Religious Training and Education

Religious Training and Education


the system of professional preparation for ministers of religious cults, theologians, and teachers of theology in religious educational institutions, as well as the system for the religious instruction of the population.

Churches and missionaries use religious training and education to spread their religion among unbelievers and members of other faiths and to gain proselytes. The origin and development of religious training and education are linked with the history of the rise of religion in the ancient states of the East (Babylon, Egypt) and with the increasing complexity of theological systems, which could not be known and understood without special training for priests and systematic interpretation of religious doctrine for the people. In Buddhism, which emerged in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C., religious instruction of the people was conducted in monastic schools. In Christianity (first century A.D.) theology was studied in the catechetical and general education schools of Alexandria (Egypt), Jerusalem, Rome, and other cities of the Roman Empire and Byzantium.

Religious education and training continued to develop in the epoch of feudalism, when the church had a monopoly on education, which assumed a predominantly theological character. Theology was the principal subject in the secular schools, including the schools of higher learning founded during the Middle Ages. With the development of secular schools during the Reformation (first half of the 16th century) and in the wake of the bourgeois revolutions, religious training and education were, to some degree, separated from the cultural and intellectual life of society. However, even today, professional training for the clergy and for specialists in theology, as well as religious instruction for the population, is available in many countries.

A fundamental aspect of religious training and education is the study of sacred, canonical books: in Buddhism, the Tipitaka; in Islam, the Koran; in Christianity, the Bible; and in Judaism, the Old Testament and the Talmud. The sacred books contain the teachings of god or the founder of a religion (Yah-weh, Buddha, Jesus Christ, and Muhammad, for example) and the teachings of their successors or disciples (apostles) or the prophets. In addition, the sacred books expound the dogmas of a faith, as elaborated and confirmed by the highest church authorities (for example, councils or papal encyclicals).

In contemporary class antagonistic societies, in which religion is an important part of the ideology, religious training and education are closely connected with the entire structure of public education. In many subdivisions of the educational system, academic programs include religious instruction. Moreover, the churches have their own powerful networks of educational institutions for religious instruction, including religious educational institutions that train ministers and preachers. The churches also operate confessional (denominational), parochial educational institutions, which are under the administration of the local clergy. Schools of this type do not provide professional training but offer systematic study of a particular doctrine of faith. (Examples of denominational parochial schools include the Buddhist monastic schools; the Muslim maktab [kuttab] and the Koran schools, which are affiliated with mosques; and the Christian catechetical schools, which are associated with churches.) The churches have also established elementary, secondary, and higher schools, which are usually run by a specific religious organization. At these schools theology and other subjects are studied. Public prayer buildings, such as mosques, churches, and synagogues, are used for religious instruction. Private Sunday and evening courses, as well as correspondence courses and schools, are available for religious education. Most of them are denominational. The mass media, including radio, television, and the periodical press, are used for religious education, as are theological literature and films on religious topics.

The organization, structure, and content of religious training and education are determined by historical, national, and religious factors; by the status of a particular denomination in a society; and by laws regarding religion. For example, the teaching of religion is forbidden in public educational institutions in a number of countries, including France, Mexico, and Uruguay. In the USA there is formal separation of church and state, but in general education schools religious instruction is offered as an option at specially allotted times. Moreover, in the USA religious instruction is part of the academic program at a broad network of private educational institutions, schools affiliated with churches, and schools operated or financed by religious organizations.

Buddhism makes extensive provisions for religious training and education. In the majority of East Asian and Southeast Asian countries, where Buddhism has traditionally been the predominant religion, the study of religion is included in the programs of general education schools at all levels. Buddhist philosophy and theology, as well as Buddhist logic, ethics, art, medicine, and history and problems in contemporary Buddhol-ogy, are studied at the Buddhist university in Nalanda (India), at the Vidyodaya and Vidyalankara campuses in Colombo (Sri Lanka), at the institute for scholarly and scientific research in Mandalay (Burma), and at the Buddhist university in Kyoto (Japan). Some of the universities include in their programs the history of the main sects of Buddhism, especially Hinayana and Mahayana. Both secular and monastic students are enrolled at certain Buddhist universities. Graduates are employed as religious scholars and teachers in various branches of Buddhology.

