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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versión On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versión impresa ISSN 0041-4751

Resumen

WOLHUTER, Charl  y  VAN DER WALT, Hannes. Current demographic, political and religious global and educational tendencies for the promotion of interreligious tolerance. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2018, vol.58, n.1, pp.56-76. ISSN 2224-7912.  http://dx.doi.org/10.17159/2224-7912/2018/v58n1a4.

A variety of religiously inspired anti-social acts have recently been recorded worldwide and also in South Africa as such. Such acts attest to the fact that religion has remained a global bone of contention, and that efforts have to be made to address this problem, particularly in as far as it concerns schools and the place of religion in education systems. Organised education is generally grasped at as an instrument for the eradication of religiously intolerant behaviour and for the recognition of religious differences, thereby contributing to world peace (cf. policy documents issued by UNESCO). In theory, the problem can be alleviated through the promotion of an attitude of inter-religiosity and religious tolerance, among others, through education. However, before effort in this regard can be contemplated, one has to gain an understanding of the demographics of the world today, of the political situation and particularly of the religious nature and composition of the current world population. This background knowledge enables one to reflect on the reasons for religiously inspired intolerance among individuals and among the communities they belong to, and particularly about the role of schools and education in the amelioration of the problem. In the research reported in this article, the social space and ethical action or function theory was employed as theoretical lens for examining education and education systems in the modern world, including how the demographic and other characteristics of the world are impacting on education and the systems in which it is provided, more particularly how the most recent developments have impacted the provision of religion education in schools. The theory posits that education and education systems respectively occupy unique social niches where people interact with one another for the purpose of realising commonly shared ideals and purposes. Each social system such as a school or an education system has a unique function in the world and should strive at executing that function effectively in conjunction and cooperation with all other systems in its life-world. This implies interaction between education (systems) and the prevailing demographics, the religious compositions of communities as well as political and economic conditions. Such interactions should furthermore be characterised by respect for the autonomies of the respective cooperating institutions such as parents, the state and religious groups. Interaction is in fact unavoidable because of the interwovenness of social groups: a particular child could at the same time be learner in a school, a member of a family, a member of the church and a citizen of the state. It is, inter alia, because of misunderstandings regarding the differences between the mandates of the different societal relationships that boundary trespassing occurs, for example in the form of abusing schools for non-educational purposes. Schools are teaching-learning institutions and should not be abused for any other, including religious, purposes. At the same time, schools operate in a world characterised by religious diversity. The accommodation of religious and other forms of diversity should be ethically inspired; in other words, each person should be treated in ways that one would prefer oneself to be treated by others. It follows that interreligious tolerance and coexistence should be the norm in a community where the ethical principle encapsulated in the social space and ethical function or action theory is applied. Education and education systems, as the theory furthermore suggests, are the outcomes of contextual social forces in the world, among others, the geography, demography, economy, socio-cultural composition, political and religious-life conceptual tendencies. Education systems form the social spaces in which all these forces are joined together in a "system-atic" unit. This unit, the social system, can be examined from various angles: a system perspective, a contextual perspective and a comparative perspective. Analyses based on these perspectives reveal that education and education systems are constantly changing as a result of the various social forces impacting on them. A substantial part of the article is devoted to a discussion of such forces, as will now be briefly summarised. • The world has since the 1950s undergone substantial population growth, from more than two billion to the present more than seven billion. Around 90 million people are added to the population annually, by far the most in the developing countries. • People have become more mobile in recent years as a result of the communication and transport revolution. The number of immigrants has also increased, to the extent that one in every 31.6 people in the world can nowadays be regarded as an international migrant. The migrations reveal two major patterns: from the south to the north, and from the east to the west. This is a result of forces pushing people away from (weak economic conditions) and forces pulling people towards other parts of the world (better living conditions and job opportunities). • Because of migrations, communities have become more heterogeneous and religiously diverse. Communities have as a result become more complex in that shifts in value patterns have occurred. A new religious continuum with infinite shades has replaced the previously limited number of clear-cut categories. The previously rigid geographical patterns of religions have