Think Tank 2021 "Religious education and non-denominationalism"

Gruppenfoto Think Tank 2021
© Katja Ossiander

What should religious education look like in the future? This is what 24 experts from Germany and Austria discussed at the KU on 7 and 8 October.

Prof. Dr. Ulrich Kropač (KU Eichstätt-Ingolstadt) together with Prof. Dr. Mirjam Schambeck sf (ALU Freiburg) had invited to a professional exchange in Eichstätt. The Think Tank set itself the task of analyzing the effects and challenges of growing non-denominationalism for the field of religious education in the school context and developing possible future scenarios.
The proportion of people in Germany who do not belong to any denomination or religion has risen sharply in recent decades. While the difference between East and West is still clearly discernible at present, the trend is toward a leveling out with a steady increase in non-denominationalism nationwide. As a result, denominationally oriented religious education is coming under pressure because, on the one hand, its student body is shrinking and, on the other hand, their denominational commitment is dwindling. This raises questions: Can traditional denominational religious education be sustained in the long term? How should it change? Should religion be given greater consideration in the alternative subject of ethics or philosophy classes - but then only in the sense of religious studies?
The expert conference was composed of scholars who are qualified in the subject of religious education/didactics of religious education or in the subject of didactics of ethics or philosophy teaching. The topic of non-denominationalism was reflected from the perspectives of Catholic, Protestant and Islamic religious education; the different (non-)religious contexts from East and West Germany were also included in the discussion.
To start the Think Tank, the problem horizon was first opened. What is the current situation of non-denominational students in religious education? Prof. Dr. Harald Schwillus (University of Halle) and Prof. Dr. Dr. Joachim Willems (University of Oldenburg) presented current facts and figures comparing East and West Germany and their consequences for religious education in schools. Both were able to show that non-denominationalism has become a hot topic whose scientific reflection and treatment is only in its infancy. The relevance of the topic was underlined by Prof. Dr. Mirjam Schambeck sf, who gave an insight into empirical research on non-denominationalism in the context of religious education on the basis of exemplary analyses of a teaching research project she had conducted on non-denominational pupils.
The explosive nature of the growing trend of non-denominational students raises the question of what teaching-related perspectives result from this for the two school subjects religion and ethics. On this subject, Akad. Dir. Klaus König (KU Eichstätt-Ingolstadt), Prof. Dr. Georg Wagensommer (EH Freiburg), Prof. Dr. Ulrich Kropač and Prof. Dr. Jan Woppowa (University of Pa-derborn) first took a look at religious education. They made various suggestions as to how the fact that students are non-denominational can be taken into account in the horizon of religious education in schools. In addition, Dr. Ulrich Vogel (University of Marburg) and Prof. Dr. René Torkler (KU Eichstätt-Ingolstadt) took a look at ethics education and reflected on its possibilities to do justice to the students in their changed denominational and religious commitment. The perspective on both subjects - religion and ethics - clearly showed that both have a wide range of potential possibilities. At the same time, limits were marked due to legal requirements, organizational structures and open questions regarding content.
In addition to the question of the content of religious education (RU) and ethics education (ethics) in the horizon of growing non-denominationalism, the problem of how to react to this in terms of school and church policy was also discussed. Dr. Bernadette Schwarz-Boenneke (Archbishopric General of Cologne) and Dr. Winfried Verburg (Bishopric General of Osnabrück) reflected on possibilities and necessities from the perspective of church and state. Prof. Dr. Sabine Pemsel-Maier (PH Freiburg) referred to the new or changed demands on religious education teachers resulting from a heterogeneous denominational or religious affiliation of the students.
A highlight of the event was the evening talk with Prof. Dr. Detlef Pollack (University of Münster), one of the leading sociologists of religion in Germany. He drew a differentiated picture of the relationship between religion and secularity by shedding light on the question "What a secular society does (not) need from the churches?".

The second day of the think tank began with a definition of the relationship between the RU and ethics and the question of what both - in the problem horizon of non-denominationalism - could learn from each other. Dr. Michael Kühnlein (University of Frankfurt a. M.) and Prof. Dr. Bernd Schröder (University of Göttingen) offered many opportunities for development, which result from a self-critical perspective on one's own subject and an appreciative view of the other. Prof. Dr. Katrin Bederna (PH Ludwigsburg) underlined the interdependence of religious education and ethics education by presenting theses on the further development of both subjects for discussion.
Finally, the participants considered future perspectives for the teaching of religion and ethics on the horizon of growing non-denominationalism. Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Weirer (University of Graz), Prof. Dr. Frank Lütze (University of Leipzig) and Prof. Dr. Fahimah Ulfat (University of Tübingen) provided interesting impulses by introducing differentiated perspectives on the situation in East and West and on the religious self-image of Muslim students into the discussion. Prof. Dr. Matthias Gronover (University of Tübingen) and Prof. Dr. Jan Woppowa concluded the expert colloquium and gave an outlook on the need for further work.  
The event was deliberately conceived as a think tank. In short impulses and state-ments, many perspectives of a large number of speakers could be discussed. The thematic blocks were framed by alternating moderations and discussions. The professional exchange clearly showed that deconfessionalization for religious education in schools is an outstanding topic for the future that needs to be followed closely and researched further. The conference was the kick-off event for a research project of the two initiators Kropač and Schambeck, which will be dedicated to the study of the field in the coming years.

To further impressions of the Think Tank

To the Think Tank flyer

To the newspaper report in the Eichstätter Kurier