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Law of 2012 on compulsory religious education in schools

In Russia, the secularity of state education is not a constitutional principle, but a legislative norm introduced by Law no. 3266-1 of 10 July 1992 on education. Teaching is secular in state and (...)

In Russia, the secularity of state education is not a constitutional principle, but a legislative norm introduced by Law no. 3266-1 of 10 July 1992 on education. Teaching is secular in state and local schools. The law does not prohibit religious education; on the contrary, it is considered as a consequence of the principle of secularity in teaching. However, a distinction is made between religious education, synonymous with catechesis and possibly seeking to convert pupils, and “neutral” instruction, which provides knowledge on the history, doctrine or the culture of a particular faith, without depicting it as “the only true religion” or teaching religious practice and worship. This kind of religious education is compatible with the principle of secularity. It can be compared to courses in “knowledge or understanding of religion as a human phenomenon” delivered in French schools.

The notion of the “neutral” teaching of religion has stimulated discussions about the possibility that such teaching can indeed be neutral and free from any religious or atheist propaganda. After major debates in society, the government has proposed courses on the “foundations of religious culture”, divided into six versions for pupils to choose from: the foundations of Orthodox, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist cultures, of “the great religions in the world” and of secular ethics.
This course was initially introduced in certain regions on an experimental basis.

On 29 December 2012, the new Law no. 273-FZ on education in the Russian Federation repealed the Law of 1992. Article 87 of this law does not use the term “teaching of religion”, but a more complex expression: “teaching of knowledge about the foundations of spiritual and moral culture of the peoples of the Russian Federation, of the ethical principles and historical and cultural traditions of religions in the world”. In the same article, the law confirms the rights of parents of schoolchildren to choose for their children one of the six options on offer. The course curricula must be checked beforehand by the central organisations concerned, based on their historical and cultural traditions and doctrines.
By order of the Russian Government no. 84-р of 28 January 2012, the course on “the foundations of religious cultures and secular ethics” is integrated within the compulsory part of the school teaching curriculum as from the fourth year of primary school (in Russia, school starts at year one for the youngest) for all schools in Russia with effect from the 2012-2013 school year.

According to the report by the Ministry of Education and Science, this new course involved 1,393,666 pupils during the school year 2013-2014. They are divided up as follows:
“Foundations of secular ethics” - 637,412 pupils (45.8%);
“Foundations of Orthodox culture” - 436,706 pupils (31.2%);
"Foundations of the world’s great religions" - 262,473 pupils (18.8%);
“Foundations of Muslim culture” - 51,221 pupils (3.7%);
“Foundations of Buddhist culture” - 5,231 pupils (0.4%);
“Foundations of Jewish culture” - 161 pupils (0.1%);

August 2014

D 4 September 2014    AMikhaïl Chakhov

Theology in higher education

Article 87 of Law 273-FZ of 29 December 2012 on education in the Russian Federation also includes provisions regarding theology teaching in higher education organisations* and religious (...)

Article 87 of Law 273-FZ of 29 December 2012 on education in the Russian Federation also includes provisions regarding theology teaching in higher education organisations* and religious educational institutions (seminaries, etc.).

