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PESC-1: Religious and inter-religious education
Patrick Bartsch MA  
The Representation of Christianity in Religious Textbooks of Turkey

 
 The project „The Representation of Christianity in Religious Textbooks of Islamic Countries“ started 1999 and is being realised by Prof. Dr. Johannes Lähnemann (Chair for Religious Education and Didactics of the Protestant Religious Instruction, University Erlangen-Nuremberg) and Prof. Dr. Klaus Hock (Chair for History of Religion, University Rostock). It is financed by the “Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft” (DFG = German Research Association) and the “World Conference on Religion and Peace” (WCRP). This project is a very important step to overcome the existing reservations, prejudices and animosities between Christianity and Islam. The aim of this project is first to analyse the textbooks in regard to Christianity and then to improve a wrong image with the help of Christian and Muslim partners in the Islamic countries. Because of this concept this project is a very important example in practice for the inter-religious dialogue that we need nowadays more than ever. The main research fields are the textbooks of Turkey, Iran, Egypt and Jordan/Palestine.
In Turkey the conception of textbooks is laid down by the Ministry of Education. The ministry or private authors write religious textbooks in accordance with this conception. For that reason several religious textbooks exist for every school year. Because the authors have certain freedoms within this prescribed frame to write down their own ideas the representation of Christianity varies slightly in the religious textbooks that convey a fundamental attitude of respect for Christianity. Like Judaism, Christianity is described as a religion that is recognised in the Qur'an. The central significance of Jesus for Christianity is emphasised. In the words of the Qur'an he is described as a major prophet, whose teachings are of great importance. Information is given about what the Holy Scriptures mean for Christians. Some books even contain quotations taken from the Gospels. In this way students receive an impression of the teachings of Jesus. Some details of the key doctrines of Christianity are given, in particular the Christian understanding of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. The belief in a triune God (the doctrine of the Trinity) is presented as the particularly distinctive element of Christian doctrine, and is described as relating to God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Nonetheless the Islamic view of Christianity predominates. Christian readers will find that their own faith is often misunderstood. Directly or indirectly, it will be judged in a negative way or will be shown to lack a logical foundation.
In accordance with the Qur'an itself the figure of Jesus Christ is given due recognition. Mention is made of his miraculous birth; stories of his miracles are told. Some account is given, too, of parts of the gospel. Where Christianity represents a different view, such differences are alluded to. This is particularly so with reference to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and also to the belief that Jesus is the Son of God. Such content falls short, however, of explaining the inner coherence of the Christian view-point. It is not made clear why these events and elements of faith have an overwhelming significance and deep religious meaning for all Christians.
A certain amount of information is given about the Christian Holy Scriptures, in particular the four Gospels, but unfortunately this information generally lacks historical accuracy. As a result, the impression is given that the Christian Scriptures are unreliable. Whenever the date of the Council of Nicaea/Iznik (325AD) is mentioned it is stated that the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were chosen out of hundreds of competing gospel texts. This is simply not correct. The four Gospels had already been recognised as sources for the life and teaching of Jesus as early as the 2nd Century AD. On the other hand the Gospel of Barnabas, often referred to as one of the "rejected" gospel texts, has been scientifically proven to have been written in the late mediaeval period.
The Trinity is always described as having three elements: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. However, this risks suggesting that Christians believe in three Gods, and it conceals the deeper significance of the doctrine of the Trinity.
The division of Christianity into the major confessions of (Roman) Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism is generally stated briefly, but without elaboration. With similar brevity some reference is made to Christian forms of worship and Christian notions of piety.
The Christian traditions within Turkey, together with their rich cultural history, lack nearly totally. Christianity should be described as a religion that is lived and actual, profoundly shaping belief, piety and ethos. 
During the “Conference on Globalisation, the Muslim World and Turkey” in Istanbul (9-11 November 2001) the Turkish section of this project was able to convene a round table on the presentation of Christianity in Turkish textbooks with Professors of the Islamic Theological Faculty of Ankara University and representatives of the churches in Turkey (the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, the Armenian Patriarchate and the Catholic Church) in order to discuss the present results of the analysis of the Turkish textbooks.
This has been the first time of such concrete inter-religious work in this country and all participants of this round table have come to a complete agreement concerning the necessary improvements in the Turkish textbooks.
The main conclusion of the investigations is that Christianity is described in a very abbreviated form, usually in the format of bare facts. Although attention may sometimes be drawn to a differing Christian viewpoint, the traditional Islamic view of Christianity predominates. Another critical point is that the rich Christian traditions within Turkey are not mentioned. 
In order to improve the representation of Christianity in Turkish textbooks theses chapters should be checked for accuracy before publication by Christian academics. 
The chances to achieve a better representation of Christianity in Turkish textbooks are promising because tolerance and capacity for dialogue between people with different religions and customs belong to the main aims of the Turkish school program. These goals were also underlined by Prof. Dr. Mualla Selçuk, the General Director of Religious Education of the Republic of Turkey, in her speech on the “International Consultative Conference on School Education in Relation with Freedom of Religion and Belief, Tolerance and non Discrimination” in Madrid (23-25 November 2001).
 In fact, the first steps in this direction can be seen. Because of the fundamental work of this project the Turkish Ministry of Education asked the Christian churches in Turkey to compile a manual about the basic elements of Christianity. Hopefully this will be the begin of an improvement of the representation of Christianity in Turkish textbooks as it happened for example vice versa in Greek textbooks in which the representation of Islam improved a lot during the last years.
Back to Report 2001/2002 "A Soul  for Education"