Marthoma Religious Education Project

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Marthoma Religious Education Project

The fact that, despite having a significant influence in the educational and social sectors of the south Indian state of Kerala, the Catholic educational mission faces the urgency of maintaining its Catholic identity in the face of a multicultural society since these institutions tend to give up their particularity or specificity of being Catholic to resist the allegation of “Christianising” the society by promoting conversion, has piqued the interest of this project in religious education research. The research project focusses to bring out the implications of national and ecclesial religious education policies of India in the Syro-Malabar Catholic school context as well as extending its scope to the catechetical endeavours of Catholic dioceses.

Being a minority in the population, the Catholic Church has the special minority right to establish Catholic schools and impart education to enhance the promotion and propagation of the culture and faith of its catholic students. One such provision is that a Catholic school can impart either Catholic religious education to Catholic students or religious value education to all the students, irrespective of religion. Different schools do it differently, sometimes in consultation with the local diocese, depending upon different textbooks by various publications. Besides Catholic schools, government schools and other private schools do not strictly impart religious education. There are also other minority religious groups with special rights like Catholics, to hold schools and impart education (e.g., Muslims). Though some schools’ education programs do not consider religious education as a subject, the Catholic teachers at those schools have to deal with  plenty of religious references in various textbooks in use, in their curricula. In general school text books of literature, language, social sciences and history (English, Hindi, Urdu, Malayalam and other regional languages) there are many references of religion, prominently Hindu. Most of the poems and proses in Regional languages are based on Hindu epic characters and devotions. In most cases, Catholic teachers find it hard to dialogue with other religious references or introduce their faith content in the education programme. Sometimes, educators find it safe to disregard the Catholic stance and thus impart a comparative study of religion. Only a few teachers handle the religious content from a Catholic perspective, where they try to dialogue with others like an interreligious way of learning. Hence religious education with appropriate pedagogy and method is of utmost importance for Catholic schools in India as far as the teachers and students are concerned. That is why the All India Catholic Educational Policy 2007 (updated in 2017) focuses on the uniqueness and distinctiveness of Catholic educational mission and identity by explicitly emphasizing the need for an inclusive and integral educational approach in Catholic schools. But Indian Catholic schools are still searching for such a new approach. It is important to be noted that there is no specific religious education textbooks in Indian schools as classical ones since such a concept like religious education does not exist except for value education referring to good conduct and character.

Religion and Dialogue in Indian Religious Education
The alarming growth in religious extremism and communal polarisation, which has resulted in terrifying tensions and destruction, poses a threat to India’s peaceful co-existence and community development, which has attracted widespread international attention. Religious extremist ideas, mediated by mass media and religiously triggered political parties, explicitly and vigorously, encroaches and conquer the illiterate and poor people, unknowingly overshadowing the democratic constitutional rights envisaged to the minorities, especially Catholics. Christianity has the legacy of fostering and contributing towards the educational constitution of India, especially regarding the educational upliftment of the poor, women and marginalized. But the Christian educational endeavours do not seem to address the issues of religious polarization and growing fundamentalism. Moreover, the Catholic educational mission, with privileged minority rights regarding educational institutions, faces the urgency of maintaining its Catholic identity in the face of a multicultural society. There have been instances like Catholic educational mission being drawn to allegations of ‘conversion’ by Hindutva triggered nationalist extremists. They acclaim that Christian schools are destroying the local Hindu religion. Fundamentalist religious groups have sometimes tortured Catholic instructors into publicly apologizing in the media for contextualizing their Christian faith narratives in Hindu or Muslim ideas when teaching lessons or giving speeches at celebrations. There have been ongoing heated debates about whether the Christian minority rights for educational institutions overrule the minority individual rights of Muslim students to have religious dress codes and prayer times in Catholic schools. Nevertheless, the court verdicts safeguarded the rights of Catholic institutions as envisaged by the Indian Constitution, Catholic teachers and organizations are drawn to attacks and marginalization by the political parties and media who wish to please the more significant minority to get support in Democracy. The Islamic mission's efforts in educational endeavours have lately grown. As India’s largest minority, they are able to build and run an increasing number of educational institutions. It is important to note that the relationship between Muslims and Christians has deteriorated significantly. In an unusually organised manner, the Syro-Malabar Church's media Commission has expressed its concern over the growing conversion rate of Christians to Islam by extreme Islamists. This viewpoint was deemed harmful to societal peace and concord by the Syro-Malabar Synod. (The Week, “Christian Girls Targeted and Killed in Name of Love Jihad: Kerala’s Syro-Malabar Church (January 15, 2020”).

