Is Discussing Controversial Issues in RE a Magic Bullet to Promote Social Cohesion? Mapping Opportunities and Challenges Based on Previous Research

In: Journal of Empirical Theology
Jan-Hendrik Herbst Institut für Katholische Theologie, Technische Universitat Dortmund Dortmund Germany

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In the public debate, it is often argued that RE is important because it promotes social cohesion. In the academic debate, however, this position is controversial because, firstly, this goal is associated with a politicization of RE and, secondly, empirical evidence on whether or how RE causes this effect seems to be lacking. In this article, I argue first that cohesion is an adequate subgoal of RE, assuming a social rather than a state-political understanding of cohesion. Second, I refer to international studies on teaching controversial issues (CIs), which show that students can learn participation, tolerance, and common good orientation through high-quality exploration of CIs in class. However, due to methodological difficulties and negative side effects, the discussion of CIs in RE cannot be assumed to be a magic bullet for achieving cohesion. For instance, uncertainties and ambiguities accompany forms of dissent in the classroom, which may lead to authoritarian dispositions and political intolerance. In addition, there are particular challenges for inclusive and especially denominational RE in terms of teachers, issues, students, and external factors.

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