Religion, Interreligious Learning and Education

Edited and revised by L. Philip Barnes, King’s College London

by Karlo Meyer (Author)
©2021 Monographs 330 Pages


How pupils can learn from different religions and the principles that guide pedagogy in this area are important issues that are common to religious education as practised in different places and locations. Such issues raise questions about the proper understanding of religion, of perspectivity and of how to identify and distinguish the aims and goals of religious education. The focus of this book is on inter-religious learning, i.e. learning beyond the boundaries of one religion, which is now an almost universally accepted practice in Western Europe.
"The book clarifies the foundations of inter-religious learning; it illuminates the relevant discussions and is oriented ... towards practice – and with meeting the complex requirements of interfaith learning. Karlo Meyer has written an important reference work in this field."
Prof. Dr. Thorsten Knauth, University of Duisburg-Essen

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of content
  • Figures
  • Tables
  • Introduction
  • Structure and aim for interreligious education
  • Interreligious learning as societal necessity
  • The term “interreligious learning”
  • I Basics – Religion and Hermeneutics
  • Chapter 1 The nature of “religion”
  • 1.1 Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism as umbrella terms
  • 1.2 Religious traditions as an unchanneled, meandering current
  • 1.3 The concept of “religion”
  • 1.3.1 A first approach: the identification of a religiously specific feature
  • 1.3.2 A second approach: the characteristic of transcendence and transcending
  • 1.3.3 A third approach: dimensions of religion
  • 1.4 Conclusions on the concept of religion
  • 1.4.1 The concept of religion as a socially-defined construct that changes within discourse
  • 1.4.2 A problem marker for “religion”
  • 1.5 Educational summary
  • Chapter 2 Hermeneutical considerations
  • 2.1 The conditionality of understanding
  • 2.2 A pertinent example of the pre-conditioning of our viewpoints: the prioritisation of spiritual patterns
  • 2.3 An academic example of the pre-conditioning of our viewpoints: Ricœur’s integration of the hermeneutic “schools”
  • 2.4 Beyond classic hermeneutics: exemplary frameworks, global and local references and unequal relationships among traditions
  • 2.4.1 The inextricable interaction of global and local references with regard to religious traditions
  • 2.4.2 Imbalance and dominance in an interreligious context
  • 2.5 Pedagogical conclusions and examples
  • 2.5.1 Example A: “Theologising” as a learning approach
  • 2.5.2 Example B: Paternalistic tendencies in school materials reflecting Western attitudes
  • 2.6 Educational summary
  • II The Relationship of Religious Traditions – Theology and Truth
  • Chapter 3 Systematising religious attitudes between traditions
  • 3.1 Complications in the issue of systematic determinations of relationships in theological statements
  • 3.2 The relationships among the major traditions
  • 3.2.1 Exclusivism, inclusivism, pluralism and the problems with these terms
  • 3.2.2 The story of the elephant and the blind men
  • 3.2.3 Lessing’s Ring Parable
  • 3.2.4 Proposals for differentiating the tripartite division of exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism
  • 3.3 Initial reflections with regard to teaching
  • 3.3.1 Experiences and consequences in relation to the implicit objectives of RE
  • 3.3.2 Experiences and consequences with regard to the positioning of teachers
  • 3.3.3 Experiences and consequences with regard to educational materials
  • 3.4 Beyond the tripartite division: reciprocity and the dynamics of dialogue
  • 3.4.1 Transformations and differentiations in dialogical positioning
  • 3.4.2 Experiences and conclusions from the perspective of RE
  • 3.5 A further step beyond the tripartite division: contexts and unfinished everyday thinking
  • 3.5.1 Henning Wrogemann’s view of the broader context, the diversity of levels, unfinishedness and humility
  • 3.5.2 Consequences for RE
  • 3.6 Educational summary
  • 3.7 Excursus: The question of truth from the perspective of RE
  • 3.7.1 Pupils’ intention with regard to the question of truth
  • 3.7.2 The level of teaching – options for RE
  • 3.7.3 Excursus summary
  • III Setting a Pedagogical Course – Four Modes of Approaching Religious Traditions
  • Chapter 4 A fourfold structural model of interreligious learning
  • 4.1 Preliminary considerations
  • 4.1.1 Basic principles: guidance of pupils, competencies and activation
  • 4.1.2 Developing a structural model
  • 4.1.3 Background: Situations for interreligious learning
  • 4.2 Four modes of approaching religious traditions
  • 4.2.1 A diagram of the four modes of approaching religious traditions
  • 4.2.2 Highlighting the modes through ideal profiles
  • 4.2.3 The limitations of each mode
  • 4.3 Modes, exemplary situations and competencies
  • 4.3.1 The connection with competencies and other exemplary situations
  • 4.3.2 Diagram of the structural form of interreligious learning