In the Arab countries, in certain other countries of the Middle East, in Indonesia, and in other countries where the predominant religion is Islam, religious education and training are part of the system of general public education. The religious disciplines are included in the curricula of all types of educational institutions. About 30 Islamic universities and faculties of Islamic theology and law (the sharia) have been organized at certain state universities in Algeria, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Morocco, Pakistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. The university theology course includes theological studies, some general education disciplines, and the Arabic language. The most important Islamic universities are al-Azhar University and the universities of Alexandria and Cairo (Egypt); the University of Algiers; the Aligarh Muslim University and the universities of Allahabad and Delhi (India); the University of Karachi and the Islamic Research Institute (Pakistan); the University of Tehran (Iran); and the University of Khartoum (Sudan).

A theological education is also offered at Islamic academic institutions in the USSR, but their curricula include not only religious subjects but also secular disciplines, such as Arabic literature and its history, language and literature, ancient and medieval history, the social sciences, international law, political economy, and the foundations of philosophy.

At foreign madrasas and especially in university circles, orthodox Islam is preached. It is said to be superior to all other faiths and ideologies, not only as a religion but also as a universal ideology, national policy, and culture. However, certain progressive tendencies are emerging. There is a trend toward overcoming narrow denominationalism and isolation in religious training and education, and there is a growing recognition of the value of studying secular disciplines. Graduates of the madrasas and of the theological faculties of the universities become ministers or are employed in state, social, political, and scientific work.

Contemporary Christian theological education has developed on the basis of the doctrines of the three main faiths—Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, and Protestantism. The theological education system of the Roman Catholic Church includes 53 Catholic universities and 49 university theology faculties and institutes. The oldest pontifical (papal) universities are Salamanca, founded in the 13th century in Spain; the Gregorian, Lateran, and Urbanian universities, founded in the 15th through 17th centuries in Italy; and the University of Louvain, founded in the 15 th century in Belgium. Catholic institutions of higher learning were also founded between the 13th and 17th centuries, including the Sorbonne (France), which ceased to be a theological school in 1792. (However, it was replaced by the Catholic Institute of Paris, which was founded in 1875.) Catholic institutions of higher learning were also founded in Austria (the universities of Vienna [14th century], Graz [16th century], and Innsbruck [17th century]), Germany (the University of Tübingen, 15th century), and Peru (the University of San Marcos in Lima, 16th century). These universities still have the traditional, Catholic faculties of theology, philosophy, and canon law.

In 1972 there were 2,090 Catholic seminaries in 116 countries (1,065 seminaries in Europe, 302 in Asia, 448 in America, 249 in Africa, and 26 in Australia and Oceania). In France there are 198 Catholic seminaries; in Spain, 134; in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), 72; in Portugal, 40; in India, 63; in the Philippines, 38; in Canada, 42; in Mexico, 67; in Brazil, 110; and in Colombia, 44. There are two types of Catholic seminaries: major seminaries, which offer a higher education, and minor seminaries, which offer a secondary theological education. In 1972 about 200,000 students were enrolled in 753 major and 1,337 minor seminaries.

One of the centers of Catholic theological education is Italy, where there are nine pontifical academies (Rome), including the Papal Academy of Sciences; seven pontifical universities; 14 institutes; 18 pontifical colleges, including the Russian College; and 119 major and 277 minor seminaries, as well as more than 60 colleges run by various monastic orders. In addition, about 4,500 general education institutions in Italy are under the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

Religion is a compulsory subject in all schools in Austria, Spain, Portugal, and the majority of the Latin American countries. In Belgium the enrollment of the Catholic schools exceeds that of the public schools. There are many Catholic schools in France and the FRG. In the USA there are 2,700 Catholic secondary schools with an enrollment of more than 1.3 million. Religious instruction is part of the general academic curriculum in Catholic secondary schools in the USA. There are four Catholic universities under the direction of the Jesuits in the USA, as well as 95 theological seminaries and colleges where candidates for the priesthood are prepared for pastoral work and some members of the laity receive their education.

