Ministers’ Deputies
CM Documents

CM(2007)119 add1 7 August 20071

1005 Meeting, 26 September 2007
7 Education and culture

7.1 Steering Committee for Education (CDED)

b. Draft Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)… of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the religious dimension of intercultural education: principles, objectives and teaching approaches Explanatory Memorandum

Item to be prepared by the GR-C on 11 September 2007


Introduction and context

1. Within the Council of Europe, an approach to intercultural education has been defined over the years, focusing on developing competences and attitudes conducive to respect for the rights of others, empathy and dialogue with people from different cultural backgrounds. This approach has been developed in projects in the fields of history, education for democratic citizenship, foreign languages and the education of Roma children. Issues relating to religion have been raised, but to a lesser extent. However, in the context of growing pluralism, the large-scale migration of populations of various origins and in order to promote a harmonious culture of co-existence between citizens belonging to different religions, the Council of Europe wanted to draw particular attention to the religious dimension of intercultural education.

2. The events of 11 September 2001 recalled the importance of intercultural and interfaith dialogue. However, the attention given to understanding and to interfaith dialogue is not a direct consequence of these acts of terrorism only. In 1997 and 1999, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe had already formulated recommendations to promote tolerance (Recommendation 1346 (1997)) and better relations with and between religions (Recommendation 1396 (1999)).

3. In 2002 the Council of Europe’s Steering Committee for Education (CDED) launched the project entitled “The new challenge of intercultural education: religious diversity and dialogue in Europe”. The action plan drawn up by the working group formed to carry out this project made it clear that all countries are facing similar challenges in different environments, that they have much to gain by sharing their experience with each other and they should consequently be prepared to review their policies whilst engaging in dialogue with the parties involved.

4. At the 21st session of the Standing Conference of Ministers of Education of the States Parties to the European Cultural Convention (ETS No. 18) (10-12 November 2003, Athens), the Ministers requested that the content and context of intercultural education be redefined. Their wish was to reinforce the work carried out in the area of the contents and learning methods in order to provide the member states with examples of teaching tools which take into consideration respect for human rights and cultural and religious diversity. The conference also endorsed the project launched by the CDED in 2002 and recognised its importance for the promotion of dialogue beyond the European context.

5. In terms of policy, the working group recommended that, regardless of the system of religious education in any particular state, children should have education that takes religious and philosophical diversity into account as part of their intercultural education, irrespective of how exactly this is included in the curriculum. Such education should encourage tolerance for different religious and philosophical points of view, education in human rights, citizenship and conflict management and strategies to counter racism and discrimination.

6. Issues related to the project were discussed at a conference entitled “The religious dimension of intercultural education”, held in Oslo in June 2004. Participants included educational decision makers from most member states and from observer states, education professionals and representatives of civil society involved in intercultural education.

7. In Europe, mutual mistrust, intolerance, racist incidents and discrimination mainly take an ethnic form, but sometimes a religious one. This is why any action to promote better understanding between cultural and/or religious communities through school education, on the basis of shared ethical principles and democratic citizenship, is particularly important.

8. It was also underlined that taking into account the religious dimension of intercultural education requires that, despite different views on religion at the personal and societal levels, all can agree that religion is at least a “cultural fact”. (This does not deny that for many it is much more, such as an expression of ultimate meaning and truth or source of ethics.) Knowledge and understanding of religion at this basic level is highly relevant to good community and personal relations and is therefore a legitimate concern of public policy.

9. Following the conference, the Council of Europe appointed a group of specialists in religious and intercultural education to work together to produce a document for teachers, teacher trainers, administrators and policy makers to deal with the issue of religious diversity in Europe’s schools. The group has established working principles for dealing with religion in the curriculum in an impartial way and has identified teaching methods adaptable to different national contexts. The most important of them appear in this recommendation and its appendix.

10. The abovementioned document has been published under the title Religious diversity and intercultural education: a reference book for schools (Council of Europe 2007).