  • 4.3.3 Taking into account the spectrum of phenomena: the religious dimensions as tools
  • 4.3.4 Educational summary
  • Chapter 5 Blind spots in interreligious learning
  • 5.1 Blind spots
  • 5.1.1 The parable of the fisherman and the net
  • 5.1.2 A first example of blind spots: the nature of faith in school
  • 5.1.3 Religiosity and the context of use
  • 5.2 “Witness to transcendence” and teaching object as “ob-iectum” as terms of didactic positioning
  • 5.2.1 The character of “witnesses to transcendence”
  • 5.2.2 The perspective of teaching: partly inaccessible
  • 5.3 A further blind spot on another level: Dialogical criticism
  • 5.3.1 A brief positioning of our culture of criticism
  • 5.3.2 Critical interreligious learning according to Folkert Rickers
  • 5.3.3 Dealing with criticism in connection with the four modes
  • 5.3.4 Summarising criticism
  • 5.4 Educational summary
  • IV On the part of the pupils – experiences with unfamiliarity, ambiguity and the ability to shift perspectives
  • Chapter 6 Potential for development in dealing with experiences of ambiguity in relation to unfamiliar religious traditions
  • 6.1 Basic principles for dealing with unfamiliarity
  • 6.1.1 The example of a classroom situation involving the experience of unfamiliarity and ambiguity
  • 6.1.2 Basic principles of the term “unfamiliar”
  • 6.2 Learning to deal with religious unfamiliarity by fostering constructive ambiguity management
  • 6.2.1 Reducing complexity in the face of unfamiliarity and its problems
  • 6.2.2 Tolerance of complexity, contradiction and insolubility
  • 6.2.3 Development of the term “ambiguity tolerance”
  • 6.2.4 The spectrum from tolerance to intolerance and pedagogical objectives
  • 6.2.5 Transferring constructive ambiguity management to the ideal profiles of interreligious learning
  • 6.2.6 Excursus: Notes on the cognitive developments of dealing with experiences of ambiguity
  • 6.3 Dehumanisation as a possible consequence of ambiguity in-tolerance
  • 6.4 Summary of constructive ambiguity management from an educational perspective
  • Chapter 7 Developing the ability to frame “perspectives” in interconnected social contexts
  • 7.1 Fundamentals of “taking perspectives”
  • 7.1.1 An exemplary situation with different perspectives
  • 7.1.2 The concept of a shift of perspectives
  • 7.2 Developments in shifting perspectives
  • 7.2.1 Levels of development in coordinating social perspective taking
  • 7.2.2 Distribution of levels by age group
  • 7.3 Relevance to the four modes
  • 7.3.1 The shift in perspective in the mode of the researcher in religion
  • 7.3.2 The shift of perspective in the mode of the existential thinker
  • 7.3.3 The shift of perspective in the mode of the bridge manager
  • 7.3.4 The shift in perspective in the mode of the glocal actor
  • 7.4 Summary of shifting perspectives
  • 7.5 An expansion and three specific features
  • 7.5.1 Beyond school: opportunities for development in terms of dialogue – the styles of interreligious negotiation according to Heinz Streib
  • 7.5.2 Emotional resonance in connection with taking other’s perspectives as a motivator
  • 7.5.3 Inappropriate shifts of perspective: Intimate and constrained religiosity religiously conditioned limits of perspective taking and the limits of overcoming these
  • 7.5.4 The failure of taking others’ perspective as a pedagogical impulse
  • 7.6 Educational summary
  • V Consolidation: double individual referentiality
  • Chapter 8 An educational approach: the individual, its context and relational structures
  • 8.1 Merging the previous considerations
  • 8.1.1 Selected results in view of double individual referentiality
  • 8.1.2 First clarifications of double individual referentiality with its relationship and practice references
  • 8.1.3 On the historical background of this process
  • 8.1.4 Hermeneutic insights and double individual referentiality
  • 8.1.5 Theology, truth and double individual referentiality
  • 8.1.6 The four modes and double individual referentiality
  • 8.1.7 Supporting the character of teaching objects as ob-iecta with double individual referentiality
  • 8.1.8 The ambiguity, ‘markers of unfamiliarity’ and ‘gate openers’ in double individual referentiality
  • 8.1.9 On markers of unfamiliarity on a micro-level
  • 8.2 An argument against personalisation?
  • 8.2.1 Excursus: Production of material – embedded in local, dialogical contexts
  • 8.3 Two diagrams for the dynamics of learning and the structuring of materials in double individual referentiality
  • 8.3.1 An initial diagram on the dynamics of learning and teaching processes
  • 8.3.2 A second diagram about the structuring of material
  • 8.4 Exemplary impulses to accompany the four modes
  • 8.4.1 The joy of doing research
  • 8.4.2 The joy of arranging encounters with people and witnesses
  • 8.4.3 The joy of discussing existential questions, philosophising and theologising
  • 8.4.4 The joy of being involved locally
  • 8.5 Five questions for structuring interreligious learning – an accentuated, standard-setting summary for double individual referentiality
  • Acknowledgements
  • Appendix
  • Bibliography
  • Index of subjects
  • Index of names

