Ministers’ Deputies
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CM(2008)27 final 11 February 2008
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“Council of Europe 2008 Exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue

Teaching religious and convictional facts

A tool for acquiring knowledge about religions and beliefs in education; a contribution to education for democratic citizenship, human rights and intercultural dialogue”

(Strasbourg, 8 April 2008)

Information document

(Approved by the Committee of Ministers on 6 February 2008
at the 1017th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies)

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1. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted the theme of the “2008 Exchange” at the 1014th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies, on 12 December 2007. In selecting it, they applied the principles for organisation of the “Council of Europe annual exchanges on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue” on an experimental basis in spring 2008, which were approved at the 117th Session of the Committee of Ministers on 11 May 2007, chaired by San Marino.

2. This document recalls the main aims of the “Exchange” and provides information about its organisation and conduct.

I. Basis of the “2008 Exchange”1

3. The Committee of Ministers’ main aim in organising this “Exchange” is to promote and strengthen the Council of Europe’s fundamental values – respect for human rights, promotion of democracy and the rule of law – in order to foster within European society mutual respect and awareness, tolerance and understanding. The purpose of the exercise is to associate representatives of the religions traditionally present in Europe and other actors of civil society, including representatives of other beliefs, with this objective, by involving them in open, transparent dialogue on a theme rooted with those values. This dialogue should never take the form of a theological debate, or become the framework of an interconfessional dialogue.

4. The “Exchange” is premised by the adherence and commitment of the participants to the Council of Europe’s fundamental values, and on their willingness to engage in dialogue. It can contribute, through a constructive approach and thanks to the participants’ expertise in areas targeted by the chosen theme, to the realisation of the Council’s core objectives, for the benefit of European societies.

5. An innovative and experimental event, the “Exchange” is part of the overall framework of action undertaken by the Committee of Ministers in the field of intercultural dialogue and the decisions taken on the matter at the Warsaw Summit. It offers, to start with, a forum for discussion of a specific, topical theme closely connected with the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue. It could also take account of the White Paper process and bear in mind any new ideas and suggestions which might emerge from the activities carried out as part of the Council of Europe’s White Paper on intercultural dialogue.

II. Presentation of the theme

“Council of Europe 2008 Exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue

Teaching religious and convictional facts

A tool for acquiring knowledge about religions and beliefs in education; a contribution to education for democratic citizenship, human rights and intercultural dialogue.”

6. Taking account of the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue is of fundamental importance for the purpose of fostering mutual understanding, tolerance and a culture of “living together”.2 Enhancing knowledge of religious and other beliefs, and helping citizens understand in a reasoned manner the way in which those different beliefs affect society, should consequently contribute to fostering the spirit of tolerance and mutual respect.

7. This has guided the Committee of Ministers’ choice of theme for the “2008 Exchange”, particularly since it would be possible to build on the substantial body of work already undertaken by the Council of Europe in this field.

8. For example, from 2002 to 2005, the Directorate of Education ran the project “The new intercultural challenge to education : religious diversity and dialogue in Europe", which led to the declaration of the European Ministers of Education on "Intercultural education in the new European context" (2003) and publication of a reference book for schools.3 In 2004, the Commissioner for Human Rights, in co-operation with the Foundation for International Studies at the University of Malta, organised a seminar in Valletta, attended by representatives of various religious communities on "Religion and education: The possibility of developing tolerance through the teaching of religious facts". That same year, the Parliamentary Assembly’s Committee on Culture, Science and Education brought various religious leaders together for a hearing on education and religion. In 2005, the Assembly adopted a recommendation on education and religion.4 Also in 2005, the Conference of INGOs enjoying participatory status with the Council of Europe organised a study day on "Education that takes account of religion: how can this contribute to democratic citizenship?". In December 2006, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) adopted General Policy Recommendation No. 10 on combating racism and racial discrimination in and through school education. The European Court of Human Rights has also given a number of judgments relevant to the theme under study.5 An additional presentation of international standards in the field of teaching religious and convictional facts, as well as of the Council of Europe “acquis” regarding intercultural education and education for democratic citizenship will be provided in a separate document to be issued in time for the “Exchange”.

