Ministers’ Deputies
CM Documents

CM(2008)62 30 April 20081

118th Session of the Committee of Ministers
(Strasbourg, 7 May 2008) –

Council of Europe 2008 Exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue (Strasbourg, 8 April 2008)


1. The Committee of Ministers held the Council of Europe 2008 Exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue in Strasbourg on 8 April 2008 under the presidency of Mr Fiorenzo Stolfi, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of San Marino, on behalf of the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers and with the participation of Mrs Maud de Boer--Buquicchio, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe. The theme of the Exchange was: "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". The programme of the Exchange appears in Appendix 1 and the list of participants is given in Appendix 2. The full list of participants can be obtained from the Web-Site of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

2. Mr Robert Jackson, the Rapporteur, introduced the morning session and initiated the debate on the principles, concepts and aims of education, particularly in the field of democratic citizenship and the religious dimension, and on relations between schools, the state and religions in Europe. At the end of this first session, he drew conclusions from the discussion, emphasising the meeting’s exemplary character as a space for intercultural dialogue.

3. In particular, he noted that what was mostly at stake, in the context of Europe’s diversified societies, was to reduce negative stereotypes of religions by teaching individuals to overcome their own – and others’ – fears of them. Various professional approaches – especially those of teachers and lawyers – for achieving this were presented. Special emphasis was laid on the utility of acting together within working groups where all those concerned – holders of religious and other beliefs, teachers and pupils – were represented. The crucial role of teachers, and the importance of training them to act as impartial facilitators, were also emphasised. Mr Jackson’s conclusions are reproduced in full in Appendix 3 to this report.

4. Ms Marianna Shakhnovich, the Rapporteur, introduced the afternoon session on "Teaching religious and convictional facts: challenges and prospects", relating this theme to the organisation and functioning of schools, and to teacher training.

5. In the conclusions she drew from the afternoon session, Ms Shakhnovich summarised the main lines of the discussion, and noted in particular that the participants had broadened the original theme – the functioning of schools and the process of acquiring a knowledge of religious and convictional facts – to include the sharing of many kinds of wisdom. The vital role of schools as places for dialogue, of teachers as mediators, and of the media in promoting knowledge and mutual respect were emphasised. The discussion highlighted the usefulness of a cross-disciplinary approach to the teaching of religious and convictional facts, and the great interest shown by the various participants in joint projects, based on shared values. Several participants thought the Council of Europe a suitable forum for proceeding with projects of this kind. Ms Shakhnovich’s conclusions will be distributed in full later on in an addendum to this report.

6. At the closing sitting, the General Rapporteur, Mr Jean-Paul Willaime, drew conclusions from the whole day’s discussions, suggesting elements for consideration and lines of action for possible follow-up which could be given to the Exchange. He first welcomed the holding of the meeting as an innovative and promising event, and said that the Council of Europe’s decision to engage in open dialogue, based on standards and clear objectives, with representatives of religions and other convictions was a major political gesture.

7. He stressed that the debate on the teaching of religious and convictional facts had shown what such education, based on Council of Europe standards and provided within a democratic and pluralist school system, could be: democratic education presupposed that pupils had heard of various conceptions of humanity and the world, while learning to distance themselves from others’ and their own affiliations. In this context, teaching religious facts served a specific educational purpose, which differed from that of religious instruction, but did not invalidate it. It had become apparent that it should be provided by specially trained teachers, and backed by prior consultation with clerics.

8. Finally, the General Rapporteur suggested several themes on which the Council of Europe could work and make a significant contribution, on the basis of its values and standard-setting texts: a code of conduct for the teaching of religious and convictional facts, aimed at all pupils; training for trainers – which might usefully be based on the “European Resource Centre on education for intercultural understanding, democratic citizenship and human rights” set up in Oslo; handbooks for teachers and pupils; action to promote a pluralist approach to writing the history of religions; and a legal framework for teaching religious and convictional facts. Mr Willaime’s conclusions are reproduced in full in Appendix 4 of this report.

9. In his conclusions, the Chairman spoke of the expectations which the Committee of Ministers had invested in the Exchange, paid tribute to the quality of the discussion, and thanked all the participants for their valuable contributions. He stressed the importance of the assessment process, which would be carried out after this event, with a view to considering what follow-up could be given to the Exchange. In this connection, he drew the participants’ attention to the questionnaire which had been distributed to them, and the importance of their answers, analysis of which would feed into the assessment. The Chairman’s conclusions are reproduced in full in Appendix 5 of this report.

