Images of Religious Others in Textbooks of Religious Education for the Public Primary Schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina*

Article excerpt

Abstract

The course of Religious Education and its respective textbooks for pupils of public primary schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina could certainly make a considerable contribution to rebuilding mutual trust between Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims - the three major religious traditions of the country in the post-war period. Obviously, the extent of success in this regard will largely depend on how the Religious Education literature portrays the members of other ethno-religious communities in the country. Our analysis has shown that the greatest space for religious others is allocated in the textbooks of Catholic Religious Education. In general, textbooks of all traditional religious communities in the country tend to avoid direct negative evaluation of religious others, preferring rather to address their teachings and history of mutual encounter in a respectful manner. Exceptions, however, do exist and they are often concerned with how confessions and religious orientations other than traditional Catholic, Orthodox and Islamic are portrayed. Similarly, history and historical categories remain to be the main factors vitiating the portrayal of Muslims in Catholic and - especially - Orthodox textbooks. Accordingly, history textbooks might prove to be the main battle field in the future textbook revisions.

Introduction

The fall of the communist regime in Yugoslavia in the early 1990s gave the members of different ethnic and religious traditions in Bosnia and Herzegovina the freedom to publicly express their religion, a freedom that they certainly did not enjoy during the communist rule. As a result, the Ministry of Education in Bosnia started a campaign for introducing courses of religious education in public schools, which in 1994 resulted in the adoption of the "Plan and Programme of Religious Education for the Islamic, Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish, and Adventist religion."1 The course was introduced during the last war, and was then adapted in 1996 to accord with the new constitutional order established by the Dayton Agreement.

The Law on Freedom of Religion and the Legal Position of Churches and Religious Communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina adopted in 2004 further confirmed the right of Bosnian pupils to religious education and determined that such education should be provided exclusively by persons approved by the respective Church or religious community, both in public and private preschool institutions, at the primary and higher stages of education.2 The exclusive right to write and publish textbooks for the course of Religious Education is reserved for official representatives of the respective religious communities, which gives them almost unlimited freedom to determine their content. In that sense, the religious communities and their representatives in educational institutions were given a great opportunity and responsibility to constructively participate not only to rebuild the inter-religious and interethnic dialogue, trust, and peaceful coexistence that were seriously damaged during the last war (1992-1995), but also to build a tolerant and peaceful society every component of which is ready to accept all those who do not share their worldview.

The portrayal of religious others is certainly an important means in motivating, (or de-motivating), the co-members of one's religious community to play a positive role in the above-mentioned process. The main aim of this study is to analyze images of religious others in the textbooks of Catholic, Orthodox and Islamic Religious Education for public primary schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina published after their first and so far their last revision in 2002.3 The first part of the paper will seek to contextualize the topic by briefly presenting the legal status of Religious Education in the educational system of Bosnia and Herzegovina in some detail, as well as identifying some historical and socio-political issues surrounding the question of how public schools should teach religion. …