teachers and good textbooks. There have been several attempts to write a school textbook on fundamentals of, say, Orthodox Christianity, but neither of them has won the approval of the Ministry of Education.
“A good textbook is, of course, needed,” Honored Teacher of Russia Evgeny Bunimovich believes, “but what is even more needed is good teachers. With a good teacher, a lesson of fundamentals of religion may become a good lesson of religious tolerance.”
However, Russian religious leaders do not share the skepticism of the new subject’s secular opponents. Knowing more about one’s own and one’s neighbor’s religion cannot stir religious hatred, the religious leaders assure. On the opposite, the more a person is educated in the sphere of religion, the more tolerant he or she is to other people’s opinions.
Mufti Albir Krganov, the Chairman of the Spiritual Board of Moslems of Chuvashia (an autonomous republic within Russia), says:
“Experience has shown that in Chuvashia, the new subject has become very popular both with children and with their parents. Sometimes, parents say that they themselves have learned more about religion because their children have such classes. At the same time, a secular school should remain secular. But studying religion can bring nothing but good.”
From February, additional courses for teachers of the new subject will be opened in Russia. And in March, parents will have to decide the fundamentals of what religion their child will study (or whether he or she will study secular ethics). Besides, a website will soon appear where the latest news concerning this subject will be published.