Scholar Provides Insight into German Religious Education

Article excerpt

BRONX, N.Y. * Fordham University graduate students in religious education, who currently hail from eight nations, had the opportunity in February to learn from a visiting Catholic scholar about how state-supervised religious education operates in Germany.

Professor Bernhard Grumme said that although the German Constitution, or Basic Law, has long mandated the teaching of religious education in German schools, the state--for the sake of ideological neutrality--leaves its implementation to the religious communities. In effect, these have been predominantly the Protestant and Catholic communities that are the country's majority religious bodies. Each church body claims about 30 percent of the population as members even though church attendance remains low.

Fewer than two in three of Germany's 82 million citizens identify as Christian. That figure is much lower in several states, especially in the region of the former East Germany, a communist and atheistic Soviet-influenced region from 1949 until the destruction of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of the two Germanys in 1990, Grumme told NCR in an interview here before meeting with the Fordham students Feb. 19.

Grumme, 50, said religious education has its place in schools because it provides a distinctive contribution to the general education of students that other subjects cannot address. But he stressed that religious learning at school can no longer be based on a catechetical or evangelical view--in other words on a proclamation of faith--but can only be justified within the context of educational theory.

Religious education is a regular subject in German elementary and secondary schools, taught for two hours each week. According to Article 7 of the German Constitution, the state is responsible for the upkeep of religious education so that it can make its contribution to the values of a democratic society.

The constitution adds that religious education provides a place for "positive" religious freedom, Grumme told his audience of 19 master's and doctoral students. Eleven of the students in attendance--10 Catholics and one Lutheran--came from various parts of the United States where they have been accustomed to the strict separation of church and state.

Grumme, a former high school teacher of Catholic education and history, is currently a professor of Catholic theology and religious pedagogy at the Padagogische Hochschule Ludwigsburg, near Bonn. In April he will become a professor of religious education and catechesis at the Ruhr-University Bochum.

Religious education has a political dimension that is an essential part of its contribution to the education of youngsters, he said. Without this political dimension students would not be competent enough to judge and act in the religious sphere, he added.

Grumme said that religion is not only important for providing, when needed, a means of coping with guilt, death and grief, but "it is also absolutely essential for a political community" While religions are not political institutions, Christianity as a public religion contributes to civil society by providing incentives for humanizing the culture and the democratic process. …