02 feb The new ‘world-ethos’ as a challenge for religious education. Inter-religious learning as an answer on the demand for a future-building dialogue
De auteur gaat in op de mogelijkheid om vanuit een nieuwe vorm van godsdienstonderwijs bij te dragen aan een verdevollere wereld. Hij doet dit, vetrekkend vanuit Hans Küngs ‘wereldethos’-idee, en voortbouwend op de analyse van de pluralist Leonard Swidler.
In spite of the frequent critic that different authors expressed towards the ‘Projekt Weltethos’ from Hans Küng, the propositions of this Swiss theologian “no world peace without religious peace” and “no religious peace without religious dialogue”  are still valid today. In this sense Küng’s insights are “a compass for the future”. Küng’s analysis starts from the statement that the “postmodern world order” is no longer based on the clearly defined power blocks and is in need of a newly understood relationship between peoples. This is the only possible way to create stability and to destroy the urge for fanatic (national) bordering – from which we saw in recent history the possible consequences in ex-Yugoslavia. Although Küng adheres an inclusivistic view – a view that is open for other religions, but starts from its own normativity to judge these other religions –, his plea for a world ethics is followed by many pluralists, among who also Leonard Swidler. In spite of their other point of view – pluralists start from the equality of all religions and even relativism – they join Küng in his project.
Küng’s vision confronts today’s religious education with a responsibility that can hardly be underestimated. For religious education that accepts the responsibility for a future characterized by sustainable peace, will have to leave the classical mono-religious path, and can no longer be based on one, exclusive religious perspective. It will have to get rid of its missionary aims to incorporate young people in a certain religious community or church. In stead of that, it will have to create room for dialogue with people of different religious faith. Even more, it will have to put dialogue centrally in its didactical approach; ánd it will have to abandon all absolutistic truth claims. An important challenge with which today’s religious education – certainly in Western-Europe – is wrestling.
Nevertheless this attitude provokes some questions, not the least concerning the feasibility of this idea and the possible defamation of the own religious identity in the dialogue with peoples of different religious faith. In this essay we will link a new kind of religious education and offer an answer on the questions that arise. We will do this from a catholic and Western-European point of view, related with the Belgian situation.
2. THE CHALLENGE OF SECULARISM AND PLURALISM FOR RELIGIOUS EDUCATION
Nowadays, students in religious education are confronted on the one hand with unbelief and on the other with people of different religious faiths. Moreover, since the 1980s, individualisation and individualism are increasingly in evidence. More and more religion has become a private matter; and people feel less connected with religious tradition and religious institutions. In large parts of the population, this had lead towards religious indifference and to a decrease in church-involvement.
This new situation includes a few great challenges for religious teachers; not only is their audience not or only moderate interested, moreover, in their classes there are not only ‘autochthon’ pupils, but also students of Moroccan and Turkish origin. This goes for Flanders, but also for almost all parts of Europe. It is clear that the mono-religious orientation of religious education – that was not questioned till the seventies – doesn’t offer an appropriate answer for today’s challenges. After the Second Vatican Council the exclusivistic model, that started from the superiority of Catholicism, was changed for a more open and mild inclusivism that no longer saw salvation only possible inside the own (catholic) Church. From that moment on, also other religious beliefs were put on the map of the curriculum, and the possibility for dialogue with peoples of different religious beliefs was not only allowed, but even was encouraged. But even in this much more open model one still starts from Christianity as normative for the judgement of other religions. So, neither exclusivism nor inclusivism meets the requirements for the world ethos we have to build on. In their self-centred position, they both don’t do justice to the challenge of pluralism.
But also the multi-religious model, that was developed in the eighties, and that was an answer on the social evolution towards secularism and pluralism, doesn’t meet the requirements. It jammed in a so called ‘neutral’ or ‘comparative’ education of religions. Indeed, this kind of approach offers the students the possibility to get to know the similarities and the differences between the religions. But at the same time students are left alone here. In a pedagogical irresponsible ‘ruthless’ way, they are confronted with the similarities and differences. This, the German pedagogue Karl Nipkow writes, will lead to relativism and blockade the empathical understanding of different religions. In contrast with this, our starting point is that we, as religious teachers, have the responsibility to teach students to get on, on a respectful basis, with peoples with other (religious) beliefs.
So, future-building religious education needs an alternative pedagogical-didactical approach. An approach that balances between mono-religious religious absolutism and the relativism of the multi-religious concept. A new model has to take into account secularism and pluralism, to go beyond the shortcomings of both approaches – without fully rejecting them – and to offer the initial impetus to a respectful future marked by sustainable peace between individuals, groups and nations.
