Ministers’ Deputies
CM Documents

CM(2009)117 final 6 November 2009

1069 Meeting, 4 November 2009
1 General questions

1.7 Council of Europe 2009 Exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue
Summary of the discussions and operational follow-up


A. Introduction

1. The Committee of Ministers held the Council of Europe 2009 Exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue on 29 and 30 June 2009 in Strasbourg under the co-chairmanship of Ambassador Guido Bellatti Ceccoli, Chair of the Rapporteur Group on Education, Culture, Sport, Youth and Environment (GR-C) and Ambassador Christian Oldenburg, Chair of the Rapporteur Group on Human Rights (GR-H). 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 Exchange programme, the list of participants and the presentations of the speakers can be found on the Web-Site of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.1

B. Participation and procedure
2. The Exchange was attended by some 80 participants, apart from the member state and observer delegations, including 21 women, coming from a total of 22 European countries.2

3. In addition to the representatives of the major religions traditionally present in Europe (Roman Catholic, protestant, Orthodox, other Christian, Jewish and Muslim), the list of participants this year included a clearly identified group of representatives of non-religious convictions (freethinkers, humanists and secularists). It should be noted that Jews and Muslims from south-east Europe attended, as did representatives of minority movements or trends within given countries (Protestantism in Albania) or within individual religions (the Alevi and Bektashi movements in Islam). Lastly, in addition to the groups of representatives of religious and non-religious convictions, a group of educational professionals was included in the list of participants.

4. The whole Exchange took the form of working group sessions (of which there were 8) and plenary sessions (4), during which a large number of statements were made.3 With very few exceptions, the statements were spontaneous, reacting to the expert presentations and focusing on the theme of the Exchange.

C. Summary of the discussions

5. The discussions held at the 2009 Exchange made it possible to identify not only the main lines of a possible contribution by the participants to the promotion of the Council of Europe’s fundamental values, but also the obstacles to be overcome. Among the points discussed, the following gave rise to a more or less consensual position among the participants:

a) standard-setting framework and tools

- in the main, the participants accepted Recommendation CM/Rec(2008)124 as the applicable standard-setting framework and felt that it offered a set of important guidelines;
- the participants likewise considered that the tools produced by the Council of Europe in this field (“Reference Book for Schools”5 and its work on management of socio-cultural dialogue) provided a useful and productive working basis, as a complement to the reference text of the Committee of Ministers which is the “White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue”;6

b) teaching about religion and beliefs and denominational teaching

- the participants agreed that teaching about religion and non-religious beliefs and denominational teaching pursued different aims, but were not incompatible: while denominational teaching sought to develop religious faith, the main purpose of teaching about religion and non-religious beliefs was to foster mutual understanding and respect through better knowledge of the different religions and beliefs:
- above and beyond the different aims, both kinds of teaching could help to form values and attitudes, particularly those needed to promote the fundamental values upheld by the Council of Europe;

c) school education and other learning contexts

- several participants emphasised the important role of the family and the media in teaching about religion and non-religious beliefs; likewise, several underlined the fact that attitudes were formed during early childhood too, whence the importance of including pre-school education in discussions on teaching about religion and non-religious beliefs;
- several participants pointed out that, with the globalisation of knowledge and the emergence of new channels of communication, school no longer held a monopoly in the dissemination of knowledge; policies on teaching about religion should therefore be framed in comprehensive terms, particularly in order to avoid sending out conflicting messages to children and young people, at the risk of undermining educational efforts confined to traditional formal school education systems;

b) school environment

- the participants recognised that the role of state schools is to be culturally mixed;
- they recognised that the learning of mutual understanding and respect requires a school environment that offers a sense of security – the school environment should foster co-operation as a factor enhancing the value of cultural identities, to the exclusion of competition and any stigmatisation of differences.

6. Other points were raised in the form of minority opinions or sometimes contradictory positions, which are mentioned below for information:

e) role of state education

- several participants felt that only teaching about religion from a non-denominational angle should be made compulsory in state schools; others felt, on the contrary, that state schools should be able to offer religious education; in any event, it was for member states to freely implement teaching about religion and beliefs that was consistent with the values and standards of the Council of Europe; 7

f) content of teaching about religion

- some participants stressed the importance of focusing teaching about religion on the major religions or beliefs traditionally present in Europe, or throughout the world, particularly in order to help eradicate islamophobia and anti-semitism; others felt that such teaching should be broader in scope, embracing religions and beliefs viewed from a wider historical perspective, going back as far as antiquity, in order to show how the present-day heritage of philosophy, religion and beliefs was formed;

- some participants wanted teaching about religion and non-religious beliefs to deal not only with learning and understanding of the different currents of religious and non-religious thought, but also to include a critical study of the social role that religions have traditionally played in our societies; similarly, some participants wanted teaching about religion and non-religious beliefs to offer pupils an insight not only into the diversity of religions and beliefs, but also into the diversity that may be seen within the same religious current or belief system, or the internal representation mechanisms of religious movements and belief systems; lastly, some participants wanted teaching about religion to enable pupils to discern more clearly the many points in common and similarities between the different religions and beliefs;

g) training teachers to teach about religion

- while the majority of participants agreed that pre-service and in-service teacher training was an important factor in the implementation of teaching about religion and non-religious beliefs, the question of whether this educational role should be assigned to neutral teachers or to teachers representing the different religions and beliefs gave rise to discussion.