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Religious education is taught in a wide variety of forms. In Europe, the form depends not only on the country but also on the region and in some cases on the individual type of school. In England, ‘community’ schools follow a world-religions approach and Church of England schools promote a rather liberal, open Christian approach including world-religions1, though there are also ‘faith based schools’ that retain a focus on religious nurture.2 In Switzerland every canton has its own model; if you change canton, there may be a different form of religious education. In the Netherlands, only 30 % of schools are run by the state and the remainder are private and often religious, church-run initiatives (30 % Protestant, 30 % Roman Catholic). Luxembourg has just abolished religious education in schools. Diversity abounds.

The topic of this book is not the various forms of religious education3 but rather the foundations that pertain to different kinds of interreligious learning, i.e. learning beyond the boundaries of one religion, which is now an almost universally accepted practice in Western Europe. How pupils can learn from different religions and the principles that guide pedagogy in this area are important issues that are common to religious education as practised in different places and locations. Such issues raise questions about the proper understanding of religion, of perspectivity, as well as the nature of the aims and goals of religious education.

It is assumed that much good teaching material and relevant theoretical perspectives have already been developed in this field, yet not all of the questions at the didactic level have been answered. This applies to concrete ←17 | 18→issues of how the competencies in this field could be better structured and how interreligious learning raises very practical questions, such as the extent to which it is a good idea or appropriate to criticise other traditions in the classroom.

The following chapters will primarily examine processes in connection with interreligious learning, not only to support what already exists but also to open up other directions for further work and research. This is the starting point of this book.

As the backbone of this project, three conceptual and didactic orientations will guide our discussion. They will be brought together in the eighth and final chapter:

Much more can be said about interreligious learning than is possible within the confines of three hundred pages. Some of this has already been said by colleagues working in the field. To repeat what is readily accessible elsewhere, including any general analysis of the social situation or an overview of empirical research4, is therefore unnecessary.

Structure and aim for interreligious education

The book is structured as follows:

Section I deals with the academic context and approaches to discipline-specific subjects such as understanding religions, hermeneutics, theological approaches and the question of truth (Chapters 13).

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At the beginning, I will ask which problems arise when trying to understand unfamiliar religious traditions. I will demonstrate the extent to which even terms such as “religion” or “Hinduism” are Western expressions that are inherently limited (Chapters 1 and 2).

This second step deals with the nature of relationships between religions that are not captured by the labels ‘exclusivity,’ ‘inclusivity’ and ‘pluralism’ (Chapter 3). Critical and pedagogical matters are touched upon when pupils consider the question of what is “true” (Chapter 3.7).