This project intend to help the schools to address the issue of fundamentalism and religious polarisation from a ‘within’ perspective by developing and implementing a hermeneutical-communicative model (HCM) of pedagogy and from an ‘outside’ perspective by convincing the majority population that the Catholic educational endeavours are favouring them to develop theirs’ own religious perspectives facilitated by the HCM model of pedagogics. This new, internationally recognized paradigm is an alternative to the commonly used mono-religious religious education model, which does not prepare students for encounters with others. The multireligious religious education model makes students apathetic to differences.

This research will thus examine the possibilities of enculturating the hermeneutical -communicative model of religious education developed at the Faculty of KU Leuven, Belgium. This model can help institutions enhance and recognize their Catholic identity and mission in a pluralistic context. This model emerged as a paradigm to address the challenges of growing pluralisation, religious disaffiliation, detraditionalization and secularisation in the West. This framework facilitates an effective dialogue among one’s own interpretations of reality, Christian tradition and present context, raising one’s interest to encounter and “understand oneself and one’s own tradition with the other”, and thus promoting a “peaceful co-existence” in a society of diversity. Herman Lombaerts says that this model facilitates the pedagogics in which “students deal with faith is a matter of a reflexive learning process,” and it is no more a set of confessional truths that ought to be transferred from generation to generation but a form in which “students take on an independent stand due to personal ‘thematization’” (Lombaerts, 2000). To date, the content and pedagogy of this model play a very active and essential role in Catholic religious education in Flanders but have also been tested in other parts of Europe and the world (Australia, United States, Africa). Additionally, Teresa Grace Brown explains that this model has enhanced the theological capacity of both teachers and students in the Catholic schools of Australia to critically evaluate and engage in their religious ideologies (T. G. Brown, 2020). Moreover, we hope this research adequately enables the Catholic schools and their educators to address India’s growing fundamentalism and resulting polarisation. It is not debated that themes like compassion, love, sharing, and so on are smart and valuable linkages established by instructors in their religious education lectures between knowledge of spirituality and human well beingness (Rina Madden, 2021). The HCM model has the appealing advantage of occupying both positive theology and the theology of vulnerability and responsibility to help the students to face any challenges posed by life in their future (Pollefeyt, 2022).

Since the context of Catholic schools in India is marked by rich religious diversity, the research will study the advantage of implementing an inter-religious learning method of religious education based on the hermeneutical-communicative model. Interreligious learning entails not just looking through one’s own cultural and experiential perspectives or life stances, but also paying attention to the specific words, pictures, and behaviours through which the other define themselves (Judith Berling, 2004). Hence pedagogics combing both the HCM model of religious education and interreligious learning can contribute positively and effectively a lot to the multireligious context of India. Under the leadership of Pollefeyt in 2002, a didactical implementation project called ‘Thomas’ (an online platform for religious education) was founded with the support of the Belgian bishops to promote Catholic religious education in Flanders, based on the framework of the hermeneutical-communicative model [consistency in way of writing] ( Thus, searching for a new pedagogical paradigm and enquiring about its possibilities and strengths in the Indian context, along with the critical reflection, is highly relevant. Since the HCM is developed in a secular European context my research will thoroughly examine its implications and further modifications for a different context like India