9. The purpose of teaching religious and convictional facts is to provide an impartial tool for acquiring knowledge on the issue and not provide religious instruction, which is a matter for the religious authorities. The “religious facts”, which are observable and neutral, comprise the cultural, historical and heritage aspects of the various beliefs. They may also, without emphasising any one religion or belief, include their patterns of sensibility and spirituality.6 Teaching religious and convictional facts might involve deploying, in the public sphere taken broadly, outside the purely confessional sphere, educational approaches to religious and other beliefs; such teaching might be given to all, regardless of their beliefs, in school or other educational structures, including lifelong learning.

10. The Committee of Ministers recommends, for the “Exchange”, a balanced approach allowing for religious and other views to engage in dialogue. The lay approach, as it exists in European societies, offers the right framework for diversified debate.

11. European laicity can be described as the application, on a European scale, of the following three basic principles: the principle of freedom – freedom of conscience, thought and religion, which includes freedom to have no religion or change one’s religion; the principle of equal rights and duties for everyone, regardless of their religious or other convictions, or the principle of non-discrimination; and the principle of the mutual autonomy of religion and politics. A clear distinction can be made between the terms "secularism" (meaning an ideology or a secular vision, or indeed atheistic and anti-religious), "laicism" as defined above and "secularisation", the empirical phenomenon whereby religions, in most European societies, no longer have the influence they had a few decades ago.7

12. The Committee of Ministers has accordingly decided to approach “teaching religious and convictional facts” from the perspective of education for democratic citizenship, thereby putting it in a context of public and civic interest. This approach also makes it possible to put such teaching forward as a contribution to education, tolerance, pluralism of beliefs in a democratic context, and intercultural dialogue, in the spirit of the current debate on the “Council of Europe’s White Paper on intercultural dialogue".

13. The Committee of Ministers considers it of utmost importance that the debate take place in the context of the promotion of the Council of Europe’s fundamental values, in particular concerning protection and promotion of human rights, whilst emphasising the role played by intercultural dialogue as an important enabling factor for effective implemention of these values in European societies.

III. Practical details of the “Exchange”

14. The “2008 Exchange” will take place on 8 April 2008 during the whole day and will be chaired by a representative of the Chaimanship of the Committee of Ministers.

15. Mr Fiorenzo Stolfi, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of San Marino, will present a special stamp to mark the European Union’s Year of Intercultural Dialogue 2008 – probably in the early afternoon before work resumes.

16. The full programme for the day appears in document CM(2008)28 final.

IV. Expected result(s)

17. The “Exchange” will give representatives of religious communities and of other actors of civil society, as well as the experts present, an opportunity for an in-depth discussion of the principles governing education policy pursued on all relevant levels in “teaching religious and convictional facts”, as well as the practical details of organising such teaching.

18. The Committee of Ministers expects that the “Exchange” will identify, for the theme considered, approaches and ideas which the participants can then apply in their own fields of activity. It also hopes to derive from it a number of recommendations for the Council of Europe’s targeted activities.

19. On the basis of a factual summary of the discussions held during the “Exchange”, and in the light of assessment criteria defined in the meantime, the Committee of Ministers will assess the exercise and discuss possible follow-up action.

Note 1 See document CM(2007)77 final.
Note 2 Resolution on the results and conclusions of completed projects 2003-2006 of the 22nd session of the Standing Conference of European Ministers of Education, 2007.
Note 3 John Keast (ed.): Religious Diversity and intercultural Education: a Reference Book for Schools. Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing, 2007.
Note 4 Recommendation 1720 (2005).
Note 5 Kokinnakis v. Greece (1993), Manoussakis v. Greece (1996), Serif v. Greece (1999), Cha’are Shalom Ve Tsedek v. France (2000), Moscow Branch of the Salvation Army v. Russia (2006), Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses of Gldani v. Georgia (2007), Folgerø v. Norway (2007), Zengin v. Turkey (2007).
Note 6 In the light, inter alia, of the discussions at the TC-ID’s meetings and the exchange of views with Professor Jean-Paul Willaime,
6 November 2007.
Note 7 In the light, inter alia, of the discussions at the TC-ID’s meetings and the exchange of views with Professor Jean-Paul Willaime,
6 November 2007.


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