Religious education and the development of subjectivity of the individual – call for papers [2/44 (2019)]

The term “subjectivity” is undoubtedly crucial for the culture of the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries. It is used to describe the individual’s attitude to the world around him, especially the socio-cultural reality. The term “subjectivity” is used not only as a descriptive category, but also normative – it is used to indicate the postulated state, based on an rational, critical attitude to the world. In this context, its opposite is an uncritical subordination to the imposed opinions, leading to the objectification of individuals. The interpretation of subjectivity as a critical approach to dominant worldviews dates back to the Enlightenment. Its representative, Immanuel Kant, explained that enlightenment is the ability to "use one's own reason, without foreign leadership."

At the same time, limiting the history of the category of “subjectivity” to thoughts inspired by the Enlightenment would be a great simplification and, in a sense, an appropriation. Although the term “subjectivity” over the centuries has been used in a completely different (metaphysical) sense, there have been attempts to account for the subjectivity of individuals in the modern sense of the word since antiquity. When Thomas Aquinas presented his theory of moral efficiency, built on that of Aristotle, he accounted cardinal virtues as traits, thanks to which the individual achieves subjectivity, or cohesion of action, in which reason drives the sensual desires conditioned by human corporeality.

In the prepared for publication in 2019 [2/44 (2019)] issue of the journal “Paedagogia Christiana”, we ask a question about the relationship between religious education and the development of subjectivity of individuals. It is a question entangled in mental prejudices, according to which religion limits subjectivity, inducing people to accept a vision of the world justified by the authority of God instead of using reason to solve dilemmas related to worldview and morality. Their implication is the recognition of religious education as a factor limiting the free reflection and subjectivity of people receiving religious education.

Meanwhile, since the 1980s, one of the principles of modern pedagogy of religion is the orientation on the subject (Subjektorientierung). This principle is proclaimed by both Catholic and Protestant representatives of this discipline. However, it is not about flattering the tastes of subjects of religious education, but about shaping the subjectivity of man through broadly understood religious education, taking into account individual (subjective) – existential, social and cultural conditions. This approach is at the same time a bridge between purely theoretical considerations and analyzes based on empirical studies of religious education processes.

Acceptance of the above-mentioned and rooted in culture prejudices often makes it impossible to see the depth of the problem. The socio-cultural changes we are witnessing are difficult to explain with stereotypical beliefs. On the one hand, at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, we experience a culture that – despite the secularization and widespread use of the category of “subjectivity” – subordinates the individual to consumer values, supports hedonistic and utilitarian mentality. On the other hand, the attempts to withdraw individuals from market-oriented objectification are often made with the use of a fundamentalist-interpreted religion which is interpreted in a way foreign for its understanding proclaimed in religious education.

So what role does religious education play or can play in developing the subjectivity of individuals? What is its significance for the individual’s interpretation of the surrounding world and the everyday experience (including transcendent reality)? Does religious education lead to reflection on the world, creating an alternative worldview to contemporary ones, or does it impose a specific worldview without stimulating critical thinking? What conditions should religious education fulfill in order to strengthen reflexivity and support the development of the subjectivity of individuals, and what conditions lead to the weakening of these processes?

The problem of the subjectivity of individuals, however, is much deeper than the problem of critical thinking. According to the abovementioned Thomistic thought, in should be said that the will, inspired by the discovered good, plays an important role in practical reasoning. The individual is therefore able to make choices, other than the choices of the majority of the members of the group he belongs to, only when he discovers such a good. This desire gives the will the strength to overcome the pressure exerted on him by the group. Consequently, orientation in religious doctrine does not in itself lead  to subjectivity, i.e. it does not give the strength to oppose the currently dominant – mainly consumption – lifestyles.

These statements lead to further questions: what role does religious initiation play in religious education? Does religious education, reduced to teaching about religion/religions, lead to subjectivity of the students or only to critical reflection on religion, which does not necessarily connect with the subjectivity of individuals in their functioning in the current socio-cultural context? And consequently, what significance for the development of the subjectivity of individuals in the modern world, in which different worldviews affect the individual, has the shaping of strong religious identities?

The questions we ask are directed towards philosophers, theologians, psychologists, sociologists and pedagogues. We are interested not only in the theoretical approach to the relationship between religious education of individuals and the development of their subjectivity (including the statements of particular religions to this problem), but also empirical studies on the impact of religious education on the reflection of individuals about the world, their place in it (and vocation), the attitude of individuals to the dominant worldviews and lifestyles.

Articles in English can be submitted by the end of April 2019.