Tolerance and Faith-Based Education

Posted on Thursday 28th February 2013

                Workshop: “Tolerance and faith-based education: liberalism, freedom of education and equality in Europe”
                                                                  Amsterdam 23 and 24 May 2013

Conveners: Marcel Maussen, Veit Bader, Floris Vermeulen, Michael Merry (University of Amsterdam)

This workshop draws on research carried out in the context of the ACCEPT-PLURALISM Research project, in particular Work package 3 on tolerance in education and school life. One of the research clusters in that work package dealt with the issue of religious schools. Some of the teams that were directly involved in studying the room provided for faith-based schools participate (Denmark, the Netherlands and Ireland) and other researchers have been invited to complement the picture (country studies on France, and Germany).

The focus of the workshop and the special issue will be the opportunities and challenges/restrictions for both state financed and supervised religious schools. As we know the numbers and (institutional) opportunities and challenges/restrictions for these schools vary between European countries. There are differences with regard to degrees and forms of (public) financing, the position of these schools in the education system, the modalities and degrees of “public scrutiny” that is exercised over these schools, etc. Over the past 30 years the possibilities for immigrant origin religious minorities to set up faith-based schools have been much debated.

Debates on religious schools in Europe cluster around five issues: (1) how does this type of education perform in comparison with (governmental or non-governmental) non-religious education, both with regard to educational (cognitive) achievements of children, also with regard to mastery of the language of the “receiving society” in the case of children with an immigrant background, and with regard to other goals of education such as “teaching for citizenship and tolerance” and preparing pupils for life in democratic, pluriform societies?; (2) in what ways is the existence of this type of schools related to ethnic, religious and socio-economic segregation, and what are the consequences of having religious schools and what are normative arguments for and against “voluntary separation”?  (cf. Merry forthcoming, 2013); (3) where are the boundaries of religious and educational freedoms that allow this type of school to exist and to operate? Sometimes these issues are discussed in terms of balancing the collective freedoms (or administrative  autonomy) of these schools (e.g. in making choices about curriculum, activities, teaching materials) the individual freedoms of parents to select a school for their child and with “worthwhile political goals” (such as ‘integration’ or equal opportunities in education). At other times the tensions seem to arise between associational freedoms and “liberal equality” (for example with regard to hiring staff or selecting pupils) (Bader and Maussen 2012: 94ff.); (4)  What structural inequalities exist between different types of religious schools (majority versus minority schools, established (Catholic, Protestant) versus new religious (Muslim, Hindu) schools?; (5) Is there a decreasing tolerance for this type of education, and how it this related to the religious identity of the school (Christian or Islamic, liberal or orthodox, ecumenical or not)?

In the Netherlands, for example, directors of Christian Reformed, Jewish and Islamic schools often feel that the debate about their schools is dominated by stereotypes and prejudice. They fear the opportunities for this type of religious schools are diminishing in a climate of “liberal intolerance” and “aggressive secularist ideology” (Versteegt and Maussen 2011; Vermeulen 2012).

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Project Coordinator:
Prof. Anna Triandafyllidou,
Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies (European University Institute)

Funded by: the European Commission under the Seventh Framework Programme, Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities

Duration: 1 March 2010-31 May 2013

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