Monday, May 10, 2010

Official State Religion in Denmark, United Kingdom & Greece

Dr. Nafsika Alexiadou

Religion as a form of identification and the bearing of collective meaning continues to bind individuals to particular communities of faith even if attendance of religious ceremonies has declined. But, there is another important dimension of religion, and in particular of the institutions that represent them, and that is their interface with politics and nationalisms.

The Greek Constitution establishes the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ as the prevailing religion, and the relationship between the church and the state opens up interesting questions on political sovereignty and secularism in modern Greece.

While organised religion has had a long history of providing education everywhere in Europe prior to the construction of modern nation states and state education systems, the secularisation of European education systems is not a completed process in many member states.

Zambeta reviews a spectrum of practices that range from a total separation between religion and the state (as in the cases of Belgium, France, Holland and Portugal), to that of states with an official religion (in all cases an official ‘church’), such as Denmark and the United Kingdom. Religion is examined as a social construction that becomes ‘practised’ through certain institutional formations (in the case of Europe until very recently, this would be the churches).

This is confirmed by the explicit religious references in the Greek constitution in defining the aims of education: ‘Education is a basic mission of the state aiming (at) ... the development of the national and religious consciousness’ of Greek citizens, with subsequent laws specifying that the school should: ‘encourage the student’s loyalty to the country and faithfullness to the authentic elements of the Orthodox Christian tradition’ (in Zambeta, 2000, p.149).

Thus, the role of education as inscribed in the legal framework is partly to bind Orthodox Christianity to the Greek national identity.

The nature and position of religious instruction in the school curriculum follows from these legal parameters. Religious education is compulsory in the Greek school curriculum and focuses exclusively on the Orthodox Christian religion. The aims of the religious curriculum are to ‘strengthen the citizen’s right faith in God ... to cultivate the stable inclination to a life “according to Christ” and the regulation of children’s behaviour according to his divine will’ (in Zambeta, 2000, p. 149). 

Dr Nafsika Alexiadou, Department of Education, Keele University, Keele ST5 5BG,
United Kingdom

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