This pamphlet is adapted from a lecture which Dermot Lane, the retired president of the Mater Dei Institute, gave to a conference on religions and beliefs in primary education held at St Patrick’s College back in April 2013. He drew on some of the material in the Report on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector, which had appeared the year before.
The publication of that report set off a wide debate on the topic of religion and education. The passing months have not made the issue any easier – especially when a minster can suggest finding time for other subjects in the hours devoted to religious education.
In a sense to have his informative views in the shape of a pamphlet is very useful, for it is likely that this document will come into the hands of more people and so prove more influential than a book would.
Dermot Lane spreads his net of reference wide. He draws not only on the attitudes which were developed out of the Second Vatican Council, but on the experiences and the research into the topic done in other countries.
“This essay,” he writes, “seeks to go beyond the negative caricature and the stereotypes surrounding religion and education in Ireland at present and sets out to re-imagine the relationship between them because we are now living in a new context.” It is also very much the first word, rather than the last, in an ongoing debate.
That context as he suggests in the first part of the essay is a global one. Irish society no longer exists sealed off from the wider world – if it ever did. But globalisation and the stresses and terrors that it brings are only part of the matter. In a post-modern situation, the particular rather than the universal, the local rather the global, are important if often unconsidered influences.
He emphasises that for Catholic educators several of the documents from the Council, such as the declaration on religious liberty and the relations between the Church and non-Christian religion are important resources. At the local level, as we are all aware, the scene has changed over the last quarter of a century. Ireland is now a pluralist, multicultural society, where many ‘New Irish’ as some call them, have claims upon respect and appreciation.
“The debate about the relationship between religion and education ought to reflect on and contribute to the large debate about the relationship between religion and society.”
He then moves on to review the writings of Jürgen Habermas who in his later writings called for a new kind of dialogue between religion and secular areas. Theologians have responded in different ways to Habermas. The debate seems to revolve around aspects of learning about religion and learning from religion. But religion is also (and more importantly) a matter of personal experience.
Here Lane moves to deal with how religion at the primary level can be transmitted. He draws an important distinction regarding secularisation, not as something to be feared, but in the light of Vatican II, actually utilised. Some, I think, would suggest that we need to think more about religious education being a matter for the family in the parish community rather than the school.
The last section of the essay will be for many readers the most fruitful. There are, as we all know, great fears among some of losing the Faith. Yet what seems to be suggested here is that the dialogue, the relationship at a personal level between religions, can be a source of inspiration for education.
Inspiration in the sense of ‘breathing new life’ into a belief system. Faith formation which many talk about seems to be informed by a reawakened and redirected Catholic imagination. This pamphlet will hopefully be an element is creating that dialogue and promoting that reawakening.
– Peter Costello, The Irish Catholic, 27 February 2014