Values, Human Rights and Religious Education

Contested Grounds

by Jeff Astley (Volume editor) Leslie J. Francis (Volume editor) David W. Lankshear (Volume editor)
©2018 Edited Collection XVI, 380 Pages
Series: Religion, Education and Values, Volume 14


This volume brings together three key and contested areas facing educationalists within schools, colleges and universities: values education, religious education and human rights education. Challenges and opportunities within each of these three areas may be illuminated and explored by bringing them into creative dialogue.
These core constructs were explored in a recent seminar convened by the International Seminar on Religious Education and Values, the leading international association for religious educators and values educators across the world. This volume presents twenty-one key contributions made to the seminar, spanning both conceptual and empirical perspectives and rooted in both religious and secular traditions. It draws together a unique collection of international perspectives on the interlocking themes of values, human rights and religious education.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword (Julian Stern)
  • Introduction (Jeff Astley)
  • 1. Pursuing Racial Justice in the US: What Religious Educators Need to Learn from the #BlackLivesMatter Movement (Mary E. Hess)
  • 2. Values and Existential Understandings as Parts of Students’ Ethical Competence (Christina Osbeck)
  • 3. The Contribution of Interreligious Initiatives to Human Rights Education (Johannes Lähnemann)
  • 4. The Council of Europe, Human Rights, and Education about Religions and other Worldviews (Robert Jackson)
  • 5. Values, Human Rights, and Religious Education: A Critical Analysis (L. Philip Barnes)
  • 6. The Case for Dialogical Learning as a Signature Pedagogy of Religious Education (James Nelson)
  • 7. The Development of Human Rights within Catholic Social Teaching (Peta Goldburg)
  • 8. Values, Human Rights, and Catholic Religious Education (Mario O. D’Souza CSB)
  • 9. Human Rights Education and Religious Education: A Catholic Perspective (Bernhard Grümme)
  • 10. The Impact of Human Rights Discourses on the Multifaith Space of South African Higher Education (Marilyn Naidoo)
  • 11. Religious Education Between Theology and Religious Studies (Manfred L. Pirner)
  • 12. Worldviews, Ethics, and Ecology: ‘Sustainability’ as a Context for Religious Education (Bruce Grelle)
  • 13. Issues and Dilemmas in Human Rights and Religious Education: A Northern Ireland Perspective (Norman Richardson)
  • 14. Young Students’ Memories and Reflections on the July 22, 2011 Terror Attacks in Norway (Kerstin von Brömssen)
  • 15. Human Rights Education in Religious Education: A Theological Perspective (Thomas Schlag)
  • 16. A Social Theory Framework for Relating Human Rights and Religious Education (Manfred L. Pirner)
  • 17. Human Dignity and Human Rights: A Plea for Their Place and Importance in Values Education (Karin Sporre)
  • 18. An Islamic Worldview: A Worldview Framework Approach to Religion in a Modern, Secular, Democratic State (John Valk / Mualla Selçuk)
  • 19. Spirituality and Humanistic Values among Graduates of State Modern-Orthodox, State Modern Ultra-Orthodox, and Traditional Ultra-Orthodox High Schools in Israel (Yaacov J. Katz)
  • 20. Teaching Human Rights and Judaism: Are they Compatible? (Zehavit Gross)
  • 21. Human Rights and Religious Education: Toward a Recovery of Humanism in Pedagogy (Hanan A. Alexander)
  • Contributors
  • Index of Names
  • Index of Subjects
  • Series index

← x | xi →



In politics, education, and religion, as in all human affairs, our values are matters of fundamental concern, overriding most other motivations for our behaviour and other grounds for its justification. Concern for human values and human rights should therefore be central to the deliberations of societies at various levels, but especially on a national and international scale. It is not surprising, then, that these topics currently provide contested grounds for debate about what to teach and how learning should be facilitated in moral and religious education.

Some of these issues were addressed from the perspective of both religious and secular education at the 20th session of ISREV, the International Seminar on Religious Education and Values, held in Chicago in 2016. The 21 original essays brought together in this book were first framed in these discussions, by authors from across the globe who represent a wide variety of backgrounds, contexts, and experience, as well as of pedagogical, philosophical, religious, and theological viewpoints. The editors are pleased to have played a part in bringing together the diverse arguments and positions of these contributors, and their sources of historical information, empirical data, and practical experience. They hope that this book will provide a rich resource for further reflection and research in the fields of education in religion and values, and even more widely.