Appendix 1

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

« Rencontre 2008 du Conseil de l’Europe sur la dimension religieuse du dialogue interculturel

Teaching religious and convictional facts

L’enseignement des faits religieux et relatifs aux convictions

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

Outil de connaissance des faits religieux et relatifs aux convictions au sein de l’éducation ; contribution
à l’éducation à la citoyenneté démocratique, aux droits de l’homme et au dialogue interculturel »

(Strasbourg, 8 April 2008)

(Strasbourg, 8 avril 2008)




9.00 – 12.30
I – Education, democratic citizenship and religious dimension
I.I – Principles, concepts and aims of the educational mission
I.II – Relationship between schools, the State and religions in Europe – examples of good practice
Questions and debate
14.00 Presentation by Mr Fiorenzo Stolfi, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of San Marino, of a special stamp to mark the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue (Ante-Room of the Committee of Ministers)


9.00 – 12.30
I – Education, citoyenneté démocratique et dimension religieuse

      I.I - Principes, concepts et finalités de la mission éducative
      I.II – Les relations entre école, Etat et religions en Europe – exemples de bonnes pratiques
      Questions et discussion

14.00 Présentation par M. Fiorenzo Stolfi,
Ministre des Affaires étrangères de la République de Saint-Marin, d’une émission philatélique consacrée à l’Année européenne du dialogue interculturel (Foyer du Comité des Ministres).

14.30 – 17.30
II – Teaching religious and convictional facts: challenges and prospects
II.I – Challenges for the organisation and functioning of schools – learning to live together and to combat exclusion
II.II – Challenges in teacher training – how to transmit the required competencies for appreciating diversity and how to train for dialogue
Questions and debate
17.30 – 18.00
III – Conclusions


14.30 – 17.30
II – L’enseignement des faits religieux et relatifs aux convictions : défis et perspectives

      II. I – Les défis posés à l’organisation et au fonctionnement des établissements scolaires – apprendre à vivre ensemble et lutter contre l’exclusion
      II.II – Les défis posés à la formation des enseignants – transmettre les compétences requises pour apprécier la diversité et former au dialogue
      Questions et discussion

17.30 – 18.00
III – Conclusions

Appendix 2

Full list of participants

Representatives of religious communities:


        Reverend Dr Ferenc JANKA
        Vice-Secretary General of the Conference of Bishop’s Conferences of Europe
        Reverend Father Jean-Marie Laurent MAZAS
        Pontifical Council for Culture

        Ms Oona STANNARD
        Chief Executive and Director of the Catholic Education Service for England and Wales (CES)


        Reverend James BARNETT

Representative of the Anglican Church
Executive Secretary of the Conference of European Churches (CEC)

        Pastor Thomas WIPF
        President of the Swiss Council of Religions (SCR)


        Archpriest Vsevolod CHAPLIN
        Vice-chairman of the Department for Church external relations,
        Moscow Patriarchate
        Vasile IORGULESCU
        Priest, Romanian Orthodox Church
        Dr Gary VACHICOURAS
        Orthodox Centre of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

      Other Christian Churches

        Archbishop Yeznick PETROSSIAN
        General Secretary for Inter-Church Relations of Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin
        Catholicossate of All Armenians


        Chief Rabbi Marc-Raphaël GUEDJ
        President of the Fondation « Racines et Sources »
        Chief Rabbi René GUTMAN
        Permanent Representative of the Conference of European Rabbis (GNO)

        Rabbi Haïm NISENBAUM
        Secretary General – Spokesman of Beth Loubavitch
        Vice President of the Paris Consistory

    Doctor Sadek SELLAM
    Islamologist and Head of studies within the European Islamic Conference

        Mr Bülent ŞENAY
        Associate Professor
        Counsellor for Religious Affairs at the Presidency of Religious Affairs of Turkey
        Imam Abdelhamid YOUYOU
        Director of Cultural Affairs
        Great Mosque of Strasbourg


        Mr Charles CONTE
        International League for Child and Adult Education (LIEECP)

        Mr Gaston DE LA HAYE
        Education International (EI)

        Mr Veysel FILIZ
        COJEP International

        Excused: Ms Intissar KHERIGI
        Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations (FEMYSO)

        Ms Brigitte LE GOUIS
        European Union of Women (EUW)

        Mr Georg PLATZ
        Catholic International Education Office (OIEC)

        Mr Robert SINGER
        World ORT (Organisation for Educational Resources and Technological Training)

Experts / representatives of the media:

        Mr Ioan BUDURA
        European Broadcasting Union
        Prof. PhDr. Tomáš HALÍK Th.D.
        Professor of sociology, University Charles, Prague
        Mr Robert JACKSON PhD, DLitt
        Professor of Education, University of Warwick
        Mr Recep KAYMAKCAN
        Professor of Religious Education, Sakarya University, Adapazarı, Turkey
        Dr. Marianna SHAKHNOVICH
        Professor, Doctor in Philosophy, Head of the Department of Philosophy of Religion and Religious Studies at the State University of Saint-Petersburg, member of the Council on relations with religious associations to the President of the Russian Federation

        Mr Peter SCHREINER
        General Secretary of the Coordinating Group for religious Education in Europe (CoGREE) and President of the InterEuropean Commission on Church and School (ICCS)

        Professor Jean-Paul WILLAIME
        Director of Studies at the "Ecole pratique des hautes études"
        Religious sciences section, Sorbonne, Paris

    Other participants:

Member and observer states


Ms M. Gega


Ms F. Aleix

      Mr C. Ter Stepanian




Mr H. Nasibov


Mr J. Devadder


Ms M. Dimitrijevic


Mrs L. Draganova

      M Zhasmina Donkova

      Chief specialist, Religious Affaires Department, Council of Ministers


Mr D. Bučan


Mr M. Stavrinos


Mr P. Svoboda


Mr C. Oldenburg


Mr I. Siil


Ms A.-C. Krank


Mr B. Gain


Ms I. Mamuchishvili


Mr E. Kölsch


Mr A. Dendoulis


Mr B. Horváth


Ms L. Arnlaugsdóttir


Ms M. Connery


Mr P. Lonardo
Mr Francesco Spano
Youth Consultative bofy for
Interreligious and Intercultural


Mr P. Elferts

      Mr D. Ospelt


Ms J. Juodagalvienė


Mr R. Mayer


Mr M. Pace

      Mr A. Neguta



Mr I. Ivanišević
Mr Danilo Brajovic,

      Councillor, Ministry of Foreign Affaires


Mr J. van der Velden


Mr T. Frøysnes


Mr P. Świtalski


Mr A. Madeira Bárbara

      Mr S. Stoian


Mr I. Kapyrin
Experts: Mr Alexandre Orlov
Director for relations with the
institutions, the parliament and
Mr Eduard Pyzhkin,
First secretary of the European
Co-operation Department, Ministry
for Foreign Affairs


Mr F. Stolfi, Chair
Ms M.L. Pedini,
Director General, Ministry for
Foreign Affairs
Mr G. Bellatti Ceccoli


Ms S. Prica


Ms S. Danová


Ms M. Bole

      Mr A. Navarro de Zuvillaga

      Mr P. Sjögren,

      Mr P. Widmer


Ms E. Petrova-Mitevska


Mr D. Batibay




Ms E. Fuller




      HOLY SEE

Rev. F. Kolfhaus


Mr T. Kawada


Ms A.R. Arizmendi



Institutional partners within the Council of Europe

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

        Mr André SCHNEIDER
        Vice-Chairperson of the Delegation of France to the Parliamentary Assembly

European Court of Human Rights

        Mr Riza TÜRMEN
        Turkish Judge, representing the President of the Court

Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe

        Ms Dubravka ŠUICA
        Mayor of the city of Dubrovnik

Commissioner for Human Rights

        Mr Marc SCHEUER
        Director of the Office of the Commissioner

Council of Europe's INGO Conference

        Mrs Annelise OESCHGER
        President of the INGO Conference

        Mr Gabriel NISSIM
        President of the Grouping on Human Rights
        (The World Catholic Association for Communication (SIGNIS))

        Mr Alain MOUCHOUX
        President of the Grouping on Education and Culture
        ("Comité syndical européen de l'Education")

        Mr Andrew COPSON
        Director of the British Humanist Association
        (European Humanist Federation)

European Commission

Professor Silvio FERRARI
Advisory Council on Freedom of Religion or Belief, ODIHR
Adviser, ODIHR

Alliance of Civilizations

Secretariat of the Council of Europe
Deputy Secretary General
Director General of DGIV and Co-ordinator for Intercultural Dialogue
Administrator Committee of Ministers

Appendix 5

Education, Democratic Citizenship and the Religious Dimension
Summing up of the morning interventions by Professor Robert Jackson

The Council of Europe's draft White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue states that appropriate spaces within the public sphere need to be found for that dialogue to take place effectively. I think you will agree with me that we should congratulate our colleagues in the Council of Europe for providing a highly appropriate space for today’s exchange to take place.

Several colleagues referred to the complexity of the European context. It was pointed out that, if we take Europe as a whole, less than 10% of the population practices religion on a regular basis. However, as others observed, if we look at individual countries, there are some exhibiting a very high level of religious practice, such as Poland or Turkey.

