East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 10, No. 4, Fall 2002, Covering the Former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe

Religious Instruction in Russian Schools: The Debate Heats Up

Mark Elliott

"Why should history be without Cyril and Methodius, without Sergius of Radonezh?"  Russian Deputy Minister of Education Leonid Grebnev posed this question on 10 October 2002 at a conference on the subject of religious education in schools.  A growing number of Russian officials, as well as the Russian Orthodox Church, believe religious education should be part of the school curriculum.  Grebnev, for example, argues that "Secular education can include knowledge of religion as part of culture."1  For his part, Patriarch Alexei II also tries to overcome the serious reservations of ordinary Russians: "We are not raising the question of introducing classes on the scripture and [Orthodox] religious teaching in high schools. We recognize and understand that 70 years [of atheist teaching] have left their mark and today the scriptures would not be accepted."  Instead, in May 2002, he recommended a course on "Orthodox culture or Orthodox ethics."2  The Patriarch must be pleased that in October 2002 state authorities proposed just such a course in Orthodox culture as an addition to the school curriculum, one that would include "the history and fundamentals of the traditional faith." In addition, the state is proposing that Orthodox priests serve as instructors and that "a state standard for a specialty in theology" be prepared for "full-fledged work in secondary educational institutions."3  Nevertheless, as the accompanying survey results indicate, the public remains fearful of the possibility of ideological indoctrination in the classroom.

In the following articles, Fedor Kozyrev and Irina Bill note both the perils and promise of religious education in schools, Svetlana Kuleshova and Igor Ponkin ardently champion the same, while Elena Miroshnikova takes strong exception.

1. "Ministry of Education: Study of Religions Does Not Violate Secular Character of Education in Russia," Mir religii, 22 October 2002.
2. Mara D. Bellaby, Associated Press, 23 May 2002.
3. Kirill Vasilenko, "Law of God on First Reading; Secular Authorities Are Ready to Return Religion to the Schools," Vremia novostei, 11 October 2002.

Mark Elliott is editor of the East-West Church & Ministry Report.

Mark Elliott, "Religious Instruction in Russian Schools:  The Debate Heats Up," East-West Church & Ministry Report 10 (Fall 2002), 1.

Written permission is required for reprinting or electronic distribution of any portion of the East-West Church & Ministry Report.

© 2001 East-West Church and Ministry Report
ISSN 1069-5664

EWC&M Report | Contents | Search Back Issues | From Our Readers | Subscribe