Higher education in Russia includes ’theology’ as a specialist subject with an official national curriculum adopted by order of the Ministry of Education on 2 March 2000. Through this specialism, it is possible to teach religious facts, history and doctrines without seeking to convert students to a religion or train them as religious ministers. The official national curriculum also offers university degrees in ’religious studies’ (religiovedenie) – (see section on ’Russia/Teaching and research’).
Teaching of Orthodox or Muslim doctrine as part of university courses in ’theology’ is considered to be secular in nature, while in the context of a seminar aimed at preparing future priests it is classified as religious education. The difference between ’secular theology’ and ’religious theology’ is highlighted by the difference between the two terms in Russian – the Greek-derived word theologia is used to refer to the university course of ’theology’ while the Russian equivalent bogoslovié (bog=theos, slovo=logos) is used to describe the course taught in seminaries. While these two words were previously regarded as synonyms, attempts are now being made to highlight the difference between them – one being secular and the other religious.
The results of theology teaching in public higher education organisations have been mixed. In Russia, theology has traditionally thrived in professional religious education institutions. Even under the Russian Empire, the subject was not taught in secular universities. At present, those who study ’theology’ at university do not have equivalent status to seminary students as they receive no religious training and are, therefore, unable to give religious services. Despite this, some secular experts specialising in religion perceive academic theology as disguised bogoslovié.
Under paragraphs 5 and 6 of Article 87 of the Russian Federation Education Act, professors delivering theology courses in universities must obtain a recommendation from the appropriate central religious organisation. These religious organisations are also involved in preparing courses and writing curricula and textbooks for academic theology as well as those relating to the ’foundations of religious cultures and secular ethics’.
In Russia, degrees from religious higher education institutions are not recognised as being equivalent to degrees issued by public higher education organisations. Degrees and ranks bestowed by religious universities are only valid for the relevant faith.
Federal Law 14-FZ of 28 February 2008 furthermore supplemented Article 19 of the law of 1997 on freedom of conscience and religious affiliations by stating that it is possible to teach secular disciplines within the scope of religious education curricula. Based on an official certification (’attestation’) from the Ministry of Education and Science, religious higher education institutions can acquire the right to also deliver higher education qualifications recognised by the state.
Consequently, seminarians can obtain two qualifications – one from a religious higher education (bogoslovié) institution, which is only valid within the Church and, at the same time as this ecclesiastical qualification, an academic qualification in history, philosophy, etc. provided of course that they have passed the two courses. In reality, seminaries and Orthodox academies generally opt to obtain official certification for the specialist subject of ’theology’ (academic) or ’religious studies’ as its content coincides with ecclesiastical courses on several points, thus avoiding doubling students’ workload.
Article 87 Paragraph 9 of the above law confirms the right of central religious authorities to introduce higher education curricula that are compliant with state education guidelines in religious education institutions.
Under paragraph 10 of this article, religious organisations retain internal control over the content of religious education curricula and training of religious ministers in religious education institutions.
According to official data, religious education organisations were split as follows on 1 April 2014: 56 Russian Orthodox, 109 Muslim, and 27 Protestant.

* The title ‘higher education organisations’ now replaces the previous legal title of ’higher education institution’ as concerns the universities.

D 4 September 2014    AMikhaïl Chakhov

Secular state education and denominational institutions

According to Article 3 of the Education Law of the Russian Federation of 29 December 2012, no. 273-FZ, the secular nature of teaching in state and local schools is one of the fundamental (...)

According to Article 3 of the Education Law of the Russian Federation of 29 December 2012, no. 273-FZ, the secular nature of teaching in state and local schools is one of the fundamental principles of state policy and of legal regulation in the education domain.

According to Article 5 §§ 1-2 of the 1997 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations, everyone is entitled to the religious education of their choice, individually or collectively. Educating and training children is undertaken by parents or guardians, taking into account a child’s right to freedom of conscience.
Article 5 § 3 of the 1997 Law provides for religious organisations to create educational institutions in accordance with their statutes and the laws of the Russian Federation. Private religious schools, gymnasium schools and high schools have been established as a result of this legislative provision. Pupils receive compulsory general education there, as well as religious instruction. Their total number is small: there are about 200 private schools and Orthodox gymnasium schools.
Central religious organisations have the exclusive right to create denominational education institutions to train ministers of the faith and other religious personnel (Article 19 of the 1997 Law, as amended in 2013). Formerly, the term used in the law was “professional religious educational establishments”). Organisations for spiritual education must be registered as religious organisations and receive state authorisation for their educational activity.

Federal Law no. 14-FZ of 28 February 2008 supplemented Article 19 of the 1997 Law, stating that it is possible to arrange the teaching of secular subjects within the curricula of denominational educational institutes. As a result, students in seminaries will be able to obtain two degrees: the diploma in higher religious education, which only has value within the Church, and a secular diploma in law, engineering, history etc. (also see the article below “Theology in Higher Education”).

D 18 September 2014    AMikhaïl Chakhov

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