In section II, I will present suggestions for and forms of didactic structuring. First, I describe four “modes” of teaching (Chapter 4). Second, I characterise problems of personal and material “witnesses” connected with experiences of transcendence, which can only partly be understood in the classroom (Chapter 5).

I will look at education in the classroom and suggest four structural targets with regard to which clearly formulated accents for teaching can be constructed. Developing opportunities to engage pupils will be incorporated in this fourfold structure (Chapter 4).

A second pedagogical position point has to do with the handling of religious phenomena in the classroom that, in their referential contexts, aim at transcendence and worship – a goal that is not shared by state schools. In the classroom, religious phenomena are transformed into learning material but still testify to experiences of and ways of dealing with transcendence. This transformation and its implications for learning are often overlooked pedagogically (Chapter 5).

Section III deals with two opportunities for pupils’ development that are particularly relevant to interreligious learning – these are ‘tolerance of ambiguity’ and the ability to shift social perspectives (Chapters 67).

Chapter 6 deals with the ability to handle the dynamics of unfamiliarity and proximity as well as experiences of ambiguity when dealing with religious issues. Chapter 7 examines the ability to shift perspectives and to comprehend networks of perspectives that can be better understood with increasing maturity of analysis.

Tolerance for ambiguity includes the acceptance of ideas, people or living practices that are different and new, as well as things that cannot quite be explained. Pupils must learn to handle ambiguity and be able to appreciate both experiences of familiarity and unfamiliarity: understanding and partial understanding co-exist. This process makes it possible to do justice to unfamiliar religious phenomena and to cope with what is perceived as ‘other’.

When speaking of the shift of social perspectives, what is meant is the ability to observe the reciprocal conditionality of the perception of self and others and ←19 | 20→the ability, with increasing maturity, to control this interaction even within networks. Age-related developments can be seen here.

Section IV summarises results of the former chapters and introduces a theoretical concept for fundamental methodological issues (Chapter 8).

The final chapter on double individual referentiality in interreligious learning develops a concrete suggestion for presenting religious traditions in a way that is oriented toward the individual. The various insights from the previous chapters with regard to the dynamics of unfamiliar religious topics and the individual variations will be brought together and combined with concrete, methodological approaches.

As background for the distinctions and concepts hereafter, I formulate the following aim:

The aim for interreligious education is that pupils leave school with the ability and willingness to reflect and behave constructively in areas in which religious traditions intersect. This places the focus on the activity and independence of the learner and can be justified by diverse interpretations of motivation theory5 or academic debates on competence.6 This aim may be achieved in different fields. I see four possible, specific directions in anticipation of the subsequent chapters:

1) Students actively investigating religious issues7 that are unfamiliar to them. This includes the desire and the ability to become informed about religious questions in an appropriate and detailed way, as well as the discipline-specific competent pursuit of new insights on religious issues in their personal environment.

2) Students inspired by the fundamental, ultimate questions of life that are raised in the religious traditions; approaching both traditions and the questions they raise narratively, ritualistically or discursively and encouraging the students to develop their own positions on existential issues.

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3) Students becoming mediators between the traditions. Later I will introduce the concept of a bridge manager.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (January)
interfaith education comparative religion world religions religious studies interreligiöses Lernen Bildung Religionen Religionspädagogik Religionsdialog Fachdidaktik Religion Weltreligionen
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 330 pp., 13 fig. col., 1 fig. b/w., 8 tables.

Biographical notes

Karlo Meyer (Author)

Karlo Meyer is Chair and Professor of Religious Education at the University of Saarland, Germany and currently Chairperson of the Society for Academic Religious Education (Germany, Austria and Switzerland). He studied theology at the University of Tübingen and Göttingen and education at the University of Birmingham, UK, under Professor John Hull, before returning to Göttingen to complete his doctorate on a comparison between German and English multifaith RE. He gained his post-doctoral ‘Habilitation’ degree in Religious Education and Practical Theology from the University of Vienna, Austria. Professor Meyer has also taught at the University of Bremen.


Title: Religion, Interreligious Learning and Education