Several interventions pointed out the key issue of the representation or portrayal of religions to the general public across Europe, especially in the media. Religions are often represented through an emphasis on intolerance and intransigence and are commonly associated with negativity. Representations of religions are also often stereotypical, giving no indication of the richness and internal diversity of religious traditions. It is vital that religions should be represented, both through the media and through education, in an accurate, fair and balanced way, showing their diversity as well as their central features.

Most interventions were very supportive of the idea of teaching about religions and beliefs in order to provide knowledge and understanding, to counter stereotypes and to cultivate tolerance of difference within a basic human rights framework. This family of aims was perceived to be different from (but in some ways overlapping with) that of religious instruction or nurture. However, some fears were expressed. At one extreme, there is the fear of religious indoctrination within public education. At the other extreme, there is a fear of relativism or of a deliberate or inadvertent indoctrination into secularism, perhaps through positivist and materialist assumptions of those designing curricula or teaching about religions. The application of human rights principles in teaching about religions and beliefs should ensure that neither of these possibilities is allowed to occur within public education. Such approaches are reprehensible in professional educational terms, in terms of human rights principles, and in terms of law based upon human rights.

One way to safeguard an impartial, fair and balanced approach is through the collaborative participation of different interest groups within a proper educational framework. The model of the Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education, as found in England, was given earlier. Here, the goals and procedures are concerned with providing impartial, fair and balanced treatments of different religions and belief systems. However, the participants include representatives of different religions represented in the area, co-opted members of bodies such as the British Humanist Association, representatives of teachers and local politicians. Each category of membership provides its own expertise, but the focus is on teaching about religions and beliefs and is not concerned with instruction in or nurture into a particular faith position. All parties need to understand that the ground rules for decision making are concerned with an educational approach to teaching about religions and beliefs in the public sphere. One intervention exemplified eloquently the importance of establishing such procedures as a part of local democracy as well as at the national level.

We have already mentioned arguments for teaching about religions and beliefs which aim to promote knowledge and understanding and to counter stereotypes, racism, prejudice and ignorance. However, it was interesting that several interventions supported teaching about a diversity of religions and beliefs on theological grounds. Jewish, Muslim and Christian contributors, all gave reasons for gaining an objective understanding of the religions and beliefs of others on the grounds of a theology of humanity. Such reasons complement and enhance those grounded in cultural and human rights arguments. One intervention gave an example of how a system of Catholic confessional education included a requirement for learning about different religions and beliefs in society employing the same educational framework as used in fully state-funded pluralistic schools.

Many interventions were concerned with the promotion of tolerance of difference. However, some contributions touched on the concept of respect. If the framework for teaching about religions and beliefs is a human rights one, it is not the case that every religious or belief position will command the respect of those studying it. However, the ground rules for such studies must include respect for the right to hold particular beliefs and respect for persons. Thus the school should provide safe space for young people to learn about their own and others’ traditions and beliefs in an atmosphere of civility and tolerance. For such teaching and learning to take place, there need to be whole school policies, recognizing the value of diversity in society and creating the conditions under which learning about difference can take place with civility.

Engaging with the beliefs of others opens up the possibility of making judgments. For example, engagement with someone else’s way of life might evoke feelings of respect for some aspects of it. This is very different from adopting someone else’s position. In other words, a reflexive engagement with another’s way of life might open up the possibility of learning from it as well as about it.

Teachers concerned with this field need to be equipped with appropriate knowledge and understanding, but also with skills to facilitate dialogue and independent learning. This raises questions about teacher training, which will be addressed in another part of the debate. However, it is clear that all teachers, whatever their personal religious or non-religious views, need the skill to present material in an impartial, fair and balanced way. They need access to high quality resources for themselves and their pupils and to training in intercultural competences, such as citizenship skills and multiperspectivity. In addition, specialist teachers need access to high-quality courses in the study of religions and beliefs both at the level of initial teacher training and in-service training, including studies of contemporary religion in its social context, history of religions and, as one intervention suggested, important topics such as science and religion.

One intervention referred to the need for inclusiveness, noting that, for example, there were no Buddhist representatives present. Perhaps future meetings could extend the participation to include other religious traditions represented significantly in Europe. It was clear from the content and tone of contributions that there was general support for an exchange of views on teaching about religions and beliefs between representatives of different religious and belief positions and other members of civil society in the space provided by the Council of Europe within the public sphere.