dissipated and an individualisation of religious beliefs has been occurring. Religion has nevertheless retained a persistently strong presence in societies worldwide and remains a significant factor in social dynamics. • Another development is the general acceptance and internationalisation of the doctrine of human rights. Most of the documents that embody this doctrine contain provisions regarding the right to education, the right to freedom of choice, including of religion. Increased migration has brought renewed attention to all the different rights contained in the doctrine of human rights, particularly the demand that newcomers should be afforded the same religious rights as the current citizens of a state. • The rise of communication and information technology and of globalisation has contributed to the decline of the power of nation states. People have gained so much power at grassroots level that they have in the recent past contributed to the collapse of governments (e.g. the recent Egyptian revolution inspired by Facebook inscriptions). Theocratie governments /rulers have traditionally used (and abused) religion by imposing a particular religion on upcoming generations, on schools and even communities and states, thereby maintaining a powerful grip on society. This approach has been relinquished since the middle of the twentieth century. The growing respect for human rights and religious diversity has brought an end to the hegemony of a ruling class. This has had several repercussions in the religious domain. Some countries opted for a secularist approach that entailed the total banning of religion from the public domain and hence from all public schools. Other countries opted for widening the range of religions about which learners could learn in school. Other approaches gradually also took shape, for instance integrative religion education for the purpose of acquainting the learners with as many religions as possible to help them function in a multi-cultural and multi-religious social environment and to learn to be tolerant towards those with a different religious background and commitment. This embodied a shift away from a confessional approach, i.e. the teaching of youngsters to make them adherents of a single religion. In addition to these approaches, researchers have identified four other basic approaches to religion: exlusivism and inclusivism, with pluralism and life conceptual coexistence on the continuum between these two extremes. Exclusivism is rejected by experts in the field since it does not reckon with religious diversity. Inclusivism is in turn regarded as over-optimistic; interreligious differences, conflict and the rise of individualism are so rife in the world that inclusivism can hardly be contemplated. They are also sceptical about pluralism because it fails to establish firm religious roots in children. Secularism, as the banning of all religion from the public domain, is also met with scepticism because children need religious commitment in their lives to become fully-fledged mature individuals. The banning of religion from schools and the public domain is also not consonant with the tenets of the doctrine of human rights. To allow learners a choice among only a few (top-down prescribed) religions in schools also seems questionable in that it appears too narrow and too static; it does not take into account the huge diversity and dynamic nature of religions in the world, and of the growing multi-religious nature of modern populations. Integrative religion education, in turn, could receive favourable consideration if offered in conjunction with confessional religion education. Integrative religion education is unacceptable, however, if offered instead of confessional religion education. Rejection of this option is based on the fact that integrative religion education can only deal with the superficial features of religions and cannot help learners decide on a religion that they could truly commit to. Of all the available approaches to religion in education available in the contexts of the different education systems worldwide, and of the dynamics of the modern world (notably its demographics as a result of mass migrations and increased mixes of religions), it seems best to allow parents and school communities to exercise a choice regarding the religion or the mix of religions to which they wish to expose the learners in their school. The ethos and confessional orientation of the school should reflect the religious preferences of the parents. This approach seems to be the most democratic and feasible in current conditions. This conclusion chimes with the perspectives flowing from the social space and ethical action or function theory. A school is a local entity or societal relationship that occupies a specific space in our life-world. It is employed by a particular community (parents, the wider community, learners and so on) and performs a unique function in society. While the central government and other higher authorities may promulgate broad policy guidelines, also regarding religion in / and education, it should be left to the school community to decide for itself about the religious character of the school. In view of the discussion above, it would be most prudent for governments to prescribe an approach of life-conceptual coexistence as general guideline for school communities and to expect each school community to express its own unique interpretation of the guideline. This would be the most appropriate approach in countries characterised by multi-culturalism and multi-religionism and would also be an apt expression of the ethical demands expounded by the theory in that it expresses care for the interests of the "other" (i.e. adherents of all religions that differ from one's own).

Palabras clave : demographics; democratisation; religion; human rights; multi-cultural societies; education; social space and ethical function or action theory.

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