Education and Academia

The Fear of Tomorrow in Religious Education in Greece

Published on: April 2, 2024
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Religious Education
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Over the past several decades in the Greek region, a discernible decline has been observed in both the enthusiasm and substantive content associated with religious studies within the modern school system, a trend persisting today. The curricula, established over half a century ago, have been notably centered on Orthodox-based teachings, ethical considerations, and biblical narratives, featuring references to alternative religious perspectives or broader theological topics to a smaller extent. This situation prompts a critical examination of the existing educational framework, raising questions about its adaptability to the evolving landscape of religious discourse and the diverse religious landscape of the present day.

For most of modern Greek history, to be Orthodox was almost the same as being Greek. Even though the Church of Greece is technically not a state Church but merely the “predominant religion” (επικρατούσα θρησκεία), in effect the Greek Orthodox Church continues to play a significant role in shaping public life. While American children recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag every morning, Greek children recite the “Our Father” as a school before the beginning of classes for the day. Additionally, at every level of primary and secondary education, students are required to attend religion classes taught by graduates of one of the Theological Faculties in the country.

A noteworthy transformation has transpired within the realm of higher education, particularly in the field of theological studies Greece. The conservative theology prevalent in the 1960s underwent a transformative phase, potentially heralding significant changes in the teaching of religion within educational institutions in the subsequent years. Ecumenical studies have now become integral to the curriculum of Theology schools worldwide, elevating student interest to unprecedented levels. However, the current extent of this engagement appears insufficient to yield tangible intellectual or theological benefits for the discipline and its interface with the Church and the broader context.

The Orthodox Church’s historical relationship with the state, notably during the Ottoman Empire’s dominance following the fall of Byzantium, forged a unique and enduring bond. Amidst the Ottoman conquest, the Church assumed roles incongruent with its eschatological vision and liturgical ethos. Functioning as a vital institution for Christian communities under Ottoman rule, its survival was ensured by the authorities’ respect for the institution. This historical interdependence between the state and the Church persisted, with the latter’s influence becoming exceptionally pervasive in the 21st century, particularly in matters of authority. However, it is noteworthy that Orthodoxy, shaped by the historical context of Ottoman conquest, has yet to formulate its own distinct political theology, leaving the affected regions informally labeled as “informally theocratic.”

Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, theologians assumed the role of catechists, with catechism being compulsory for younger students, necessitating weekend attendance as a supplementary component to weekday education. While not mandatory for formal schooling, families declining participation in catechism and Sunday services encountered societal disapproval from both educators and community members. The repetitiveness of the readings, coupled with outdated textbooks persisting for over half a century, contributes to this lack of engagement in recent years. This is attributed to a communication gap with theologians of previous decades, who may not address contemporary questions posed by the youth, such as the relevance of religion in the age of science, the contemporary role of the Church, and the extent of its influence on the state.

Contemporary school classrooms are notably diverse, reflecting an inherent multicultural dimension. Incorporating religious education within this context is imperative. Modern teaching approaches focus on individual students rather than the entire class, aided significantly by new technologies that internationalize the learning experience. The Internet, particularly social media, facilitates the formation of interest-based student communities. The recent COVID-19 pandemic underscored the value of technology. Despite these advancements, a considerable portion of society remains apprehensive about the impact of new communication methods on students.

Orthodox theology adapts in humanitarian studies by integrating with the social sciences, acknowledging the Church’s dynamic engagement with the evolving world. Drawing from primary sources like the Bible and historical records, theology is a vital contributor. Its integration into disciplines like sociology, philosophy, philology, political studies, history, and archaeology highlights a dynamic relationship with other fields.

Students are urged to conduct project-based research using diverse tools and engage in dialogues with peers on social, environmental, and cultural issues from a religious perspective. Facilitated by the teacher, these discussions offer a secure space for the practical exploration of faith’s relevance to these multifaceted issues. Despite efforts to transcend denominational approaches in religious education, dialogues enable students, particularly those interested in the liturgical aspects of the Church, to bridge theoretical concepts with experiential activities. This involvement extends to active participation in sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, and voluntary engagement in local parish programs, such as organizing events for the underprivileged and offering educational support to vulnerable families.

To enhance student engagement in religious classes, it is imperative for theology teachers to contemporize Orthodox teachings, aligning them with the challenges and issues of modern life. By employing interactive tools, particularly utilizing the extensive online repository of Orthodox tradition, educators can effectively bridge the gap between traditional teachings and the contemporary student experience.

Faith, as an experiential phenomenon, encounters a disconnect in contemporary religious education. Current pedagogical methods often adhere to outdated archetypes, hindering students’ identification and profound comprehension. Adapting teachings to the present involves interactive strategies such as discussions, real-life narratives, field trips, and guest lectures.  As today’s classrooms comprise diverse students with unique backgrounds, cultivating a positive and inclusive atmosphere becomes paramount. An accommodating environment encourages students to share opinions and ask questions without apprehension. This approach enriches the learning experience, making it both unique and compelling for each student.

The weakening of religious education in the Orthodox world stems from the state’s neglect to incorporate an updated perspective on religion in curricula. The lack of inclusion of cultural changes and societal dimensions triggers this divide. To address this, embracing change, multiculturalism, and employing modern communication and research tools is imperative. A proactive approach is crucial for creating a meaningful transformation in the perception of religion and shaping the future construct of religious studies in schools. The Church, particularly in Greece, ought to embrace a more proactive role in contemporary society by attempting increased engagement with the younger generation. It is imperative for the Church to position itself as a relevant and accessible entity to the youth, actively involved in addressing the challenges faced by today’s world.

Its involvement should be characterized by transparency and inclusivity. Rather than operating in secrecy or engaging in ostentatious displays, the Church should openly extend to everyone. In addition to conventional acts of charity, the Church should evolve to meet the diverse needs of the community by offering access to mental health support specialists as an alternative to confession. Also, a tangible demonstration of support for local community events can be achieved by allocating a dedicated budget to enhance these vital communal activities. This approach ensures that the Church’s impact is not only substantial but also characterized by openness, inclusivity, and a genuine desire to uplift the broader community. Active contribution to solutions is key.

This approach acknowledges the changing dynamics of communication and ensures that the Church remains present and connected with the evolving needs of contemporary society.

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Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

About author

  • Crystallia Latsara

    Crystallia Latsara

    Masters Student at Sankt Ignatios College/Stockholm School of Theology

    Crystallia Latsara was born in Trikala, Central Greece in 1997. She has studied theology in the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (2015-2019) and she has also taken vocational training in Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage Management (2019-2021). During that time, she attended the annual program “T...

    Read author's full bio and see articles by this author

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Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in the articles on this website are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

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