Appendix 4

Conclusions presented by Mr Jean-Paul Willaime
General Rapporteur

It is a great honour for me and an exciting challenge to try to sum up such a rewarding day. I should like to begin by thanking all those who contributed to the discussions and the two session rapporteurs, my colleagues Marianna Shakhnovich and Robert Jackson. In this general report, I hope to provide some food for thought and outline some avenues for the future.

The very fact that this exchange took place is a new and promising development. No other international organisation has chosen, as the Council of Europe did, to engage officially in open, transparent dialogue with representatives of religious communities and humanist movements. The Council of Europe has done so on a clear, unambiguous basis, the idea being, through such dialogue and numerous other initiatives, especially in the educational field, to promote and strengthen the fundamental values underpinning the Organisation, namely human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The dialogue therefore had clear objectives, the idea being to invite representatives of religious communities to get together to engage in dialogue within the Council of Europe's own walls, on the basis of the standards it had set over the years.

The assumption behind this approach – an assumption that I believe to be based on an accurate analysis – is that, in the framework defined above and provided that both the Council of Europe's complete independence from religious and philosophical movements, on the one hand, and the freedom enjoyed by religious communities and humanist movements in pluralist democracies, on the other, are respected, it is appropriate to recognise and take on board the contributions these religious communities and humanist movements make to promoting and strengthening the fundamental values the Council of Europe upholds. Recognising and accepting these contributions is, to my mind, a sign of political intelligence: it means that attention is being paid to the fact that democracy is vulnerable if it is not also part of people's mentalities and that it needs convinced women and men who believe in it, regardless of the symbolic (religious or philosophical) sources they call on in support of their adherence to democracy. Religious and non-religious conceptions of humankind and the world, precisely because they imply a strong commitment on the part of those who believe in them and have emotional and militant implications, are valuable resources in a democracy, for it is difficult to reduce democracy to its purely procedural aspects.

This initiative is not only relevant: it is particularly opportune at a time when European societies are increasingly multicultural and when the religious dimensions of this multiculturalism cannot be ignored. The democratic management of cultural and religious diversity and civic instruction in pluralism have become priorities in this context. It is particularly fitting that the theme chosen for this first encounter between the Council of Europe and representatives of religious communities and humanist movements, "Teaching religious and convictional facts", should concern education. Today's proceedings have been most fruitful and clearly bear out the appropriateness of this choice. Before I move on to possible avenues for the future, I should like to single out three features of today's exercise: I) the exchange is taking place in a secular setting; II) the theme has been addressed in the context of the objectives of state schooling; and III) legitimate questions and debates about how the teaching of religious and convictional facts can be addressed in the context of state schooling.

I) A secular setting

The discussions we have just witnessed were, to my mind, fully in keeping with a European secular approach that is both intelligent and based on dialogue. They showed that, in a secular context whose key principles I shall remind you of in a moment, an institution like the Council of Europe can, with clearly defined objectives in mind, readily involve religious and humanist representatives in its work. Regardless of the genuine diversity of national systems in Europe in terms of relations between religion and the State and between religion, the State and schools, which have their roots in history and in the religious and political features of each country, it is possible to talk of European secularism, on the basis of three principles:

1) the principle of freedom: freedom of conscience and of thought includes the freedom to have a religion or not to have one, and the freedom to practise one's religion and to change it if one so wishes;

2) the principle of non-discrimination: equal rights, duties and respect for all citizens, regardless of their religious or philosophical leanings, in other words the absence of discrimination against people on grounds of their religious or philosophical affiliations;

3) the principle that politics and religion are independent of each other: this independence means that politics can operate unhindered by religion, while religions can operate unhindered by politics (subject to observance of the law in a democracy). This mutual independence may exist in systems that differ as regards relations between religion and State (not only systems where there is strict separation, but also those where there is separation but co-operation, including concordats and other forms of agreement between the political and religious authorities).

These three fundamental principles allow us to talk of a European secularism that transcends the undeniable diversity of national historical constructs in terms of relations between religion and State in the various countries of Europe. This secularism is neither anti-religion nor pro-religion. It is this secularism that, as an asset shared by all in pluralist democracies, allows individuals and groups with different religious and philosophical beliefs to contribute unhindered to public life. To my mind, this secularism is implicitly one of the Council of Europe's standard-setting achievements, and it might be worth the Council's while spelling this out some time. I consider the secularism we have witnessed today to be intelligent and based on dialogue, for it has clearly proved to permit open, pluralist debate from a public policy perspective and based on knowledge tools that make for the most objective possible understanding of the various situations and traditions.