7. Lastly, the discussions reflected the participants’ interest in the Council of Europe Exchanges on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue, the value they place on them and their expectations for the future:

h) interest and usefulness of the Exchanges

- several participants noted that, in view of the development in the topics covered towards more concrete issues and given the working methods employed, which brought greater interactivity and spontaneity to the discussions, the Exchanges were of growing interest;
- several participants expressed the explicit hope that the Council of Europe would continue to offer a platform for debate on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue; they welcomed the fact that the Council of Europe, while remaining mindful of the standards by which it was guided, recognised the contribution made by the major religions and other belief systems to the promotion of human rights, pluralist democracy and the rule of law, and that it had been anxious to involve them in the implementation of those values in the field of the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue;

i) participants’ expectations

- a large number of participants called for more active dissemination of the Council of Europe’s standards and the tools it had developed in this field;
- in addition to the existing standard-setting framework, a number of participants called for the development of glossaries and teaching materials based on the approach advocated by the Council of Europe; this should be accompanied by investigation and analysis of all other relevant materials already existing in the member states;
- the discussions held should now lead to tangible developments and numerous participants wanted the Council of Europe to set up an action plan and arrangements for monitoring the application of the standard-setting and methodological framework;
- most participants were in favour of continuing to hold Council of Europe Exchanges on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue as a forum for intercultural dialogue, particularly as regards teaching about religion and beliefs, but perhaps also as regards the role of the media and the family, if appropriate with the participation of children;

j) inter-institutional co-operation

- the representative of the Wergeland European Centre on education for intercultural understanding, human rights and democratic citizenship said that the centre would be making an active contribution in the fields covered by the themes of the Exchange;
- the OSCE representative, referring to the publication of the Toledo Guiding Principles on Teaching about Religions and Beliefs in Public Schools, drew attention to the similarity between the two organisations’ agendas and the need to establish synergies between their respective activities.

D. Operational follow-up of the 2009 Exchange
8. It is proposed to set up an operational follow-up project with due respect for the constitutional structures of each member state, the freedom of religion, the right to religious education where such a right is legally recognised, and in accordance with the states’ role in regulating their national educational systems. This project would be designed to produce practical results, be based on existing programmes and activities, as well as on the expertise of the Steering Committee on Education (CDED) and be relating to:

- disseminating the guidelines and tools established by the Council of Europe in this field, in particular Recommendation CM/Rec(2008)12 on the dimension of religions and non-religious convictions within intercultural education and the publication “Religious diversity and intercultural education: a reference book for schools” (translation and active presentation in member states);

- developing a toolkit and training module for teacher trainers, as part of the joint action between the Pestalozzi project and the Wergeland European Centre, as a contribution to the diversity of educational tools aimed at supporting intercultural dialogue;

- considering setting up a network of schools offering a platform for dialogue and exchange of good practices, and where possible, in the framework of the Intercultural Cities project;

- developing further inter-institutional co-operation with external partners, such as the Wergeland European Centre, the Alliance of Civilisations, the Anna Lindh Foundation and the representatives of religious communities and non-religious beliefs.

9. The Committee of Ministers has chosen the following theme for the 2010 Exchange:

“The role of the media in fostering intercultural dialogue, tolerance and mutual understanding:
freedom of expression of the media and respect towards cultural and religious diversity”,

it being understood that the theme on “teaching religious and convictional facts” would be taken up again at a forthcoming Exchange, in particular to examine the first results of the implementation of the action plan outlined above as a follow-up to the 2008 and 2009 Exchanges.

10. The choice of a new theme for the 2010 Exchange implies various adjustments to the categories of participants, in particular by involving groups of participants representing or specialising in the areas covered by the topics chosen. In addition, consideration might be given, by delegations that so wish, to the participation of governmental representatives who would be likely to provide insight into national approaches linked to the theme chosen.

11. “The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” expressed the wish to host, in the framework of its forthcoming chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, the Council of Europe 2010 Exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue, at a date still to be defined.

* * *


List of e-links – Speeches and presentations

1. Introductory addresses by:
Ambassador Christian OLDENBURG

2. Presentation by Mr Cesar BIRZEA

3. Presentation by Ms Micheline REY

4. Presentation by Mr John KEAST

5. Presentation by Mr Angelos VALLIANATOS

6. Presentation by Mr Peter SCHREINER


2 Albania, Armenia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and United Kingdom.

3 On Monday 29 June, 65 statements were made in Group A and 45 in Group B, all sessions combined; on Tuesday 30 June, 35 statements were made, all session combined, with approximately 145 statements in all.

4 Recommendation CM/Rec(2008)12 on the dimension of religions and non-religious convictions within intercultural education (Council of Europe Publishing, 2008).

5 “Religious diversity and intercultural education: a reference book for schools” (Council of Europe publishing, 2007).

6 “White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue: living together in equal dignity” (Council of Europe Publishing, 2008).

7 In view of the different political and religious approaches within the Council of Europe member states, Council of Europe guidelines on teaching about religion are non-binding.



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