3. ABOUT THE NECESSITY OF DIALOGUE IN THE THIRD MILLENNIUM
In his article ‘Das Zeitalter des globalen Dialogs’ Leonard Swidler pointed out that, in the last century, there has been an remarkable shift in the search for truth. Originally, truth was absolute, static and ‘monological’, but in the last decennia this is evolved towards relative, dynamical and dialogical, in short ‘relational’.
This urge for dialogue, which is a feature of pluralists, is shared by the catholic church in its document ‘Nostra Aetate’ in which, based upon the ‘universal brotherhood’ between the different religions, a plea is made for a dialogical and loving corporation with peoples with a different religious faith. Nevertheless, it has to be clear that Catholics and pluralists share this plea for dialogue, but that they in no case totally agree with each other. The reason for this is that their agreement on the matter of dialogue is based on a different theological model. Pluralists start from relativistic pluralism, while the catholic church, as we noted earlier, starts from the less open and more self-centred inclusivism. But that the change from monologue towards dialogue was earnest for the church, was proved by the encyclical letter ‘Ecclesiam Suam’ from Paul VI in which he repeated and emphasized that appeal and wrote that selfless and unprejudiced dialogue is a peacemaking service at humanity (p. 56-57). But still we notice in this encyclical letter the much repeated fear that dialogue can affect the own Christian religious identity. Paul VI writes: “(…) our dialogue relieves us in no way from our duty to faithfully keeping our faith; as a consequence our apostolic work can’t give any admissions to questionable means and tendencies, and can’t come to a compromise on the field of the principles that, really and rightly, controls and determines our Christian belief.” (p. 49) Paul VI, as well as the present pope John Paul II emphasized repeatedly that Catholics need to engage in the dialogue with peoples with a different religious faith.
Here we are confronted with the relation between dialogue and religious identity, and with the question if this dialogue will not affect identity and lead towards a ‘neutralising relativism’. Of course it is true that dialoguing with somebody starts an inner change that dares to question the own self understanding and the own insights. The inter-religious dialogue inevitably leads towards an intra-religious dialogue. In this narrow sense one can see open dialogue as a ‘threat’ because it bears in itself a transformative power. But the conviction that dialoguing affects the religious identity, is rooted in the denial or in the ignorance that our own identity is sharpened through the dialogue with peoples with a different religious belief. As a consequence dialoguing means an enrichment for the own identity, not a threat. It would only be a threat when this dialogue bears in itself the potential for destruction or relativism. But this is not the case, on the contrary, true dialogue is rooted in respect for the identity of other peoples, and it breaks with selfish tendencies.
So, acknowledge the relativity of religious beliefs – giving up the own truth-claims, not neutralising the beliefs of one’s own faith or the faith of someone else – is an important step towards respect and openness for the other one. An openness and respect that makes dialogue possible. It is an attitude that rightly starts from the fact that identity is not static and unchanging, but that it concerns an interactive process that doesn’t shun any conversation with peoples with a different religious faith. Or, as Paul Ricoeur puts it, identity is an tissue that changes throughout interaction. “Christian identity”, Reinhold Bernhardt writes, “forms itself in conversation with ‘others’ (…). It originates (negatively) in bordering from and (positively) in relation to these ‘others’; in the tension between solidarity and distance” . In other words, who opens himself fully, will indeed loose its identity, but the one that, on the contrary, puts principle borders, can’t develop further. He or she denies his- or herself new impulses by retiring in a fortress. So, what we need is an open attitude that doesn’t give up the own religious roots. It is this attitude that finds itself in the centre of the field of tension between relativism and fundamentalism and that asks for a difficult balance. But the result of this process, respect and tolerance, is worth the effort.
This means that the ‘dialectical dialogue’ – in which somebody wants to convince the other one by refuting his or her arguments with the own insights – needs to make room for a ‘dialogical dialogue’. This is a dialogue that has three specific features: (1) the partners meet in an open atmosphere and are willing to see through their own prejudices; (2) the autonomy of the other tradition is respected and one accepts to do some efforts to look from the perspective of the other one, and (3) this attitude will not lead to a universal, undifferentiated and abstract consciousness, but to a global convergence from cultures and religions in their diversity. From this dynamical principle of openness, in which the true dialogue is rooted, peoples can be kept from making their own insights absolute and from creating an unquestionable “homogenizing terror” – a tendency to execrate everything that can’t be fit in or integrated. In this sense it is not without importance to create a sphere and a mentality in which the inter-religious dialogue is not only a way of thinking, but that is also accepted as a way of living.
