Religious and inter-religious education
1.3 Prof Dr Johannes Laehnemann and Prof Dr Klaus Hock:
The Representation of Christianity in Religious Textbooks of Islamic Countries (Report)
|In our world peoples of
different cultures and religions are increasingly bound to live together
closely. For their further development they are dependent on working together
and not against each other. This stresses the need for the education for
inter-religious and intercultural encounter. Just the recent conflicts
between various peoples, which are to be seen in their cultural and religious
traditions, show that there is a great need to teach the young to meet
and understand others. Prejudices, stereotypes and defensiveness have to
be overcome in order to bring about better mutual understanding.
Apart from families and parishes, schools play an important role and textbooks are the main instrument to promote factual and beneficial knowledge and ideas. On the other hand, however, wrong, inadequate and biased information in textbooks may lead to problematic fixations in the young. Moreover textbooks indicate clearly the level of scientific work done with respect to schools as well as the educational issues being discussed in a country.
The project “The Representation of Islam in German Textbooks” was a very important step in view of the existing reservations, prejudices and animosities between Christianity and Islam. The representation of Islam in German textbooks was investigated under the direction of a Muslim scholar – Prof. Dr. A. Falaturi –, his Islamic Scientific Academy in Cologne and a Christian religious studies specialist – Prof. Dr. U. Tworuschka. This project has been extended to all European countries. The main criteria are to see if Islam is treated properly and if it is adequately represented. The analysis of German Textbooks showed that despite many good intentions there were distortions and one-sided accounts. These findings were analysed thoroughly. And by the participating scholars suggestions for improvement were made which have already been put into practice in the most recent textbooks in Germany.
This extensive and successful project in view it has often been asked, when an analysis of how Christianity is presented in schoolbooks in Islamic countries may start. Since 1999 this analysis was being realised by the Chair for Religious Education and Didactics of the Protestant Religious Instruction at the University Erlangen-Nuremberg under the direction of Prof. Dr. Johannes Laehnemann. This pilot project with the title “The Representation of Christianity in Religious Textbooks of Islamic Countries” which was financed by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG = German Research Association) and the World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP) applied to a high degree the method of the project “The Representation of Islam in German Textbooks”. During a period of one year two academics, Christian Schaefer and Patrick Bartsch, analysed Egyptian and Turkish religious textbooks with regard to the representation of Christianity. They tried to find interlocutors as well as to correct wrong representations and develop extensive questions of further research.
In Turkey (Patrick Bartsch) with its laicistic constitution the conception of textbooks is laid down by the Ministry of Education. Therefore it has been interesting to look if there exists a unified representation of Christianity in the religious textbooks or if the authors of these textbooks have certain freedoms within a prescribed frame to write down their own ideas of Christianity. Furthermore it has proved to be useful to compare the representation of Christianity in the Turkish textbooks with the one in the religious textbooks of other Islamic countries in order to ascertain if and why the representations differ from each other. This seems to be especially enlightening if there is the possibility to co-operate with scholars in Iran with the specific constitution as an Islamic Republic.
In Egypt (Christian Schaefer) the long tradition of Islamic education and science at the Al-Azhar-University in Cairo impresses the society and the national educational policy. Furthermore Al-Azhar possesses great influence on culture and policy of the Middle East. In Egypt remains also an extensive autonomous and self-confident Coptic Church, as well as other Christian Churches. So members of these Churches should also be acquired for this project. In Cairo exist even more different international institutes of socio-cultural research, with whom co-operation is aspired. Additionally, the development of textbooks in Jordan and Palestine concerning the presentation of Christianity shall be examined.
The first contacts and inquiries by Patrick Bartsch in Turkey and Christian Schaefer in Egypt, Jordan and Palestine, make clear that there is a great interest in these countries in inter-religious and international co-operation and exchange, in order to improve the scientific and pedagogical standards of textbooks and syllabuses. With the granting of funds by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), the institutional basis of research could be broadened: in its new phase, the project will be carried out as a joint venture between the above mentioned Chair and the Department of History of Religions – Religion and Society at the University of Rostock under the direction of Prof. Dr. Klaus Hock. This enables a more systematic and continuous research including a stronger emphasis on questions arising from the perspective of Religious Studies, and it opens up new prospects of transferring this kind of inter-religious co-operation for the improvement of educational media to other countries.