Tolerance in the school curriculum: why Catholics lead a school to three religions

OSNABRUCK. With cross, menorah and crescent moon for greater tolerance: in the first and so far only German elementary school with three religions, the motto is an integral part of everyday school life. Christian, Jewish and Muslim children sit together in a classroom. Of course, other schools do too. But in the house, supported by the scholastic foundation of the diocese of Osnabrück, Christians, Jews and Muslims deliberately go to school together.

In the school of the three religions, children are introduced to different approaches to the faith. Photo: Shutterstock

First of all, the Elementary School of the Three Religions is a normal school. Reading, writing and arithmetic are in the class schedule. In the afternoon there are GAs, offers of support and help with homework. Yet girls and boys learn a lot more. Tolerance, respectful and peaceful interaction between them, openness and mutual curiosity are the educational objectives of the Johannis elementary school, as the trialogic elementary school is also called.

Three religions under one roof

It all started in September 2012. The first children were enrolled at the Drei-Religionen primary school in Osnabrück, Lower Saxony. About 145 girls and boys are going to school together: young Christians sit next to Jews and Muslims. In principle, one third of the school places are available for each of the three faith communities. But children with a different or absent religious affiliation are also welcome if their parents support the school program with its concept of special religious education. Principal Birgit Jöring reports that interest in the school is currently growing. There are currently many requests from Ukrainian families who want to send their children to elementary school in three religions.

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The central idea of ​​the school lies in the encounter. Children should have the opportunity to further develop their religious identity, but also to experience interreligious dialogue appropriate to their age. Because “even in the future society will not be devoid of religion”, underlines the foundation of the school in the concept of primary school. Equality of faith communities is a fundamental principle, not only on special occasions, but every day. Religion is not something that happens sideways. This is also reflected in the staff: the teachers are Jews, Muslims, Catholics and Protestants and they live their religion. Teachers wearing a headscarf and yarmulke are a matter of course in elementary school.

On a journey to discover the religions of the world

Religious instruction is scheduled for two hours a week, separate from the religious community. In the first two classes, Christian children learn denominational cooperatively, after which they separate denominationally. In this way, students should know their own religious roots. But in the weeks of the project, the girls and boys always meet. Then they work out similarities and differences in their confessions. Using the example of holidays, prayers or places of worship, students go beyond their own perspective and learn about other religions. A journey from “me to you to us” is the approach of the school.

And that includes the parents. Interested mothers and fathers can regularly attend parenting evenings and parenting seminars. However, this does not mean that only children from education-oriented families are taught in elementary school, school officials point out. The scissors also extend to the elementary school to three religions. It is important that every child gets the support they need.

A common thing

The school foundation in the diocese of Osnabrück is responsible for the trilitary primary school. It collaborates with the Jewish community of Osnabrück, Islamic associations and the city. A school advisory committee made up of representatives of various religions and the school community provides advice on issues relating to the religious profile. A scientific committee provides further impetus.

One school, three denominations: This situation in the three-religion primary school has occasionally attracted criticism. “The main accusation was always that everything was just a big mess,” reported in 2017 the then deputy director of the school department of the diocese of Osnabrück, Claudia Sturm. Experiences in daily school life and a scientific assessment could be countered, the school director said at the time. A topic, such as prayer rooms, everyday objects of religions or the Holy Scriptures, is first worked out in one’s religious education class. The children then pass on what they have learned to their classmates who do not belong to their religion and then to their mothers and fathers. “By taking these steps, they expand their religious understanding, their tolerance and acceptance of people of other religions,” Sturm explained.

consider anti-Semitism

Work on this principle continued to develop. Since August 2019, the Scholastic Foundation of the Diocese of Osnabrück has been increasingly committed to the prevention of anti-Semitism. Rabbi Efraim Yehoud-Desel is at the disposal of all foundation schools as an expert, especially regarding the presentation of the Jewish religion in Catholic, Protestant and Islamic religious education. In response to the attack on the Halle synagogue in October 2019, he launched the “Together Against Anti-Semitism” campaign, in which foundation schools take a stand against anti-Semitism and discrimination. In this context, the ecumenical seal of approval was created for the prevention and intervention of anti-Semitism in ecclesiastical schools. The three-religion primary school has applied for the award with an interfaith tolerance project, as reported by director Birgit Jöring. The goal is to focus on inter-religious enhancement, but without neglecting the work against anti-Semitism.

No school enrollment on Shabbat

The willingness to learn with and from each other makes Osnabrück Drei-Religionen-Grundschule a place of interreligious learning. But everyday life in this special school also means finding solutions within everyone’s reach. Which sweets are halal and kosher and can they be safely handed out at school for birthdays? What festivals should the school calendar be based on so that no one is limited?

Teachers faced issues like these, especially early on. But there is a solution for everything. The school is prepared and has gained experience. A list provides clarity on the sweets that the dietary laws of Judaism and Islam allow, lunch is delivered packaged separately, an interreligious school calendar provides information on the most important holidays, and school enrollments do not take place on Saturday, Shabbat.

With a lot of sensitivity it works, the interreligious union in everyday school life. This is also illustrated by the school logo: cross, menorah and crescent moon, which are connected by a circle – religion that connects. By Maike Mueller

This article is a substantially updated version of a 2017 text that appeared on

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