The School of Theology and Religious Studies is taking part in the research project “Cultural and religious diversity in primary school” (CARDIPS) in cooperation with Södertörn University and Helsinki University (2014–2017).
The project investigates pupils’ experience of cultural and religious diversity in selected schools. Structural factors related to that experience and the effects of variation in age and family tradition are the focus of the research. The research utilises a mixed methods approach. Surveys are conducted with both quantitative and qualitative components. Questionnaire data from pupils aged 9–10, 12–13 and 15–16 are supplemented by semi-structured interviews with a small number of pupils, teachers, and parents.
A research project entitled “Contextual factors of young people's attitudes and convictions in relation to religion and religious diversity” (2012–2015, ETF9108) was also recently conducted. In the framework of the research project young people's beliefs and commitments as expressed in the contexts of school, home and peer groups were studied using questionnaire surveys and interviews – with the young people holding diverse world views.
The main finding was that young people’s religious self-identification is often contextual and they navigate simultaneously within the framework of different religious traditions. Young people with religious identity feel the disapproval of their faith by both teachers and classmates.
The second phase was aimed at schools and teachers’ pedagogical approaches in relation to students’ religious identity. Teachers are searching for effective approaches to include “lived religion” and for interpretive approaches in their teaching, in order to help students develop empathy and to understand religion.
The results of the research have been discussed in several conferences, both for teachers in Estonia as well internationally. Ten educational videos "Meetings" were produced in order to enable primary school children to meet with representatives of different world views.
Tartu University took part in the research project “Religion in Education – A contribution to Dialogue or a factor of Conflict in transforming societies of European Countries” (REDCo), which was funded by the European Commission within the framework of the FP6 2006–2009. Nine institutions from eight European countries participated in it. The research was conducted in Estonia by Pille Valk and Olga Schihalejev. Most of the findings on REDCo in Estonia are published in the book “From indifference to dialogue?” (Schihalejev 2010).
The project used a wide range of methods and studied both pupils and their teachers. In addition to theoretical study, empirical research was conducted: qualitative study among young people, quantitative study on young people’s views about religious diversity, religion in their lives and social relations, classroom interaction research on the possibilities and hindrances for dialogue in religious education, and a qualitative research about teachers’ responses to diversity in the classroom.
RE in public schools
Provision of religious education is based on and described in the national curriculum and Private Schools Act. In today’s Estonian legislation a distinction is made between the confessional subject ‘usuõpetus’, which may be taught only in private schools, and non-confessional subject ‘usundiõpetus’ about world religions, taught in municipal and state general education schools.
The teaching of young people organised by the church may take place either in confessional schools or in religious communities after lessons, not in municipal or state schools. Private schools are free to create their own syllabi for the subject. The confessional approach, although taught in private schools, must be voluntary for the pupils.
The syllabus for non-confessional religious education is described in the national curriculum and has the status of an elective subject.
Religious education today aims at shaping skills and attitudes that form the basis for mutual understanding, respect, openness, and cooperation in a pluralistic society. The study content covers different religions and religious movements, supports the students to understand how religion and world view is expressed in culture, in the lives of individuals and in society, and discusses existential issues.
Although there are religious education syllabi for five different courses, the real situation is different. In most cases, religious education is taught for a year in upper secondary level as an elective subject, some schools have religious education in primary classes and there were only a few schools where religious education was taught at all levels of study. In some schools, especially at primary level, religious education maybe the only elective, with no alternative subject and it takes place after compulsory lessons. In other schools, students can choose between different electives.