Detailed Program of the Conference

Parallel sessions - A.2 Education in a multi religious scenario: a critical discussion on the aims and outcomes of teaching religion(s) in public schools
Wednesday, 02/June/2021:
9:30am - 11:45am

Session Chair: Valeria Fabretti
Session Chair: Maria Chiara Giorda
Location: Room 1
Session Panels:
A.2. Education in a multi religious scenario: a critical discussion on the aims and outcomes of teaching religion(s) in public schools



Silvio Ferrari6, Alessia Passarelli1,5, Ilaria Valenzi2,5, Rossella Bottoni3, Daniele Ferrari4

1Fscire, Italy; 2FBK, Italy; 3University of Trento, Italy; 4University of Siena, Italy; 5Confronti Study Center, Italy; 6University of Milan

The Atlas is an interdisciplinary project focused on the rights of religious or belief minorities (RBMs) in 12 EU countries and in 8 policy areas: legal status, education in public schools, religious or belief symbols, spiritual assistance, denominational schools, family law, worship and meeting places, media.

We would like to contribute to the panel “Education in a multi religious scenario” by analysing the data related to the policy area “Education in public schools”. Data have been collected through a mix-method approach including questionnaires, analysis of legal sources and interviews with key informants.

Starting from the different systems of religious/belief teaching in the EU countries and the link between the legal status of RBMs and their access to RE in public schools, this contribution will assess: a) how much the RBM rights to teach their religion/belief in public schools are promoted; b) how much RBMs are satisfied with the religious/belief education system in place in their country; c) how much RBM teachers and/or students feel to be discriminated at school on religious/belief ground; and, finally, d) how wide is the gap between the legal rules and their implementation, that is the right to provide religious or belief education and the actual teaching of religion/belief in public schools.

The data collected in the context of the Atlas project will be presented and analysed through infographics and indexes focusing on 6 countries for an in-depth analysis: Austria, Belgium, Finland, Hungary, Italy, Greece.


Antonio Cuciniello

Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore - Milano, Italy

In Italy the rapid and continuous growth of the migration phenomenon has also impacted on the school system over the years. According to the data provided by the Ministry of Education, the number of students with non-Italian citizenship (NIC) has changed from the number of 37,478 (1993/1994) to 857,729 (10% of the total school population) in the school year 2018/2019. Considering origin of countries, it has grown over the years up to reach a variety of more than 200 countries, that is almost the whole world, even though the most numerous communities of students NIC are from Romania, Albania and Morocco.

As an institution devoted to reception, the school has played a fundamental role towards immigration, by progressively adopting solutions which, from initial emergency stage, have developed with the purpose of ensuring the minors’ right to education in view of increasing presence of immigrants’ children, but also of the constant growth of students NIC born in Italy from migrant parents: “second generations” (64,5% of 857,729). Italian school, through the growing presence of students NIC, has been becoming increasingly a multicultural and multireligious school, a field of encounter between different cultures. For this reason, it needs, more and more, intercultural and interreligious education in order both to sow the seeds of innovative pedagogical and didactic actions, and prevent and tackle violent radicalisation and extremism.

Since textbooks, along with pedagogical materials, do not sim­ply pass on knowledge, but mirror the values of the society in which they are produced and used, a critical review of text­books content should be constantly conducted by teachers, having an understanding of pedagogic content knowledge. Indeed, textbooks still show, in some cases, a stereotyped and ethnocentric vision of the world, following a mere monocultural approach. In particular, as far as the conception/perception of Islam and Muslims coming out from textbooks is concerned, it turns out that too many textbooks still tend to be Eurocentric, so they are inadequate in terms of providing students with a balanced understanding of Islam and Islamic societies. Consequently, without forgetting the issue of religious illiteracy and its effects on the social and political milieu and by drawing attention to the importance of textbooks in good quality education policy, the first results of an analysis on the image of Muslims and Islam that emerges from the most popular and modern Italian religion textbooks for upper secondary school will be presented.