This dialogue means a radical change in thinking of peoples and offers a hopeful perspective on world peace. Even more, as Swidler himself concludes sharply: “In this new era of dialogue, dialogue on a global base is not only a possibility, but a necessity. (…) Humanity after all is confronted with two possibilities: dialogue or death”. It is clear that this new approach goes beyond relativism and absolutism. Nevertheless, such a dialogue can only come into being in mutual conviction that each truth claim is relative because it is based in human observation and interpretation. This doesn’t mean that everything is true or just as true, on the contrary, it contains a call for continuity and critical analysis of oneself and of the other one. So the existence of different religions and ideologies do not have to be obstacles for the development of religious identity. It is a medium that purges one’s own meanings, boundaries and affiliations, and that gives him or her the chance to bring about mutual understanding and mutual acceptance. And this brings us to our starting-point: “How can nowadays religious education give support to Hans Küng’s concern to come to a peacemaking world ethos?”
4. TOWARDS A NEW FORM OF RELIGIOUS EDUCATION: ‘INTER-RELIGIOUS LEARNING’ AS AN ALTERNATIVE
It is clear that, if we – in the spirit of Küng – want to work at a form of religious education that takes plurality seriously, but not want to fall in relativism, we need to give the dialogue a central place in our renewal of religious education. But not only that. As we have seen in our discussion about dialogue and identity, religious education may not lack any form of commitment and engagement. For it is exactly in the encounter of commitments that dialogue becomes relevant. These aspects – dialogue and commitment –, inserted into religious education, can offer an adequate answer on the challenges we are faced with.
Dialogical religious education goes beyond the pure phenomenological study of religions ‘learning about religion – or multi-religious education as we called it before), as well as the closed, fearful and self-centred religious education (learning in religion or mono-religious education). This doesn’t mean that there is no longer a place for catechetics in religious education. As long as it is used as an introduction for young people in a certain religious tradition, and not as a chance to convince or even convert them, catechetics is acceptable. In any case, a new kind of religious education that meets the demands of the necessary dialogue, an enduring commitment and a healthy (self)critical sense, religious pedagogues developed in the nineties: the inter-religious concept. This distinguishes itself from mono-religious pedagogy because it acknowledges pluralism and, even more, takes it into account by integrating this aspect of society in the curriculum. Religious education becomes a place of encounter for different religious convictions. As well, it further distinguishes itself from the multi-religious model by rejecting both religious absolutism and the objective representation of a multitude of religions. In the inter-religious model, students are not only informed, but are introduced – by a teacher who takes an explicitly religious (Christian) standpoint – to the commitments and instincts of different religions, giving them the opportunity to enrich and develop their personal religiosity. The curriculum of an inter-religious education seeks to take up a variety of truth claims through a hermeneutic-communicative dialogue. In this process, the pupils are fully-engrossed subjects, because they can enter the dialogue from without their own religious background, sensitivities and experiences. In other words, religious education in a pluralistic society cannot be approached with a catechetical attitude in the same way it was with mono-religious learning.
Nevertheless, inter-religious learning does not simply take a mere middle position between multi-religious instruction on the one hand and mono-religious instruction on the other. Indeed, it presupposes, as in the multi-religious concept, distance from one’s own tradition, but only a temporary and partial distance to make possible changes of perception. At the same time, it asks for ‘commitment’ from teachers and students, without endagering or excluding dialogue. In this sense, inter-religious instruction offers more than either established model. It acknowledges that in a pluralistic multicultural society unity can be found in diversity, but that this unity is not pre-given and has to be brought about.
Inter-religious instruction acknowledges and emphasizes that truth is pluralistic and relational. Because of that, in this new concept, communication and dialogue about the various underlying religious assumptions of the teacher and the students have a central place. Each one of them, in a dynamic and searching way, is connected with his or her religion, and from this connection he or she participates in a conversation. Central in this model is the idea that people need not necessarily already to be initiated into one model of belief, but that much building material is at hand to develop a religious identity via the confrontation with those who have already taken some steps towards some religious commitment. In this way, students living in a pluralistic world, get the chance to form their own (religious) identity in diversity.
5. CONCLUSION: ‘INTERRELIGIOUS LEARNING’ BETWEEN FUNDAMENTALISM AND RELATIVISM – A RELIGIOUS-PEDAGOGICAL ANSWER ON THE CHALLENGES OF THIS ERA
Hans Küng’s call for a peacemaking global responsibility, is based on care for present and future generations. It is a global project in which in economy and politics as well as in different religions peoples will have to engage to counter fundamentalistic and relativistic tendencies. Fundamentalism nor relativism are appropriate answers on the challenges we are confronted with in today’s pluralistic world. Fundamentalism is a syndrome of fear that is narrowly connected with an urge for power. In this fundamentalism peoples, starting from their feelings of threat, very strongly fall back on their own values, insights and religious beliefs. They blockade every openness towards peoples with different religious faith. Or put differently: in itself fundamentalistic truth is intolerant. It is a negative answer on modernism that leads towards a persevered and unfruitful antagonism. Relativism on the other hand is not preferable because it regards all convictions, beliefs and ways of living as equal and because it eliminates the critical truth question. The result of such a total pluralism is further individualisation and as a consequence a fall to pieces from society. It is a misunderstanding to think that that, based on relativism, it is possible to bring different cultures and religions closer together. None of these consequences is desirable if we want to confront the challenge of a tolerant and respectful world ethos.
