Moscow (AsiaNews) - After two years of experimentation, from next September, the fundamentals of religion will become a compulsory subject in all Russian schools. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin approved the decree that introduced the teaching of religion throughout the country following a trial that took place only in some regions.
The elementary and middle school students may choose to study either the history of one of the four religions termed 'traditional' - Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism - or more general courses on "foundations of religious culture" or "Fundamentals of public ethics ". So far the lessons have been concentrated in only a quarter of the school year, but the Orthodox Church has asked it be extended over the whole year in 2012. Banned during the Soviet period, religion returned to schools in April 2010 but only in 19 regions, with an initiative strongly supported by the Patriarch of Moscow and blessed by the Kremlin, interested in cementing common values of national identity .
From the beginning, the idea has raised strong criticism in Russia, a country that has experienced 70 years of state atheism, and where different ethnicities and religions live. "I think it is wrong to divide the children into groups according to religion - said Ivar Maskurov, an expert on religions – it could cause many problems."
Another objection raised by critics of religion in the school is the lack of qualified teachers and good textbooks, as was admitted by the Elena Romanova, Head of the Ministry of Education for the teaching of religion.
The skepticism of the secular world is not shared by the religious themselves. Not only does the Patriarchate of Moscow support the initiatibe, but also the Muslim community. The mufti Krganov Albir, Chairman of the Committee of Muslim spiritual in Chuvashia (Russian autonomous republic) said that "the new subject has become very popular with both pupils and parents in Chivashia schools. Parents say they have learned a lot about religion when their children attend these courses."
In February, at Putin's order, the Ministry of Education launched training courses for teachers of religion, while in March the families will have to decide which course in which to enroll their children.