Giovanni Lapis

Ca' Foscari University of Venice, Italy

It is widely recognized that a more critical and self-aware study of extra-European, particularly East Asian religions, informed notably by postcolonial and postmodern critiques, contributed to the rethinking (cfr. King 2017) of the study of religions itself. This paper wants to explore the innovative and critical relevance of the theme of east Asian religions regarding the topic of Religious Education (RE).
I will argue that engaging with the study of East Asian religions is helpful in highlighting blinds spots, biases and implicit modernist and orientalist discourses that can be found in both RE’s theory and practice. I will focus in particular on two issues which I Identify as possible critical lenses in this regard. The first is the inadequacy of the so-called Christian-Protestant paradigm of religion, centered on the inner world of the individual practitioner, who is supposed to entertain an exclusive affiliation with a precise religious tradition. The second is the influence of the historical, cultural and political entanglements between East Asia and the Euro-American regions on the highly contested field of religion.
To provide some examples, I will also refer to two test-cases, i.e. RE in England and Sweden, which are considered as being at the forefront in European non-confessional RE (Alberts 2007).
In conclusion, I will offer some practical indications on how the theme of east Asian religions can be fruitfully integrated in a study-of-religions based RE and how it may foster what the Council of Europe has termed "competences for democratic culture" (Council of Europe 2018).

- Alberts, Wanda (2007). Integrative Religious Education in Europe: A study-of-Religions Approach. Berlin: De Gruyter.

- Council of Europe (2018). Reference Framework of Competences for Democratic Culture. Vol. 1: Context, Concepts and Model. Strasbourg: Council of Europe.

- King, Richard (2017b). “The Copernican Turn in the Study of Religion”. King, Richard (ed.) Religion, Theory, Critique: Classic and Contemporary Approaches and Methodologies. New York: Columbia University Press, 1-22.


Jessica Pasca

University of Palermo, Italy, Italy

This contribution aims to propose a critical reflection on a particularly complex theme for international pedagogical literature: religion. This will be done through a constant dialogue with John Dewey, a philosopher and pedagogist of American origin who, in addition to having dedicated himself to philosophical, political and pedagogical issues, has had interesting reflections on the religious phenomenon. Therefore, attention will be turned to such of his writings as Moral Theory and Practice of 1891, in which Dewey treated the religious question implicitly, wondering about human conduct and the need for it to be oriented by a morality that directed the individual towards the exercise of the collective good. Subsequently, interest will shift to writings such as Democracy and Education of 1916 and Common Faith of 1934, two works in which Dewey presented his concept of secular religion, giving it a civil connotation, since it is to be understood as a set of values capable of orienting human behaviour towards a democratic life consisting of peace, solidarity and mutual respect. Finally, through a comparison with the societies of our time, the present contribution will reflect on the topicality of Dewey's thought and on the urgency, which has now become universal, to educate towards an "open religion" in order to avoid any social inequalities and any form of cultural tension, whilst promoting the creation of democratic and multi-ethnic citizenship.

KEYWORDS: John Dewey, religion, secular religion, citizenship, democracy.


Stefano Oliverio

University of Naples Federico II, Italy

In the present paper, I will address the question of religious education in a multi-religious but also, in other respects, post-religious society through a philosophical-educational lens and, more specifically, in reference to the tradition of educational pragmatism. I will first show how far the issue of religious education disappears in the reflections of John Dewey or, rather, it is transmogrified into the endeavor to think of forms of a deeper and fuller religion adequate for the modern age. In this horizon, classic religious education is replaced by education for a recognition of the spiritual import of science and democracy.

Against this backdrop, a specific contemporary inflection of Dewey’s pedagogy is investigated, namely the community of philosophical inquiry elaborated by Matthew Lipman and Ann Sharp, and its value as an educational setting for a kind of religious education living up to present-day demands will be explored. In particular, I will focus on Sharp’s creative recontextualization of Dewey’s tenets in philosophy of religion and on her ambitious argumentation in favor of the ‘sacred’ character of the community of philosophical inquiry and of its significance as a pedagogical approach that may be conducive to the invention of new metaphors to make sense of the spiritual experience also in the formative years of children.