II) Approach based on the objectives of state schooling

All the speakers had clearly accepted that what they were discussing was the teaching of religious and convictional facts to all pupils, irrespective of their religious or philosophical beliefs and those of their families, and, what is more, that all pupils would be taught in the same class. In other words, the aim is to teach a pluralist audience composed of pupils belonging to different religions and pupils with no religion. The idea is not, therefore, to teach religious and convictional facts in different classes, into which pupils are separated according to their religious and philosophical affiliations. Lastly, it is a question of teaching these religions and beliefs in state schools. This includes schools which, though they may have a religious or philosophical dimension, are, in different ways depending on the country, part of the state education system.

These specifications have an important implication: we are clearly talking about a form of teaching that is fully in keeping with the objectives and ethics of state schooling and teachers in state schools, in other words a form of teaching which, as in the case with the other subjects taught, contributes to the school's general aims. State schools not only inculcate knowledge and skills: they also teach pupils to live together. Education is generally considered to have four dimensions: 1) acquiring knowledge and skills (this goes far beyond the famous "3 Rs" (reading, writing and 'rithmetic) and embraces history, literature, the arts, politics and science); 2) learning to be objective, adopt a documented, reasoned approach, question things and develop critical faculties, the idea being to forge a person who is free and capable of independent thought; 3) learning to communicate, discuss and interact with others, the idea being that people should be capable of engaging in discussion while respecting those who have different opinions; 4) the social and cultural integration of the individual in his or her local, regional, national, European and world environment and the acquisition of the capacity to exercise civic rights and duties and have the means to do so fully. When we talk of teaching religious and convictional facts in state schools, this presupposes that this tuition, like the other subjects taught, is in tune in its own way with these four fundamental objectives.

This teaching should clearly be seen as a contribution to civic education in pluralist democracies. The mere fact of approaching religions and beliefs in a documented and critical fashion (in other words, with due respect for the ethics of the transmission of knowledge in state education), in the context of teacher-pupil relations as defined by law and by teachers' professional ethics, and with the same general aim as state schooling, as defined in a democracy, has numerous implications for the way in which they can be studied at school. The approaches pursued must not conflict with, or be fundamentally different from, those used in the school context. This is something that has already been analysed, particularly at the Council of Europe2, but it is worth going into further.

To finish with this second point, I should like to stress, as the North American political scientist Amy Gutmann does in her thought-provoking book Democratic Education3, how important it is, in pluralist democracies, for all pupils to have an opportunity, in the course of their schooling, to discover and find out more about conceptions of humankind and the world that differ from their own. School education in societies that are increasingly diverse in terms of culture and religion must provide an education in pluralism.

III) Questions and debate on the approach to teaching religious and convictional facts in state schools

It is hardly surprising that the teaching of religions and beliefs should raise questions as to the way in which they are being, and could be, taught and elicit apprehension. These questions and this apprehension are to be found both in religious communities and in secular circles, among teachers and parents alike and, indeed, among the pupils themselves. In many European countries, discussions concerning teaching of this kind are the subject of public debate, which can be quite heated at times4. While not wanting to put an unduly conciliatory gloss on today's debate, I would say that I have tended to see differences of opinion rather than outright disagreements (though disagreements do exist).

I should like to throw some light on the debate by saying something that follows on from my comments on the preceding point. It seems obvious to me that, if our approach is based on teaching that is intended for all pupils, dispensed in state schools, it is the teachers themselves and the education authorities that must be responsible for it and be its champions. Not only should the authorities, in particular the school education authorities, acknowledge their legitimate authority in this area, but so should parents, pupils and religious authorities. Clearly, however, this legitimate authority can be acquired only if teachers are properly trained to carry out the task. As is apparent from the discussions we have just had, the question arises as to the role of representatives of the various religions and beliefs: it is suggested in some circles that religious authorities should play an advisory role enabling them to express their views on the way in which their religion or belief is included and presented in school curricula and textbooks.

The very expression "religious facts", which throws up numerous questions, can be interpreted in different ways. It can, in particular, be understood in a fairly positivist sense, as though the idea were to restrict the teaching about religions to the social and cultural functions of religions and their relations with other institutions and activities. As I have had occasion to explain5, the expression "religious facts" does not imply that spirituality should be excluded. Religious forms of expression constitute facts that need to be both described and understood: it is not sufficient to provide an accurate description of the perceptions and conceptions of believers and their practices and rites: it is also necessary to reveal what these conceptions and practices mean to those who adhere to them and take account of the fact that they are things that are deeply experienced, individually and collectively. A mere historical and sociological approach would not provide much insight into religious facts if believers' experiences were overlooked. It is necessary to use

