A Private Matter? Religious Education and Democracy in Indonesia and Israel
British Journal of Religious Education, Forthcoming
41 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2015
Date Written: August 2, 2015
Education is considered a major instrument for states to garner legitimacy, publicize the values on which the state is based, and form future citizens and leaders. For most democracies, education is therefore not only a key duty of the state, but its ‘life insurance.’ While these claims, common among theorists of democracy, usually rely on normative assumptions, this article aims at approaching them empirically by examining the relationship between state-supported religious education and its consequences for civic attitudes in Indonesia and Israel. Both Israel and Indonesia (post-1998) belong to that rare circle of democracies that do not identify themselves as secular states, but grant religion a prominent place in the public sphere, particularly in education. The comparison between the two countries reveals that while in Indonesia the state was able to gradually introduce a secular curriculum in religious schools and establish an accreditation system by which it could exert influence on the way religion is taught, in Israel, by contrast, state-funded religious schools over time became increasingly opposed to a mandatory ‘core curriculum’ of general studies. The article examines how the attitudes towards public issues compare between those citizens subject only to a secular curriculum and those subject to religious education, and how these have changed over time in the two countries. The comparison suggests that in Indonesia the inclusion of a secular curriculum in religious schools in the 1970s should be seen as one of the factors promoting the production and dissemination of ‘rationalist approaches to religion’ and brought religious actors on board of democratization, while in Israel the exclusion of a secular curriculum from religious schooling has undermined civic commitments among ultra-Orthodox Jewish citizens and as such weakened Israeli democracy. The article is based on public opinion data, data from the Ministries of Religion and Education, and court decisions in both countries.
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