11. The preamble sets out the legal and standard-setting texts of particular importance to the recommendation and also places the text in its proper context.


12. A number of principles set out in the recommendation form the basis of and define the perspective from which religion is to be taken into account in a framework of intercultural education geared to fashioning an enlightened, peaceful citizenship.

13. The religious dimension of human experience is of relevance to intercultural education as this dimension is a constituent part of many people’s culture and identity. Of course, the values on which this identity is based are underpinned by moral principles, and moral preferences can also derive from philosophical, humanist and agnostic convictions. Accordingly, the term “religious dimension” is not used to define a type of “religious education”. Attaching importance to the religious dimension of intercultural education is aimed primarily at fostering reciprocal awareness and respect, as well as learning how to live together in order to promote social cohesion and civic participation.

Comments on key concepts

14. The agreement on the fact that religion is at least a cultural phenomenon is an important principle. For many, religion is more than this. Religion may be a way of life, an embodiment of revealed truth, and/or linked with important ethical convictions. This concept provides a basic agreement on the nature of religion that allows the Council Europe to begin to develop further the implications of religion for intercultural education, and to release the potential for considering how religion can contribute to positive intercultural education that would not be possible otherwise. It must be said, however, that some are now talking of Europe not as a post-Christian society but as a post-secular society. The reasons for this are themselves complex and debateable, but no one can doubt that religion still is a cultural phenomenon (or set of phenomena) that is of significance in all European societies. This concept also allows the scope of religion to include humanist view points as well as theistic ones. This is particularly important in Europe where there are many people (and children) who do not have traditional religious, theistic beliefs, yet have beliefs and values.

15. The recognition that the role of religious, philosophical and moral convictions go beyond the private sphere is not without its opponents, but without such a concept the potential of exploring and using the religious dimension of intercultural education and dialogue is very limited. Personal convictions do influence public participation; personal beliefs do cause public motivation and policy direction; religious affiliation does contribute to social movements, institutions and civic life.

16. Religious and moral values are a highly sensitive area, involving beliefs and concepts about the world. Such values cannot be approached simply from a narrow curricular perspective, nor can they be reduced to a mere transmission of knowledge. They must be developed gradually, with pupils becoming aware of and acquiring such values individually and to lasting effect. In other words, acquisition of religious and moral values must be the outcome of real individual experience and skill. Similarly, the development of religious and moral convictions must be consistent with democratic values as a whole, namely respect for human rights, pluralism and rule of law.

17. Manifestations of religious diversity are to be found in schools across most of Europe. This goes beyond visible religious symbolism (though that is often the most eye-catching and public) to diverse views on authority, duty, morality, and destiny for instance, which different religious and non-religious groups hold deeply. Intercultural education should ensure that it nourishes an understanding of such things, not just of visible diversity but also of diverse world-views, as part of the fundamental educational interests of children and young people. Such education accords with human rights, democracy and the rule of law – hallmarks of the Council of Europe’s values.

Suggestions on implementation

18. Any democratic state, even in highly secularised societies is obliged to take a position vis-à-vis religious diversity. It has to handle its relations with the dominant faith communities which have for centuries shaped social, moral and even political life; it must then give consideration to minority groups anxious to preserve their traditions; it must also deal appropriately with the diversity of the many and varied groups or individual demands regarding the public expression of freedom of conscience and religion. Democratic states are also expected to guarantee the paramount educational interests of children. A key dimension of education is a child’s right to be fully prepared for life as a citizen within a democratic and pluralist society. Citizens however must “live together” despite their moral and religious differences. Education should focus on developing abilities and attitudes which, in a manner of speaking, are the tools needed for the full exercise of citizenship.

19. Since religion is viewed in this context as being a social and cultural fact at the very least, considering religious diversity in intercultural education is not incompatible with some forms of secularism and the partial secularisation of many modern-day societies. This means that decision makers and field workers can adapt this perspective of mutual understanding and dialogue among the different cultures to the specific context in which they exercise their roles and responsibilities, respecting their own particular constitutional structures, national or local situations and education systems.