In the majority of the Latin American countries public education is under the influence and control of the Roman Catholic Church, and instruction in the primary and secondary schools is based on the principles of Catholicism. There are Catholic universities in Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Guatemala, Colombia, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Panama, Peru, and El Salvador. Canada also has several Catholic universities. In some Asian countries and many African countries there are various types of Catholic schools.

Strict centralization is characteristic of Catholic theological education. Theological institutions and all types of Catholic general education schools are controlled by the Vatican and three congregations: the Holy Congregation for the Propagation of the faith, the Congregation of Seminaries and Universities, and the Holy Congregation for Catholic Education. A particularly important role is assigned to the Jesuit Order, members of which head many Catholic universities and teach theological courses at universities, seminaries, colleges, and secondary schools. In the first half of the 20th century, Catholic curricula were still characterized by conservatism and traditionalism, but in the 1960’s and 1970’s they have been made to conform with the world situation and with Vatican policy, which is oriented toward “renewal.” As a result, Catholic curricula include several new disciplines, such as the history of atheism, selected readings in atheism, and Marxist atheism. In 1967–69 the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome published the four-volume Encyclopedia of Modern Atheism. As is evident from official Vatican documents, Catholic ideologists are disturbed by the growing influence of atheism throughout the world. They have therefore set the task of training “harmoniously developed propagators of the faith”—theologians prepared to meet the challenge of Marxist atheism by distorting it in subtle ways, so as to increase the influence of Catholicism over the masses. The new curricula of certain Catholic institutions of higher learning are also oriented toward deeper study of other religions. In particular, efforts are under way to prepare future theologians to conduct a dialogue with the Orthodox Church.

One of the aims of theological education is to prepare personnel not only for service in the churches but also for work with the state bureaucracy—for example, chaplains for the armed forces and the police, Catholic political parties and trade unions, Catholic Action associations, and women’s and youth organizations. In conformity with the decisions of Vatican Council II (1962–65), special attention is paid to training Catholic laymen for work among the people. According to the ideologists of the contemporary Catholic renewal, this type of lay activity is necessary to halt de-Christianization and to control other critical phenomena in Catholicism. The declaration on Christian education adopted at Vatican Council II is evidence that the Roman Catholic Church has been compelled to acknowledge the loss of its monopoly over education. At the same time, the church is striving for recognition of its special competence in public education.

The Old Catholics also have a small network of institutions for religious education. (Adherents of a tendency that broke away from the Roman Catholic Church in 1871, the Old Catholics do not accept the dogma of papal infallibility, which was proclaimed at the First Vatican Council of 1869–70.) There are Old Catholic seminaries in Amersfoort (the Netherlands) and Bonn (the FRG). In the USA, Sunday schools established by the Old Catholics provide basic religious information for children and adults.

In Orthodoxy religious training and education are traditional and strictly dogmatic. For the most part, only courses based on the Bible, the Holy Scriptures, the sacred tradition, and the decrees of early ecumenical councils are studied in Orthodox institutions of learning in the Middle Eastern countries and in Bulgaria, Greece, Rumania, and Yugoslavia. However, a new attitude is penetrating even the strongholds of Orthodoxy, and attention is turning to the study of the problems of ecumeni-cism, a dialogue with other religions, and the “theology of social service.” In the 1950’s and 1960’s the Moscow Patriarchate reestablished a tradition observed by prerevolutionary religious schools, which offered a theological education to students from other autocephalous Orthodox churches. Citizens of foreign countries, including representatives of the Orthodox churches of Alexandria, Antioch, Serbia, Rumania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Finland, and Japan, have been accepted at the Moscow and Leningrad theological academies. The Leningrad Theological Academy is training students from the Eastern Orthodox anti-Chalcedonian (Monophysite) churches of Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. The Moscow Theological Academy offers a three-year graduate course. Graduates of the academy are awarded the degree of candidate in science, and after defending their theses, they receive the degree of master or doctor of theology.