In the book’s opening essay, Mary E. Hess argues that both the practice of and advocacy for human rights in relation to religious education has much to learn from recent experiences in the United States with the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The #BLM hashtag, she contends, has made it possible to weave direct and personal reports into a meta-narrative about justice and the destructive dynamics of police brutality and mass incarceration, which has both credibility (authenticity, authority) and power (agency) in global settings. ← xi | xii →

In Chapter 2, Christina Osbeck presents the Swedish EthiCo research project, and summarizes its preliminary results concerning the conceptions of ethical competence of 15-year-old students, identified from a national test task and group interviews. One central finding is that the students show wider conceptions of ethical competence than does the Swedish curriculum. These include dealing with values and possessing rich existential understandings, which the analytical and argument-directed curriculum does not acknowledge. One central ethical issue for the students is the process of inclusion and exclusion among peers in school.

In Chapter 3, Johannes Lähnemann takes the international movement Religions for Peace as an example of the potential of religious communities to cooperate in human rights education. Freedom, equality, and dignity are categories within human rights which correspond to elements in the religions and to which they can offer specific contributions. The author describes one outstanding project, the Global Ethic Foundation (initiated by Hans Küng), which includes diverse pedagogical enterprises.

Chapter 4 gives an account of the educational work of the Council of Europe, focusing on its publications relating to education about religions in relation to human rights. Robert Jackson pays particular attention in this essay to the Recommendation from the Committee of Ministers on the Dimension of Religions and Nonreligious Convictions within Intercultural Education, as well as to the book, Signposts, which responds to issues related to the theory and practice of education about religions and beliefs raised by ministries of education of European states concerning the implementation of this Recommendation.

Philip L. Barnes offers in Chapter 5 a critical analysis of those religious educators who frame the aims of religious education, and its justification for inclusion in and relevance to the school curriculum, in terms of its contribution to the creation of good citizens and the development both of positive values in pupils and of a commitment to human rights. The main purpose of his chapter is to identify and challenge both (a) insufficiently critical accounts of the relevance and importance of the role of human rights (and by extension the subsidiary concepts of values and citizenship) in religious education, and (b) exaggerated claims for what a form of ← xii | xiii → religious education structured in this way can contribute to the realization of liberal educational aims.

James Nelson’s essay makes the case that dialogical learning ought to be a ‘signature pedagogy’ of publicly-funded religious education, not only for reasons of pedagogical value, but also because a publicly-funded religious education in a liberal democracy must be capable of cultivating both autonomy and social cohesion. He argues in Chapter 6 that a dialogical approach that gives a priority to pedagogical encounters across difference should be mainstreamed, because it is well placed to garner support from those who see religious education in faith-based terms as well as those who adopt an inclusive approach in plural settings.

The next three essays focus on the development of human rights within Roman Catholic religious education. In Chapter 7, Peta Goldburg surveys the development of Catholic social teaching and its shift to a rights-based language in response to the rise of totalitarianism, highlighting in particular the way that its documents stress freedom, dignity, and the rights of people. Later papal encyclicals emphasize not only human rights but also civil, economic, and social rights.

In what was very sadly his last contribution to the debates of ISREV, the late Mario O. D’Souza concentrated in his essay (Chapter 8) on Catholic theology and pedagogy, as expressed in the deliverances of the Second Vatican Council and those of the (later) Congregation for Catholic Education. D’Souza claimed that these documents can leave one with little doubt as to ‘the place of values and human rights in the larger social and moral mission of the Church’s proclamation of the Word of God’. Within the curriculum of Catholic religious education, however, the upholding of both ‘needs to be more reflective’.

Bernhard Grümme’s argument in Chapter 9 contends that Catholic religious education can contribute to human rights education if it uses the category of hope in God and a theology that is based on the belief that human beings are created in the image of God, as well as an ethic of the option for others. In the context of a public religious education, human rights education belongs to the innermost core of religious education, where it joins together cognitive, affective, and action-orientated aims. ← xiii | xiv →

Marilyn Naidoo argues in Chapter 10 that post-apartheid South Africa’s religious pluralities could create difficulties in managing the relationships between its government, citizens, and religions. Exploring the case study of the role of Christian theology and religious studies in higher education, her chapter outlines the complexities of contemporary South African society in relation to the South Africa Constitution with its Bill of Rights, and secular and pluralistic tendencies. The debate over the academic viability of Christian theology in universities is considered in light of constitutional interpretations and how these impact on the rights of minority religions, in order to bring to the fore, the contradictory and contested character of the discourse on democracy and human rights.