20. Intercultural education should ensure an understanding of different worldviews to be found in pluralist societies. Such education needs to develop personal autonomy and a critical spirit, tolerance, openness to diversity and a feeling of belonging to the community as a whole, as well as nurturing a sense of trust uniting citizens beyond their moral and religious differences and disagreements in order to play a full part in democracy in the future.

Comments on key concepts

21. Tolerance can be understood in a weak or strong sense. Understood in a strong sense, tolerance goes beyond mere resigned acceptance that others are entitled to the same freedom that we enjoy and which has been granted to us by the public authorities. It implies that we believe that our own convictions are good and true for ourselves and that those of others are equally good and true in their eyes and that it is not for us to pass judgement on their conception of what constitutes a “good life”.

22. Civic-mindedness is not an easy concept to convey in different languages and societies; it breaks down into, first, a capacity to stand back, and reflect on one’s own and on others’ beliefs and values. This is very important for education as education is essentially about the promotion of knowledge and thinking, both of self and of others; reflecting on what this means for us all is essential to the civic process. The second aspect of civic-mindedness is a moderation in the public expression of one’s identity and belonging, allowing the development of mutual respect and sharing. Here is another important concept for both society and education, for it does not forbid the expression of identity, affiliation and religious belief, but it does mean that the extent of such expression should not remove the equal right of another to such expression, or to be offended or diminished by such expression. This concept is at the heart of many debates in the UK at present about wearing the veil.

23. The ability to stand back with regard to one’s own moral or religious convictions and a capacity for reflection must not be confused with a necessarily radical or negative criticism of the characteristics of tradition. They involve a certain ability to distance oneself from the values and beliefs to which one subscribes, the objective of which is not cultural uprooting but rather the development of a cognitive ability in harmony with the objectives of intercultural education; in other words the ability for openness towards others with due regard for their dignity.

Suggestions on implementation

24. From the point of view of teaching and learning about religious diversity, we need pedagogical models that resist stereotyping and allow for differences within religious traditions to be expressed and understood. It is also very important that manuals and other teaching materials do not contain any stereotypes regarding religions, women or minorities.

25. These respective aims may be included in various school subjects (e.g. citizenship education, social studies, religious education), developed by means of cross-curricular themes (e.g. local particularities, religious symbols, conflict management) or included in certain extra-curricular projects.

26. It might be useful, in culturally homogeneous environments, to implement “exchange programmes” between culturally heterogeneous schools and more homogeneous ones. This would create a kind of “local internationalisation” for the benefit of both teachers and pupils, with a view to preparing them for intercultural dialogue and understanding, even in areas less marked by diversity.


27. It is true that often religion tends to be a matter of individual conscience, and that the social aspect of our lives is becoming increasingly more personalised. However, this does not imply that religion is or should be confined solely to the private sphere, separated from the public arena. Moral and religious convictions underlie the motivation behind and the nature of much social policy and action.

28. Certain attitudes, which are sometimes unintentional, have to be overcome since they can constitute obstacles to consideration of the religious dimension of intercultural education. Stereotypes, for example, fail to take into account the enormous diversity of people belonging to a given group, the current circumstances of the individual and the range of reasons why members of a group or category may differ from one another in a variety of ways. They can therefore lead to misunderstanding and discriminatory behaviour, and may often be used as a false justification of prejudice.

29. The relation of religion to a secular society is very complex and raises much contested notions of secularity, plurality, national history and identity. In this context it is important to state that whatever form the rule of law takes political neutrality must find ways of integrating diversity, respect for cultural traditions and dialogue between people with due regard for fundamental rights. This is intended to allow for variations in the balance and relationship between the secular and the sacred/religious/spiritual in different places, but without losing sight of the fundamental right to religious freedom and expression

Suggestions on implementation

30. Most European countries are currently undergoing some form of decentralisation. The authorities are transferring more and more responsibilities to schools, which is to the advantage of schools that have a spirit of initiative. Such schools find it much easier to define and fulfil their role in the area of religious diversity and tackle sensitive issues head-on. Schools with a spirit of initiative are also proactive. However, they need a management system which enables them to assess the projects which they implement.