In the Protestant churches, members of the laity receive secondary and higher theological education in theological colleges. Graduation does not impose the obligation of taking religious orders. Protestant theologians study at various types of theological academic institutions. In Western Europe there are about 60 academies, universities, and university faculties that offer a higher education in Protestant theology. There are also more than 100 colleges, academies, schools, and preaching seminaries offering a secondary education that prepares theologians, pastors, and preachers for service in the churches of the various Protestant denominations, including the evangelical (Lutheran) and the reformed (Calvinist) churches. The evangelical and other Protestant churches of Western Europe have also established a broad network of theological institutions of learning in Africa and Asia. In the USA the Lutherans have 12 theological colleges and seminaries; the Presbyterians, 17; the Baptists, 35; the Methodists, 13; the Adventists, four; the Reformed Church, three, and the Mennonites, four.

The Protestant churches do not have a centralized system of theological education, and there are substantial differences between the religious education systems of the various denominations. In many countries, the status of Protestant religious educational institutions is determined by each religious organization. For example, a number of theological (pastoral) seminaries in the USA accept only students who have completed a theological program at a university. The academic curriculum includes Bible study, church history, theology, and pastoral theology (the study of the duties of the minister). Bible study constitutes the foundation for the preparation of presbyters and preachers in the courses offered by the Church of Evangelical Christians and Baptists in Moscow and in the academic institutions of many churches and sects in Europe, the USA, Canada, and Latin America. In Great Britain elementary religious training (primarily in Anglicanism) is conducted in the state schools. There are 40 theological colleges offering undergraduate theological training, and higher theological education is offered by the theology faculties and departments of 25 universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, London, and Manchester.

The anti-Chalcedonian (Monophysite) churches have their own system of education. For example, a higher education is offered at secondary theological schools and at a theological college operated by the Ethiopian church in Addis Ababa. The Coptic Church of Egypt trains theologians at the theological faculty of the University of Alexandria. Monophysite theologians are also trained in India at the Orthodox Theological Seminary in Kottayam and at the United Theological College in Bangalore. In the anti-Chalcedonian denominations theological education is not widely offered. Only the Gregorian Armenian Church, which has a considerable number of adherents in several countries in the Middle East, Europe, and America, provides religious instruction for the population in certain foreign churches. In Echmiadzin, near Yerevan, the Armenian Church has a theological academy consisting of an academic division and a seminary. In addition to Christian theology, secular subjects are studied, including the history of the Armenian people, ancient Armenian music, and Armenian literature, painting, and architecture. The influence of church doctrines is evident in the teaching of these subjects.

Contemporary religious training and education are going through a period of complex evolution. In some systems of religious education there has been a noticeable departure from narrow denominationalism. In various countries of Western Europe, America, and Asia, ecumenical, interdenominational schools, theological colleges, and university theological departments and faculties have been established and are attracting adherents of various Christian faiths. The idea of “the compatibility of theology and science” has been introduced into religious instruction, theology is being purged of particular dogmas that obviously contradict science, and in some faiths there have been attempts to revise the structure of theological education to include scientific disciplines. At the same time, in a number of faiths the reactionaries are growing stronger among the theologians who provide the people with religious instruction. For example, in Israel all instruction is reactionary, mystical, and Zionist. Even in the public general education schools the Old Testament, the Torah, and the Talmud are compulsory subjects. In US theological institutes directed by the Synagogue Council of America instruction is characterized by a Judeo-clerical spirit.

Today, religious training and education are experiencing a profound crisis. Young people are showing less and less interest in religion, and every year religious educational institutions have a shortage of students. A significant number of the graduates of theological faculties prefer not to take holy orders, and the number of incoming students is declining.

In the USSR, in conformity with the decree On the Separation of the Church From the State and the School From the Church (1918), the teaching of religious doctrines is prohibited in all state and general education institutions. Citizens may teach religion or receive religious instruction only privately. In conformity with the law, religion is not taught in the state schools of Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and a number of other socialist countries. In Poland religious instruction is offered in the churches. In Hungary the catechism is taught in the church buildings and is an optional subject in general education schools.


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