In a response to the previous essay, Manfred L. Pirner, informed by his own German context, explores in Chapter 11 possible relationships between theology and religious studies as reference disciplines for religious education in public schooling. In his conclusion, the author advocates a complementary relationship between theology and religious studies, in which internal and external perspectives on religion are productively interrelated and thus facilitate the learning processes in religious education.

In Chapter 12, Bruce Grelle maintains that the concept of ‘sustainability’ calls attention to connections between the long-term wellbeing of our natural environment, our economies, and our societies. This chapter considers three themes that emerge when we link education about religious and secular worldviews to issues of sustainability: (a) the difference between quantitative and qualitative ways of thinking about human wellbeing; (b) our understanding of the relationship between our own self-interest and the interest of the ecosystem as a whole; and (c) viewing the crisis of sustainability as a crisis of character rather than as a series of practical problems that can be resolved by technology.

Norman Richardson concentrates in Chapter 13 on the situation in Northern Ireland. In such divided societies, human rights may be called on by some to justify the existence of separate faith schools, while others cite them to emphasize the importance of shared interreligious learning. Related issues include the appropriateness of ‘faith ethos’, the requirement of faith-based qualifications for teachers, and the ethics of confessional teaching in publicly-funded schools. Some of the contentious issues in ← xiv | xv → Northern Ireland are examined with particular reference to the Toledo Guiding Principles, and the option of a more inclusive approach to religious education is considered.

In Chapter 14, Kerstin von Brömssen discusses young students’ memories and reflections on the July 22, 2011 terror attacks in Norway. Research shows that current social issues are seldom discussed in school, at least if they contain controversial issues. As the content in this case is really ‘hot’, and concerns racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia, it is not surprising that these attacks have not been much discussed in a teaching and learning perspective.

Thomas Schlag argues in Chapter 15 for a theological perspective on the issue of human rights. The idea of human dignity opens up multifaceted perspectives on dealing with this issue that are both theological and pedagogical. Religious education, with its general framework of specific theological and anthropological determinations and distinctions, can form an important basis for broaching the human rights issue in the classroom, and for inspiring individual as well as group learning processes within the context of public education.

Manfred L. Pirner’s second essay in this collection offers a social theory framework for relating human rights and religious education. In Chapter 16, he argues that there is a striking parallel between the social philosophy discourse on how social cohesion in a pluralistic society is possible, and the philosophy of education discourse on how common goals and basic values for public education can be found. Drawing on John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas, Pirner contends that a pluralistic reading of human rights can provide a beneficial basis and framework for public education in general and for public religious education in particular.

Chapter 17 references the moral philosophers Harald Ofstad and Seyla Benhabib. Drawing on these resources, Karin Sporre discusses two seemingly distinct, but interlinked, discourses – human dignity and human rights – and the importance of their discussion in values education. Additional reference points are the new South African constitution and educational curricula from South Africa and Namibia.

John Valk and Mualla Selçuk collaborate in Chapter 18 to explore an Islamic worldview framework approach to religion in a modern, secular, ← xv | xvi → democratic state. They argue that a dynamic Islam is a vision of life and a way of life that is structurally and functionally similar to other worldviews yet is also distinctive. They also stress the conceptual and practical value of a worldview framework approach in religious education for raising new thoughts and ideas, providing deeper and richer understandings of Islam, and engaging students in exploring their own worldview as they explore those of others, especially the religious/secular other.

The final three essays in this volume discuss values and human rights from a Jewish and/or Israeli context. In the first of these (Chapter 19), Yaacov J. Katz presents an empirical study of spirituality and humanistic values among graduates of state-secular, state-religious, and ultra-orthodox schools in Israel. His research indicates that graduates of modern ultra-orthodox schools maintain a higher level of spirituality than graduates of the other schools, while graduates of state modern-orthodox schools exhibit a higher level of humanistic values than graduates of the other schools. A differential relationship exists between faith- and knowledge-based religious education and the enhancement of spirituality and humanistic values.

