Despite Belgian transport strikes, I was recently able to represent 3FF at a fascinating conference organised by the European Network on Religion and Belief (ENORB) in Brussels on Religious Education across Europe.
Contributors offered perspectives from across different EU member states, but I found that there were a number of strong themes emerging, and these gave me a lot of food for thought as to what 3FF can learn as we go forwards into our twentieth anniversary year.
The most striking thing for me was how different the Religious Education contexts are in each country. As the key-note speaker, James Barnett noted, even between France and Belgium (two countries where laïcité, secularisation, is a defining feature of society), state-funded Religious Education differs greatly in both content and policy. To offer interreligious and intercultural education which has the strongest impact in any given society, it’s important to tailor it very carefully to the context.
Another important point made was to emphasise the need for fully informed policy makers defining the shape of Religious Education policy on a national level. Not only do they need to have general religious literacy, but they should also have solidly grounded knowledge of the lived experience and diversity of religion as it is practiced in order to reflect faith and belief fully. As we at 3FF are well aware, it is no longer enough in the modern context to take an approach almost exclusively focused on facts and figures.
It was also repeatedly highlighted that there is much more to the improvement of interreligious and intercultural education than simply improving Religious Education in schools. Young people spend only a small portion of their time in formal education, so more cross-sector collaboration could help to improve the encounters they have in both extra-curricular activities and more social settings. Even within schools, issues of religion, faith and belief come up in other academic subjects (such as history and literature), and these could be ideal opportunities to create a more integrated approach to interreligious and intercultural education.
My time in Brussels has left us with much to think about, and as 3FF continues to grow and develop, there is much more for us to learn from our European neighbours!