empathetic intelligence, in other words develop an approach that combines objective knowledge with empathetic understanding. Religious facts are not confined to collective features (religious assemblies, pilgrimages) and physical forms of expression (religious architecture and art): they include symbolic features (doctrine, moral precepts and liturgy) and things that are experienced (religious sensibilities and religious experiences in daily life). It is quite possible for schools to pursue documented, pedagogical approaches to these facts while taking account of these different dimensions. Teaching religious facts at school in a secular setting also entails respecting these facts for what they are, in other words things that have been experienced by, and make sense to, large numbers of people. This does not in any way mean embarking on a theological debate or engaging in inter-faith dialogue. The idea is to remain in tune with the school's aims and the ethics of the teaching profession. I would add that it is fortunate that we are talking about the teaching of religious facts, in the plural6, as this draws attention from the outset to the great diversity of forms of religious expression (stemming not only from the existence of different religious traditions, but also from the fact that there are several forms of expression and different leanings within any one religion). The second part of the theme, the reference to convictional facts, indicates that account is being taken of non-religious conceptions of humankind and the world – what is commonly described as "secular humanism". I believe this is an essential aspect of such teaching, as a large number of Europeans identify with non-religious conceptions of humankind and the world. Care must be taken, however, if we want to compile statistics in this field, not to lay claim on either side, in other words on the religious side or the non-religious side, to people who do not in fact identify with any particular religion or philosophy.

When religious and convictional facts are taught at school, pupils need to learn about the various types of truth. The truths in a poem, myth, political creed or religious tradition are not of the same order as historical or scientific truth. It is, for instance, essential to distinguish between history and memory: the former is based on continuous work carried out and checked by historians with a view to approaching the actual facts as objectively as possible, while the latter is based on the perceptions of particular groups, which stem from their own experiences or those that have been handed down to them. Many memories are eminently respectable – I exclude negationists here – and must be taken into account, for these various memories are also part of history (there are, for instance, various religious memories of Europe) – but historical truth is something quite different. Another important distinction, particularly with the revival of creationist schools of thought, is the distinction between science and belief.


It is time I concluded by suggesting some avenues that the Council of Europe, on the strength of its many achievements and all the work it has already done in this area and related fields and its recommendations and campaigns, could usefully pursue. In doing so, I shall single out three dimensions that strike me as essential when it comes to teaching religions and beliefs, and which I consider should be included in the training of the teacher trainers and teachers concerned:

1) A secular dimension that ensures that this teaching is in keeping with the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 9 in particular) and the case law of the European Court. In opting to decide in favour of parents who ask for a dispensation when their children are being exposed to religious information and knowledge that is not provided in an "objective, critical and pluralist manner", the Court indirectly institutes a requirement. If the teaching of religious and convictional facts caters for all pupils, there should be no requests for dispensation, providing such teaching is objective, open-minded and pluralist. The European Commission for Democracy through Law, known as the Venice Commission, could perhaps help to establish a legal framework for such teaching and determine means of ensuring that it stays neutral.

2) An educational dimension that ensures that such teaching is in keeping with the objectives of state schooling. This educational dimension has cognitive and pedagogical facets that entail defining the subject (the content to be taught) and ways of approaching religious and convictional facts as subjects necessitating appropriate knowledge, ethics and teaching methods. This therefore covers all the ethical, epistemological and methodological issues arising in connection with the teaching of religious and convictional facts. Could the Steering Committee for Education (CDED), which has already done a great deal of study and produced important recommendations in this field, not spell out all the implications, when it comes to designing such teaching, of making it fit in with the objectives of state schooling? This could make an important contribution to the ethics of teaching religious and convictional facts.

3) A civic dimension, establishing in what sense and how such teaching helps pupils to learn to live together and contributes to education in democracy at local, regional, national and international level7. As I have already said, education in pluralism – a pluralism whose nature and limits should, moreover, be defined - is essential in democratic societies, which are increasingly diverse in terms of culture and religion. The Council of Europe White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue, which takes account of the religious dimension of such dialogue, will make very valuable contribution here. The idea is, by providing a framework for, and promoting, the teaching of religious and convictional facts, and with due regard for democracy and human rights, to foster a practice that reconciles the need to take account of cultural diversity with the requirements of social cohesion. The Oslo centre's decision to include training for those who train teachers to teach religions and beliefs as part of education for democratic citizenship and human rights is eminently significant here.

So we can see why, in seeking to promote the teaching of religions and beliefs along the lines I have just outlined, the Council of Europe could, through its various bodies and without deviating in any way from the standards it has set over the years, play an important, useful and innovative role.

