Religious and inter-religious education
Dr Hansjoerg Biener: Projects on Inter-religious Education and Media Education for Teenagers
|At least in Germany, participation of teenagers in church youth groups is not purely for religious reasons, but as much and sometimes more so a social affair. Nonetheless, it is possible to follow inter-religious topics, if the youth leader jumps to the occasion. It might even be possible to join inter-religious and media education.|
Confirmands Preparing an Inter-religious Calendar
In Germany, most Lutheran teenagers (12-14 age bracket) join in confirmation classes, regardless of the interest they or their parents have shown for the local congregation so far. So, these 12 or 24 months have an enormous potential of introducing teenagers to the life of a congregation as well as accompanying them in a very challenging life span. On the other hand, the motivation of joining the class as well as the challenges presented to the leaders of the confirmation classes are very diverse. Nonetheless, the teenagers do show interest in religion and at times they even ask their leaders about non Christian religions.
One example concerns Lutheran youth at the Martin-Luther-Kirche of Erlangen, a city in Southern Germany which used to have a Jewish community from 1873 to 1943. With the emigration of CIS Jews to Germany, in 1999 a synagogue was re-established and joint the twelve Bavarian Jewish communities. The public fund raising for a Torah scroll in 2000, sparked the interest of Lutheran confirmands for the Jewish congregation at Erlangen. So 16 teenagers ended up visiting both the local Jewish synagogue and the local Muslim mosque as well as producing an inter-religious calendar for the year 2001. The 44 page booklet presents information about different Christian, Jewish and Muslim holidays. “Of course, you have to lend a helping hand and at times, you have to fan the motivation”, reports Pastor Susanne Schatz. But it also makes teenagers proud, when their project receives attention not only by the local congregation but also by the newspapers.
Youth Group Producing a Radio Broadcast on Islam
In the German context, most members of a Church adhere to the Roman-Catholic Church or the traditional Lutheran, Reformed or United Churches. Baptists, Brethren or Methodists are a very small minority. When private local radio was introduced in Bavaria a working group of the five existing Nuremberg congregations applied for broadcast time on a regional FM channel both to inform the general public of their existence and to promote religious topics from their point of view. In 1987, Radio AREF went on the air sharing the channel with other licensees. Today, the station broadcasts two hours on Sundays and Holidays, with the different congregations sharing responsibility for the production of the programmes.
On 14 January 2002 a group of Methodist youth from the Nuremberg Paulusgemeinde (UMC) broadcast a programme on the relation between Christianity and Islam. In preparation they had done several interviews with experts, and when they visited Professor Dr. Johannes Lähnemann to interview him about inter-religious problems and potentials on 13 January 2002, even a public television team was present to do some film footage for use on a state wide programme broadcast in February and repeated in March..
Drawing on the experience of several projects like these, one should keep in mind some general insights. First of all, as in every project with teenagers, one should remain realistic in one's expectations. It is not about 11 to 13 year olds pleasing the ideas of grown up educators, but it is about learning within the abilities and the horizon of teenagers.
It will always depend on the local situation whether one can make inter-religious education a part of youth group's activities. It is counter-productive to actively induce project like those mentioned into a youth group. If a project is to keep its momentum, it has to come out of the group while the youth leaders can only be enablers or facilitators. Success depends on the on-going interest of the members, but also of the ability of the youth leader to facilitate practical learning. If you as a youth leader do not know active members of others religions in your area covering inter-religious themes will remain a rather theoretical affair.
As a youth leader one should be aware of one's congregation's media opportunities because they might set the time frames and promise the visible and audible results that serve as an additional incentive. The Erlangen group had a booklet printed, the Nuremberg group used airtime available to the local congregation. One might also think of creating a page on the congregation's homepage or more traditionally writing an article of the congregation's magazine. This hint remains valid even if one ends up doing a media project on a topic not related to inter-religious education.
Doing a common project always has some rewards in itself, because it involves the hand, heart and mind of people. It might strengthen group cohesion as well as bring out the different abilities of group members working towards a common goal. Some 13 year olds are able to pick up the phone and make an appointment with someone they did not know before, others may be more able to formulate questions or write summaries, and someone else will be able to use a text programme or html editor.
Projects like those mentioned provide a double value: inter-religious education and media education. Seeing oneself as a reporter may even carry some teenagers over thresholds they would not normally cross. This may be the physical threshold of a church, synagogue, mosque or temple. It might also be the reluctance to openly address religious questions which prevails at least in the German context. Researching items for a calendar, article, web site or radio broadcast will provide a key to meeting people of a different faith and asking them about the personal beliefs.
On the media side, it is always important that people gain media competence. In a modern society, people are constantly surrounded by a media environment. So gaining some insight into media work will help to a more sound judgement of media content encountered.