31. The teaching and learning methods identified in this section are intended to foster the intercultural competence that caters for the religious dimension. It should be noted that these methods are considered as highly appropriate but they are not exclusive. Other factors can play a role as well when it comes to organising the teaching and learning process in the classroom. Not all methods have the same value in the different context. They have to be linked up to the varying education systems in different societies.

Comments on key concepts: educational preconditions

32. Given that dialogue on an equal footing is only possible if the dialogue partners feel safe, schools and classrooms must be spaces where the participants feel free to communicate without fear.

33. The co-operative approach is based on the premise that no-one can accomplish a task alone, and that it requires everyone to learn together to achieve a common goal. It also requires a positive inter-dependence, both of a structural and of an attitudinal kind in the learning process. Such learning works best in small, heterogeneous groups, in which the individual skills and identity of pupils contributes to their integration.

34. A second very important consideration is that of the safe space in which pupil self-expression and dialogue can take place. This is linked with pedagogical techniques of simulation and distancing that help create such a space; and with the concept of a religious education that consists of “learning about religion” and “learning from religion”.

35. Another important point is empathy, which is not a state of mind but a dynamic mental and emotional stimulus. Empathy helps us to gain better knowledge of others, better understanding of ourselves and improve our relationships with others. It can therefore make a key contribution to resolving intercultural problems, particularly religious ones.

Comments on key concepts: various learning approaches

36. The “phenomenological approach” is based on teaching to promote knowledge and understanding rather than pass on a particular religious view; it avoids imposing one’s own view. It is “religious studies” rather than “theology”. It is impartial rather than biased, professional rather than confessional. All these terms can be flexibly used, however.

37. The “interpretive approach” rests on key concepts of how religion and belief is represented and by whom, how such representation is inevitably interpreted and mediated, and how important it is for young people to be reflective in their understanding of religion and belief. This is very relevant to understanding the nature and roles of religion in Europe today, for religion is not static but dynamic, not fixed but changing; religions interact and are interpreted and lived differently by different followers. How religion is interpreted and understood is an important part of the educative process.

38. The “dialogical approach” uses work in linguistics to set out the functions of dialogue which can be applied to dialogue on intercultural matters, including interreligious issues, to allow sharing “the same umbrella” as a way of finding shelter.

39. Finally, the “contextual approach” links any topic of intercultural and interreligious dialogue with the real life experience and context of the pupils and their societies.

Suggestions on implementation

40. Discussions with the world outside the school can highlight new ways of organising learning processes. Pupils spend most of their time outside school, with their families or with friends. Consequently, educational activities conducted at school will be more effective if they are consistent with and practised (or at least not counteracted) in the outside world.


41. The context in which teachers work is constantly changing and schools must regularly take account of new developments in terms of learning and the effectiveness of educational and pedagogical activities. This is why further training is one of the main instruments available for enhancing teachers’ competences; furthermore, as educationalists and professionals, teachers also have the duty to help develop a more tolerant society.

42. The important thing, therefore, is to provide teacher training, support and follow-up, as well as ensuring that they can have access to the relevant teaching resources. In formulating the relevant policies, an effort is also needed to ensure that the requisite resources are available in terms of research and evaluation of results, successes and practical difficulties encountered.

43. In a context in which widespread use is made of the new information technologies, both in and out of school, a teaching approach and methodology should be developed which take them into account. The quality of such resources is often interesting, but recourse to them also requires some caution.

Note 1 This document has been classified restricted at the date of issue. Unless the Committee of Ministers decides otherwise, it will be declassified according to the rules set out in Resolution Res(2001)6 on access to Council of Europe documents.



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