Zehavit Gross’ study in Chapter 20 analyses the theoretical-conceptual complexity of teaching human rights education within a Jewish religious school system. She suggests that the basic assumptions of religious education and human rights education can seem contradictory, unachievable, and irreconcilable; for the orientation of human rights is fundamentally anthropocentric, perceiving people as at the centre, while the theistic religious worldview is an orientation positioning God and God’s requirements on humanity at the centre. However, through reflexive, well-thought-out education (deriving from information, not ignorance) such an apparently unbridgeable divide can be narrowed.

In the final chapter (21), Hanan Alexander argues for a recovery of humanism in pedagogy that is grounded in the fundamental fact that human experience is inherently diverse. He concludes that genuine humanism in pedagogy lies in acknowledging that ‘human rights should not be imposed by those who claim to possess them or by those seeking to act in their behalf. Rather, rights ought to be received by those committed to caring for others out of a profound sense of responsibility.’ ← xvi | 1 →

← viii | ix →


The year 2018 is the 40th anniversary of the founding of the International Seminar on Religious Education and Values (ISREV, www.yorksj.ac.uk/isrev) by John M. Hull, the Australian academic based at the University of Birmingham, UK, and John H. Peatling, of the Character Research Project in Union College, Schenectady, New York. Every two years, a seminar takes place in a different country. ISREV has no religious basis or test, and now has more than 290 members in 34 countries specializing in religious education and values research in, for example, Protestant and Catholic Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, secular and non-religious contexts. The geographical and religious range of the research of ISREV is well represented in this volume, which is based on the seminar held in the University of Saint Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, Chicago in 2016.

Different chapters describe the more or less friendly relationships between and among human rights, religion, religious education, and values. Human rights discourses make us question the meaning of ‘human’ as well as the meaning of ‘rights’; and attempts to ignore religious positions on such issues would inevitably lead to impoverished debates. The authors are keen on going back in history, and looking forward with sustainability, balancing rights and responsibilities, and tackling current political and social movements – whether the challenges to and in the State of Israel, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, or religious tensions in Northern Ireland. Along with different religions – explored from ‘within’ and ‘beyond’ – the chapters give accounts of the religious, the interreligious, the multireligious, and the non-religious.

It is not just plurality that is described in this volume, but the rich complexity of life itself. Mario O. D’Souza, a good friend of ISREV, is eloquent on the ways in which ‘Christian faith is meant to embrace the whole of life, life as totality’. This perspective of Mario’s, himself both a priest and a distinguished philosopher, certainly characterized his own approach to life. It was with great shock that we heard, late in 2017, that he had died ← ix | x → after a short illness. As General Secretary of ISREV, I am glad to be in a position to commend this volume to all those interested in values, human rights, and religious education, in memory of my friend Mario.

Julian Stern

General Secretary of ISREV

← xvi | 1 →


1   Pursuing Racial Justice in the US: What Religious Educators Need to Learn from the #BlackLivesMatter Movement


Article 2 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights makes clear that racial injustice is prohibited, and Articles 18, 19, and 27 are particularly pointed in their articulation of rights related to communication practices.

Article 2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Article 18: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.

Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 27: Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits. Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary, or artistic production of which he is the author. ← 1 | 2 →

The argument of this chapter is that the practice of and advocacy for these rights in relation to religious education has much to learn from recent experiences in the US with the #BlackLivesMatter (hereafter, #BLM) movement.


The #BLM movement in the US provides a distinctive example of the ways in which the social construction of meaning, entangled with the rapid and diverse dynamics of digital media, heightens what anthropologist Michael Wesch has labelled ‘context collapse’ (Wesch, 2009, 19–34). Communication aimed at specific audiences is now accessible in utterly unexpected ways by audiences who previously might not have encountered it. Context collapse helps to describe the paradoxical reality that digital media can empower people to experience human freedom in ways never before possible, and yet at the same time promote a level of public performance of hatred never before imagined. We have seen both arise within and in response to the #BLM movement.


XVI, 380
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (December)
Religious education values human rights
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2018. XVI, 380 pp.

Biographical notes

Jeff Astley (Volume editor) Leslie J. Francis (Volume editor) David W. Lankshear (Volume editor)

Jeff Astley is the Alister Hardy Professor of Religious and Spiritual Experience within the Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit at the University of Warwick and Honorary Professor in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University. Leslie J. Francis is Professor of Religions and Education at the University of Warwick and Director of the Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit. David W. Lankshear is Research Fellow within the Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit at the University of Warwick and Visiting Professor at Glyndwr University.


Title: Values, Human Rights and Religious Education
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