Issue 3, Article 17, 14 March 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.

Tuesday 14 March 2000

by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service

Officials have confirmed that Russian Orthodoxy will dominate the proposed
courses in theology to be introduced into state-run higher educational
institutions later this year. The Russian Ministry of Education is currently
establishing minimum standards for the teaching of theology, which is to be
introduced into the curriculum of such institutions from September 2000.
TATYANA PETROVA, head of the Ministry's humanities department,
confirmed to Keston News Service on 7 March: `We have been developing
guidelines for the course which will shortly be submitted for approval by the

The Ministry of Education already includes theology in the list of approved
subjects taught in state educational establishments. Petrova told Keston that an
undergraduate degree course in theology was formulated and approved in 1995
and is being taught in some universities: a postgraduate course has not yet been

SVETLANA GUSOVA, an official at the directorate for education
programmes and the maintenance of teaching standards at higher and
secondary educational establishments, told Keston on 3 March that `the state
theology course has been developed by specialists from the Orthodox St
Tikhon Theological Institute in Moscow and is based on Orthodox theology,
although it can be adapted to other denominations if required.' She reported that
courses in theology have been taught in the St Tikhon Theological Institute and
in some secular higher education institutions, such as Omsk State University,
since 1994. The first graduates of this five year course are due to qualify in
September and plans for postgraduate and doctoral courses are under way. `For
the time being only the Moscow State University of Public Service is planning
to introduce the course. The two most prestigious higher educational
establishments in Moscow, the Lomonosov Moscow State University and the
Russian State University for the Humanities are not planning at present to
introduce the course - both still teach religious studies [religiovedenye].'

Leading Russian Orthodox and educational figures have long pushed for
Orthodox theology to be widely introduced at all educational levels. On 21
January 1999 PATRIARCH ALEKSI II, Yu. OSIPOV, President of the
Russian Academy of Science, V. SADOVNICH, Rector of the Lomonosov
Moscow State University and N. NIKANDROV, President of the Russian
Academy of Education, wrote to the Minister for General and Secondary
Education, V. FILIPOV, arguing that religious values should be given higher
priority in teaching within the state education system. The letter stated that the
theology course devised by the Ministry of Education in 1995 was wholly
inadequate because it attempted to divorce theology from any denominational
context. `Without a proper understanding of the differences in dogma in
Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant teachings it is impossible to grasp the nature
of the divisions between East and West.'

They declared that it was urgent that new standards for the teaching of theology
be developed and applied. They argued that Russian law is `still captive to
atheist concepts' and continues to `fight vigorously against every opportunity
for the exertion of any real Christian influence in state schools'. The authors
proposed that the teaching of religion should be included in the range of
approved subjects as a subject of equal standing in the curriculum, not as an
optional subject which in practice is impossible to include in the general
teaching timetable. `By developing the academic authority of Christianity and
thereby of Christian education and teaching we will be able to work towards a
return to morality and to Christian values in society as a whole', the authors
assert, adding that this would counteract the `anti-state educational activities of
sectarianism, which could have calamitous consequences for the state'.

The 1997 law on religion determines in article 4, clause 2 that education in
state and municipal educational institutions should be `secular' in character.
However, Article 5, clause 4 allows the administration of such educational
institutions, with the agreement of the local authorities and subject to the
child's agreement, to meet requests from parents or those in loco parentis for
their child to receive religious education outside the normal timetable.

Professor NIKOLAI TROFIMCHUK, doctor of philosophy and head of the
faculty of religious studies at the Russian Academy of State Service, put
forward the view of the religious studies specialists. `It is being proposed that a
new subject - theology - be introduced in place of religious studies into the
curriculum of secular educational establishments,' he told Keston on 3 March.
`However, theology as a subject cannot be seen in isolation - it can only be
denominational in nature, for example Orthodox theology, Catholic theology.'

Father VSEVOLOD CHAPLIN of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for
External Church Relations welcomed the proposed course. `This is a balanced
and worthy programme of study developed by members of the St Tikhon
Theological Institute,' he told Keston on 3 March. `I believe that it does take
into account the position of non-Orthodox Christians and is not a proselytising
tool. Our goal is not to convert people to Orthodoxy but to train teachers of
theology. Our goal is to train professionals who will be qualified to teach
theology both in church and state educational institutions.' He complained that
the teaching of religious studies in state higher education institutions `is still
heavily influenced by scientific atheism and courses are taught by graduates of
schools of atheism who maintain a materialist position and a sceptical view of
religion'. He added that they have a monopoly in secular educational
establishments. `We would prefer it if religious studies no longer featured in
the curriculum, but this subject too has its place. We do not wish Trofimchuk
to have a monopoly on the training of specialists on religion.'

However, not everyone is happy with the Education Ministry's plans.
TATYANA TOMAYEVA, head of the information department of the
Moscow-based Slavic Centre for Law and Justice, told Keston on 2 March that
`the introduction of the teaching of theology in Russian state educational
establishments violates a number of principles upheld by the Constitution,
namely the separation of church and state and the secular character of
education and of the state. This is unacceptable.'

Father INNOKENTI PAVLOV, an Orthodox monk who teaches at the Biblical
Theological Institute of St Andrew and at the Catholic Theological College, is
also unhappy at the proposals. `The course is wholly inadequate,' he told
Keston on 3 March, `and there are significant omissions: it does not include
psychology as a component, instead there is the study of "culturology". It is
important for a standard course to be developed which will raise the general
standard of theological training - there are very few theological institutes in
Russia.' According to Father Innokenti, `this is the only standard for the
teaching of Christian theology which has been developed for all educational
establishments - church, private and state. There should be five fundamental
disciplines included in the course which are general to all: others could be
taught as optional subjects'. Asked by Keston whether theology needed to be
taught in state institutions, Father Innokenti replied: `No, this has not
traditionally been the case in Russia, but a minimum standard was established
by the state. In America the standard of theological education is monitored by
the Association of Theological Seminaries, in France there are a number of
deeply-respected theological institutes, but in Russia, however, it would seem
that everything has to be regulated by state institutions in order to have some
kind of quality.'

The introduction of state standards in theological education has another
practical implication. Article 19, clause 3 of the 1997 Federal Law on religion
states that: `Citizens studying at religious education establishments which are
licensed by the state have the right to deferment of military service.' As the
head of the department of registration of religious organisations at the Ministry
of Justice, ALEKSANDR KUDRYAVTSEV, explained to Keston on 2 March,
students at theological colleges could not be granted deferment of military
service because theology was not officially recognised. `According to the
decision of the Constitutional Court on 21 October, students at educational
establishments which do not have state accreditation cannot be exempted from
military service. Now, however, theology is being recognised as a course of
study and an order from the Ministry of Education already exists despite the
fact that official state recognition is still to be granted. Therefore if a religious
educational establishment meets the required standards of teaching it will be
granted state accreditation and its students will have the right to deferment of
military service.' (END)

Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.