Up till the sixties I grew up in a Dutch Reformed subculture and in a completely pillarized, that is segregated setting from the perspective of religion and worldview. During the last years of secondary school, sixteen to eighteen years old and in the midst of the roaring sixties, all Protestant secondary schools had opened their admittance policy for students. It was enough if parents and students respected the particular religious identity of a school. Teachers were allowed to doubt openly in class some of the Christian doctrines and spoke frankly about their membership of non-Christian political parties.
Religious and worldview difference and diversity entered into my world. Next to that I became a member of a peace movement and a Third World movement and joined forces there with all kinds of Christians: Mennonites, Lutherans, Remonstrants, and Roman Catholics, but also with humanists, atheists, agnostics, pacifists, and communists.
Then I realized and experienced for the first time in my life that besides being part of our own particular organization, community, or church we also need to cross our borders and join forces in the social and the public domain for a better, that is, a more humane world, on the basis of our different and at some points even conflicting worldviews. However, there was also the question: “Could I take such a broader perspective without alienating gradually from ‘my own’ group?’ This experience and insight have become exemplary for me: being a member of a particular organization, group, or community should strengthen the identity of persons and should support them in making them ready and prepared for living, working, and learning together with these “others” in the social and public domain instead of locking them in. These “others” should no longer be perceived as a threat, but as a colourful enrichment.
As an expert on religion and worldview education, I participate together with my colleague Gerdien Bertram-Troost from my university in an European, so-called Erasmus+-project on “Peace Education”. This project is organized by the Protestant Church of Germany (EKD) and funded by the European Union. The experts work together with teachers and students from several secondary schools in West-European and East-European countries. (See for information https://www.gpenreformation.net/networkactivities/peace-education-period/schoolcope/)
The experts have provided knowledge, insights and skills in dealing with digital media, and on peace education and religious education. With the help also from their teachers the students are developing Actionbound trajectories through which they lead students from the other schools along remarkable places in respect to peace and war, and possibly also including religious and worldview perspectives in the Actionbound (see for more on the use of Actionbound https://en.actionbound.com/stepbystep).
One of the East-European groups had already chosen a very interesting site related to the Second World War, more specifically focusing on the impact of the Holocaust in their city. Due to the pandemic most of the time of the project we were meeting via ZOOM. My colleague and I reacted very enthusiastically on their work. However, we had only one question: “Were there also religious aspects related to their chosen site?” Complete silence. Thus, we suggested that it might have been the case that clashes between Jewish believers with for example Roman Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox believers could have had influences as well. Of course, next to ethnic, cultural, political and historical aspects.
Understanding at present parts of a particular history, it is of great importance that students (but also adults) are able to develop their religious literacy and their religious sensitivity in the broad sense. How could we otherwise, for example really understand what at the moment is going on in the war between Russia and Ukraine?
Based on the astonishing and sometimes even depressing developments which happen on a global scale today (wars, climate changes, pollution, discriminations, genocide, et cetera), there is even more need in the future to teach and learn to live ethnically, culturally, religiously and qua gender peacefully together in the world. This, in my view, is a pedagogical, religious, political, societal and as well as global necessity, and families, schools and societies can play a major and positive role here. Religious literacy needs to be an indispensable link in all these domains.
Dr. Siebren Miedema, Professor Emeritus in Religious Education in the Faculty of Religion and Theology and Professor Emeritus in Educational Foundations in the Faulty of Behavioral and Movement Sciences at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and CCRL Board Member
To read other ways to use religious literacy, check out other Thought Corner contributions here: https://ccrl-clrc.ca/religious-literacy-resources/thought-corner/