The timeline of this research starts from the year 2022 to 2026. (construction)
Work package 1: National Educational Policies and Representation of Religion (Historical-hermeneutical literature review): Time plan for this work section - 6 months: October 2022 to March 2023. This work plan aims to determine the importance of religion and religious studies in the evolution of national education policies and Catholic educational policies and how they are collaborated to regulate the academic endeavours in current concrete school situations. A historical-hermeneutical literature review on the constitution of India about education and minority rights, national education policies that existed over time, state government policies, Catholic educational policies etc., can bring forth the implications of references for religion in the Indian educational constitution and how they are realized in schools. This part will also try to present the current challenges and concerns of religious educational institutions from a Catholic perspective to address a multi-cultural context effectively. This presentation will bring forth the important facts and figures pertaining to educational institutions from the mainstream media.
Work package 2: Content Analysis of School Education Curricula (Qualitative empirical research): Time plan work package 2 incl. learning Nvivo - 12 months April 2023-March 2024.
The second section of the research concerns the thematic analysis and study of the religious references in the textbooks of literature, social sciences and value education with the help of NVIVO software coding. Textbooks of NCERT and SCERT syllabus from 8 to 12 grades (English, Malayalam, Politics, History and Value Education; each from each standard) are focussed. This qualitative empirical research help to situate and evaluate how religion is envisaged in education content and assess whether it fulfils the strategies envisioned in the national and Catholic educational policies. This empirical data can again form a new academic resource for the researchers to approach religious education in India. It attempts to find out the way religion is portrayed in these textbooks regarding the nature of references to religion, how it is designed to convey some values, and how a particular religious reference of religion be valuable and meaningful to students of other faiths (interreligious education), which religion has more preference while weighing the content, etc. With the help of Nvivo software, the research can effectively code the nuances of what religion and religious values imply for students and teachers in the context of India.
Work package 3: Case Study Analysis of Three Sample Schools
Time plan for this work section: 5 months’ field study in India from April 2024 to August 2024; 5 months’ study and analysis on field data from September 2024  to Jan. 2025 and hence a Total of 10 months including preparation for Ethical review at SMEC KU Leuven).
The third work package includes an empirical quantitative analysis of three Syro-Malabar Catholic schools, including secondary and higher secondary levels. Each of them belongs to the different boards of education. This empirical analysis is done with the help of the ECSI (Enhancing Catholic school Identity) tools developed at KU Leuven, by which we figure out the personal religious profile of students, teachers, and parents along with the institutional and professional identity of these schools. An analysis of actual phenomena by tools of this empirical research hope to provide field data evidence to the arguments supporting the need for a new pedagogy. It will be the first time these tools will be applied in the Indian context. It also helps us to evaluate how the Indian and Catholic education policy is conceived in the current education content and how it is appropriated and reflected in the identity formation of the teachers and students in school. The field data will provide the supporting arguments for the need for a new pedagogical paradigm. The data formed can be stored and used for further investigation in detecting the improvements and drawbacks in the identity profiles, and this is concerned with the meta-research using range graphs in the later years.
Work package 4: Prospects and Implementation of HCM (Systematic hermeneutical literature review and implementation study): Time plan work package 4 – development of the model: 6 months: February 2025 to August 2025; implementation research: 10 months: September 2025-July 2026).
The fourth work package of this research is a systematic-hermeneutical literature study of the hermeneutical-communicative paradigm as well as the sources and the critiques vis-à-vis this approach. This concept is explained together with its potential contributions to India’s multicultural milieu. Based on the findings of the previous section’s empirical research on identity profiles, the advantages of the hermeneutical-communicative model over the current operative monological paradigm in the setting of Catholic schools in India can be assessed. This section also examines the challenges and obstacles of implementing this paradigm in the context under consideration. The study will search for contextually and traditionally plausible elements to bring out the Catholic preferential point in religious education. Under the auspicious of the minority rights in India, by the implementation of the model in the form of an ‘ICT’ learning platform for religious education, in the model of the one in Flanders, this research envisions to make it a dynamic and active part of religious education in Catholic schools in India. Furthermore, this research will execute an empirical survey in the schools to evaluate the implementation research (HCM model) by using questionaries to receive the feedback from the teachers, principals, and students to form a body of data that can be stored and could be analyzed with the later empirical assessments and developments.
Prof.  Dr. Didier Pollefeyt
He is the full-time professor at KU Leuven, Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, and founder of the Thomas website. The four other research aspects other than “the pedagogy of hermeneutical-communicative model of religious education and interreligious education” of Pollefeyt are “the ethical and theological analysis of the holocaust and the development of the foundations of ethics and theology after Auschwitz, an analysis of the questions of evil, guilt, remembrance, forgiveness, and reconciliation, the Jewish-Christian encounter, and the religious identity of institutions, especially of Catholic schools”. He also serves as the coordinator of the “Centre for Peace Ethics and Centre for Teacher Education at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, KU Leuven. The Center for Academic Teacher’s Training in Religion is one of the faculty’s research centers and is researching on religious education and school identity. The Center has done extensive fundamental research on theories of confessional religious education in strong secularized and plural contexts and on the identity of confessional schools in a context of de-traditionalization and pluralization. It also has experience in the development of the practical-didactical implementation of confessional religious education both in manuals/methods for RE and in a digital platform (Thomas). The Center also has experience in the recontextualization of religious education in African, Australian, Asian, and American contexts through several doctoral dissertations. The objectives of the Thomas website were very much rooted and enriched with the knowledge and experience of different research aspects of Pollefeyt, especially his vision to set up a dialogue with others.
Joint Director
Rev. Dr. Sajan Pindiyan
Full time professor at Marymatha Major Seminary, Mulayam, Thrissur.
Coordinator of training programmes organized by PAROC Research Institute, Thrissur.
D.Th. (Paris): Catechetics (ICP: Institut Catholique de Paris).
Team Members
Rev. Dr. Vincent Kundukulam
Full time Professor of Theology and Philosophy, St. Joseph Pontifical Seminary, Kerala, India.
S. T. D (Paris), Ph.D. (Paris): Theology & Religious Science
Rev. Dr. Ignatius Nandhikkara
Prinicipal, St. Joseph’s Educational Campus, Kuriachira, Thrissur, Kerala, India.
Ph.D. in Pedagogy and Education
Fr. Benny Kaippullyparamban
Student at KU Leuven at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, Belgium.