Appendix 5

Conclusion by the Chair of the Exchange,
Mr Fiorenzo Stolfi,
Foreign Affairs Minister of the Republic of San Marino

1. Today’s 2008 Council of Europe Exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue has brought together in the pan-European framework of the Council of Europe representatives of the religions traditionally present in Europe and of non-religious beliefs, representatives of other sections of civil society – international non-governmental organisations, the academic community and the media – and the member and observer states of the Council of Europe, its statutory and institutional bodies and its international partners which are particularly active in the field in question. The participants have focused on:

“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”.

2. This Exchange, an innovative and experimental event, is an important milestone in a long process of discussion conducted by the Committee of Ministers in the context of its action in the field of intercultural dialogue and the decisions taken at the Warsaw Summit.

3. We intended it to be a platform for open and transparent dialogue between the Council of Europe and its discussion partners, rather than a theological debate or dialogue between confessions. We wished it to be a forum for exchanges on a topical issue that was inherent to the values safeguarded by the Council of Europe and of interest to all participants. We hoped it would be a joint contribution, by involving our guests in our Organisation’s core objective of promoting and strengthening our fundamental values – respect for human rights and promotion of democracy and the rule of law – so as to foster mutual respect and recognition and tolerance and mutual understanding in European society.

4. I am pleased by the great breadth of the discussions which have taken place around the topic we chose. I would thank all the participants who this morning shared their knowledge and points of view concerning the principles, concepts and aims of the educational mission, in particular in the field of democratic citizenship and the religious dimension, as well as examples of best practice in the relationship between schools, the state and religions in Europe. The exchange of views this afternoon on the challenges and prospects for teaching religious and convictional facts offered participants a diverse and interesting view of these challenges, with regard both to the organisation and functioning of schools and to teacher training. How can we take up the challenges? The ways ahead here involve learning to live together in harmony, transmitting and acquiring the necessary skills for appreciating diversity and training for dialogue, and making joint efforts to build an inclusive society.

5. In his capacity as General Rapporteur, Professor Jean-Paul Willaime has just very expertly outlined the main lessons we can draw from our discussions, for which I am most grateful. In the coming weeks, he will also provide us with a summary of the discussions at the Exchange, which will be sent to all participants and included in the files for the 118th Session of the Committee of Ministers to be held on 7 May 2008. On the basis of this summary, supplemented inter alia by the analysis of your replies to the questionnaire distributed, the Committee of Ministers will assess the exercise and consider the possible follow-up that could be given to the Exchange.8

6. On behalf of the Committee of Ministers and its Chair, I thank you most sincerely for your valuable contribution to the Exchange and wish you a safe journey home.

1 This document has been classified restricted at the date of issue. It will be declassified at the 118th Session of the Committee of Ministers (7 May 2008).

2 Religious diversity and intercultural education: a reference book for schools (edited by John Keast), Council of Europe Publishing, 2007.

3 Amy Gutmann, Democratic Education. With a New Preface and Epilogue, Princeton (New Jersey), Princeton University Press, 1999.

4 See. the study of the changing situation in Europe carried out under the European REDCo run by Professor Wolfram Weisse (University of Hamburg): Robert Jackson, Siebren Miedema, Wolfram Weisse, Jean-Paul Willaime (Eds.), Religion and Education in Europe. Developments, Contexts and Debates, Münster, Waxmann, 2007; Thorsten Knauth, Dan-Paul Jozsa, Gerdien Bertram-Troost, Julia Ipgrave (Eds.), Encountering Religious Pluralism in School and Society. A Qualitative Study of Teenage Perspectives in Europe, Münster, Waxmann, 2008. See also the debate in France following Régis Debray's report on the teaching of religion in secular schools: "L'enseignement du fait religieux dans l’école laïque" (2002): Dominique Borne and Jean-Paul Willaime (Eds..), Enseigner les faits religieux, quels enjeux?, Preface by Régis Debray, Paris, Armand Colin, 2007.

5 "Qu’est-ce qu’un fait religieux ?", in Dominique Borne and Jean-Paul Willaime (Eds.), Enseigner les faits religieux, quels enjeu?, op.cit., pp. 37-57.

6 Translator's note: the speaker is referring to the French version of the theme of the exchange, "L’enseignement des faits religieux…", which, although translated in the title of the exchange as "Teaching religious facts" could equally well be translated as "Teaching religions".

7 The local level is particularly important. See the very interesting report on the seminar held in Montchanin, France, in 2006 by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe: Gods in the city - Intercultural and inter-religious dialogue at local level, Council of Europe Publishing, 2008.

8 See CM/Del/Dec(2008)1019/1.6 and CM(2008)27 final.



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