Orthodox church wants expanded teaching of religion in schools

INTERVIEW: ROMAN LUNKIN, PRESIDENT OF THE RUSSIAN GUILD OF EXPERTS ON RELIGION AND LAW, 14 December 2016 Roman, how do you assess the new joint attempt of the Department of Religious Education of the Moscow patriarchate and the Russian Academy of Education to introduce into Russian schools a required course of Orthodox culture, an attempt which it seems has so far failed?


Roman Lunkin:  It is necessary to speak more precisely about who the initiative is coming from. It has been promoted for a long time already by the RPTsMP and there was a whole series of statements by representatives of the Department of Religious Education of the patriarchate about the expansion of the teaching of Orthodox culture as an elective in all grades of the schools, that is, going beyond the framework of the current course on Foundations of Religious Cultures and Secular Ethics. Originally this course was introduced as an experiment, and the church has always advocated its expansion.


--But now, you know, the talk is not about an elective but about mandatory teaching?


--On this matter contradictory information has appeared. Minister of Education Olga Vasileva denied this information and officially declared that the ministry does not intend to introduce Orthodox culture in all grades of the schools. For now this all exists at the level of a project. Although certainly conversations are being conducted between the RPTsMP and the Ministry of Education about expanding "Foundations of Orthodox Culture."


In the end, most likely some intermediate version will be adopted. Since given the Russian system of secular education and the current teaching staff it is impossible to make the schools Orthodox or clerical. And the Ministry of Education itself stands in the defense of the secular system. And indeed teachers have often spoken out for the elective teaching of religion, which has evoked accusations on the part of the dioceses against them to the effect that they are sabotaging Orthodox culture in favor of secular ethics.


Which means it is impossible in principle simply to introduce directly into the current Russian educational system Orthodox culture as a required subject.


--Which means conversations about comprehensive teaching from grade one to grade eleven is something of a red herring?


--Most likely the following system will develop. The module of Foundations of Religious Culture and Secular Ethics will remain as the main unit, where the subject is offered as a choice, and it will be taught, so to speak, from the middle to older grades. While the more in-depth teaching of Orthodox culture will gradually be introduced as an elective. It is significant that even in Orthodox circles it is about the elective format that they speak more often. It cannot be said that absolutely all Orthodox clergy or leaders insist on mandatory teaching of Orthodoxy. In a majority of dioceses problems arose because of the fact that there was not even the possibility of teaching Foundations of Orthodox Culture, since there were specialists only in secular ethics in the schools. Now the situation has changed somewhat and the RPTsMP, in cooperation with the universities, was able to organize the training of future teachers.


--Whatever this collaboration may be, it is impossible to find so many teachers to be able to teach such a specific subject from grades 1 to 11.


--There is a great variety of forms of training these teachers, from departments of theology, not always successfully, to classes of professional development or diocesan classes. Now it is possible to get academic degrees in theology in secular universities. So that, on the contrary, there has arisen the problem of overproduction of theological personnel, which nobody will need without a massive demand on the part of the schools. The church is trying to work as if in anticipation.


--Departments of theology are accessible by a few, but the level of teaching in the courses for teachers is so low that it more likely causes not benefit, but harm.


--Indeed, such a problem really faces secular and church authorities. For understandable historical reasons, the RPTsMP does not have such experience in teaching and training as Catholics and protestants in the West have. And the level of departments of theology and courses of professional development is different in various regions. There are few schools like the St. Tikhon's University and there are not enough of them at all. But in recent years, thanks to the activity of the Churchwide Graduate Program of Metropolitan Ilarion and the St. Tikhon's Institute, the level of education of theologians is rising and this system is not standing still. Attempts to speed up the introduction of Orthodoxy in the schools are connected with the fact that the church feels the necessity of placing somewhere a great number of newly minted teachers; otherwise this all will turn to dust.


Interview conducted by Vladimir Oivin

(tr. by PDS, posted 16 December 2016)

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