In this essay we concentrated on the development of a new kind of religious education that takes the present pluralism seriously as well as it builds on a tolerant and respectful society. The development of ‘inter-religious religious education’ is a fundamental step in the creation of world peace through peace between the religions. This new pedagogical model bridges the (religious) differences between cultures by what we can call ‘rooted/committed dialogical dialogue’ – an open dialogue that starts from commitment with the own religious tradition, and which has as its purpose to learn from the other one, not to convince him or her that I’m right. Or, to say it with Küng’s own words, we need “a religiosity with a fundament, but without fundamentalism; a religious identity, but without exclusivity; a certainty of truth, but without fanaticism” . It may also be clear that this renewing religious education has not as its purpose to give up the uniqueness of all religions and to strive for one religion. The purpose of inter-religious learning is clear: to contribute to the necessary tolerant and respectful world ethos of the future. In this sense the project goes beyond the political borders and strives towards religious tolerance. And working at religious tolerance, means working at an intergenerational world peace. It is our conviction that his way the inter-religious project complies with the demands of this era.
This large-scale and ambitious project rises questions about the feasibility of the inter-religious model. It is true that it will only be feasible when representatives of different religions bridge the differences and are willing to work together. For inter-religious learning demands a mentality that makes it possible that for example catholic religious teachers in their courses give room to the religious stories of Jews, Moslems, Hindus and Buddhists. And this in an atmosphere where this possibility is not seen as a threat or as concurrence for the own story of faith. Obviously, this is not a one-sided movement, also in other religions, from this same responsibility for a world ethos, peoples have to engage in conversations between the Catholic Church and each other. Ecumenical prayer services, visiting churches, mosques, synagogues, Buddhist temples, personal encounters beyond cultural and religious differences, and building inter-religious discussion groups. All of this are aspects that should be integrated in the curriculum of inter-religious religious education. This project asks for great efforts from all persons concerned. The pedagogical insights that are involved in this model and that still need to be questioned, as well as the concrete didactical working out, require the effort of teachers, pedagogues and theologians of diverse denominations. But this effort will be rewarded, it is a fundamental contribution of this generation to the world peace in which the following generations hopefully can grow up and develop.
Sarajevo as a city is a strong symbol of the dangers and the possibilities of inter-religious encounter. A city that was the explicit example of the feasibility of a multicultural and multi-religious society till the beginning of the nineties. How vulnerable such a society can be, also is seen here. But it is precisely the vulnerability that should be an encouragement to work at a future-building inter-religious project that tries to give an answer to the compelling question that originates from Hans Küng’s ‘Projekt Weltethos’. As we tried to prove in this essay, an open dialogical religious education is a powerful and future-building signal that already today is a service at the world peace of tomorrow.
|(0)||Zie o.a. U. VON DEN STEINEN, Fluchtpunkt der Friedensethik? Hans Küngs Projekt “Weltethos”, in Die Zeiche der Zeit. Lutherische Monatshefte 1 (9) (1998) 12-15; W. HUBER, Ohne Konflikte kein Heil, in Publik-Forum. Zeitung kritischer Christen 22 (5) (1993) 18-20; G. STOLZE, Und die Stimme der Opfer? Paul Knitters Kritik am Vorschlag von Hans Küng, in Publik-Forum. Zeitung kritischer Christen 22 (5) (1993) 20-21; T. HOPPE, Weltinnenpolitik durch Weltethos? Rückfragen an das Projekt von Hans Küng, in Herder-Korrespondenz. Monatshefte für Gesellschaft und Religion 51 (1997) 410-414.|
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|(2)||J. FRÜHBAUER, Kompass für die Zukunft. Zur Diskussion über das Projekt Weltethos, in Herder-Korrespondenz. Monatshefte für Gesellschaft und Religion 51 (1997) 587-590, p. 590.|
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|(4)||Op deze website becommentariëren Küng en Swidler elkaar en zetten ze in artikels uiteen waarover ze het eens zijn en waarin ze van mening verschillen: http://astro.temple.edu/~dialogue/geth.htm|
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Dit artikel werd geschreven naar aanleiding van een lezing die werd gehouden in Sarajevo. Het artikel verscheen later in het Bosnisch onder de titel: Nova ‘svjetska etika’ kao izazov za vjersku edukacija. Medureligiozno ucenje kao odgovor na zahtjev izgradnje buduceg dijaloga, in het filosofische tijdschrift ‘Odjek’ 56 (2003) nr. 2-4, 167-171.
Nog later verscheen het in deze vorm in het Finse tijdschrift ‘LLine. Lifelong learning in Europe’ IX (1) (2004) 49-57.
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