Teaching Religion – Islam in Bulgarian Public Schools

Nonka Bogomilova

State-Church Relations and the Muslim

Communities in Bulgaria

Christianity was adopted by the Bulgarian state in the ninth century, two centuries after the creation of the state in 681 A.D. During the period of Ottoman domination over the Balkans (1391-1876), Christian Orthodoxy was permanently associated in people’s minds with the ethnic survival of the nation as a community, while Islam became associated with the image of the conquering ethnos. These archetypes were consolidated and reproduced at the time of the formation of the Balkan nation-states in the 19th century. The Byzantine and the Ottoman legacies are defined by Mariya Todorova as ‘crucial’ for the Balkans, even as late as the 19th century: “In the narrow sense of the word, then, one can argue that the Balkans are, in fact, the Ottoman legacy” (Todorova, 2010, 13).

After the Liberation (1878), the Tarnovo Constitution (Constitutsiya na Knyazhestvo Balgariya, 1879) declared the church as separate from the Third Bulgarian State (1876-1944). Freedom of religion and the right of minorities to religious autonomy were stipulated in Art. 40 and Art. 42.

Under socialism (1944-1989), church-state relationships were characterised by the subordination of the church to the state. Religion was specifically targeted by the atheistic ideology and political practice of the Communist Party (Kalkandzhieva, 2002; Mygev, 1999).

The democratic changes in Bulgaria after 1989 involved the transformation of church-state relationships. The new democratic Constitution, adopted on 13 July 1991, recognised the equality of all citizens under the law (Art. 6, §2) (Constitutsiya na Republicà Balgariya, 1991). The new Religious Denominations Act (Zakon za religioznite denominatsii, 2000) provided a legal framework for this article of the Constitution.

According to data from the national population census (Population Census, 2011) the confessional affiliation of Bulgarian citizens1 can be displayed as in Table 3.1.

A strong correspondence is observed between ethnicity and religious confession, especially among Bulgarians (Eastern Orthodoxy) and Bulgarian Turks (Islam). As shown by sociological surveys, the

Table 3.1 Confessional affiliation of Bulgarian citizens




Not indicated

No religion



Other religions

76.0 %

10.0 %






well-known concept of ‘belonging without believing’, advanced by the British sociologist of religion Grace Davie (1990), characterises many Bulgarians who self-define as Orthodox believers.

Currently, the relations between state and church are constructive and collaborative. Overall, this is also true regarding the relations between the state and Islam. These are regulated by the Mufti Office, of which Mustafa Hadzhi is the current Chief Mufti. Approximately 1,000 imams and 1,500 Muslim boards of trustees administer more than 1,100 mosques.2

According to the regulation of the organisation of activities of the Grand Mufti’s Office and the structures of the Muslim denomination (Pravilnik za organizatsiya na deinostta na Glavno Muftiistvo i structu-rite na Myusyulmanskoto izpovedanie, 2011), the Chief Mufti’s Office is an administration that assists the activity of the central organs of management, the Grand Mufti and the Higher Muslim Council. The Grand Mufti represents the Muslim confession before the organs of state power, public organisations, and other natural persons and/or legal entities. Its functions include organising and managing the Muslim confession, representing it before third parties, and other activities.

Its relations with the state have passed through various stages, but with the start of democratic changes, a relatively stable period of cooperation began, as testified by official Declarations of the Grand Mufti’s Office. Cooperation with the organs of central and local government assume different forms: interaction, in connection with various issues of the Muslim confession, with the Directorate for Religious Confessions at the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Bulgaria; meetings and joint initiatives of the District Mufti’s Offices with mayors and Directors of District Directorates; and support for government initiatives and campaigns in the sphere of health care, education, and interreligious dialogue. The Grand Mufti’s Office has a particularly active presence in the National Council on Religious Communities in Bulgaria (currently, the council president is the Deputy Grand Mufti Birali Myumyun), which plays an important role as mediator between religious communities and the state in the sphere of projects, legal initiatives, and other activities.

Religion and Education in Bulgaria: General Overview

The latest normative document establishing a general national framework for education in the Republic of Bulgaria is the Pre-school and School Education Act (Zakon za preduchilishtnoto i uchilishtnoto

52 Nonka Bommilova


obrazovanie, 2015), which has been amended several times. The secular nature of education is emphasised in Art. 11, §1, and again, according to §2, no ideological and/or religious doctrines may be imposed in preschool and school education.

Article 36 of the act makes a distinction between four kinds of schools: (1) state, (2) municipal, (3) private, and (4) religious. The introduction of religious schools is part of the general liberalisation of the state’s attitude toward religion after the democratic changes that began in 1989. This liberalisation is also visible in the Religious Denominations Act (Zakon za religioznite denominatsii, 2002) which allows religious communities to open schools - something that was forbidden in the time of totalitarian socialism (1944-1989). Although enrolment in a religious school is a matter of personal choice, these schools, which are financed by the religious communities, are only opened, transformed or shut down at the proposal of the respective religious communities “for their own religious needs” (Zakon za religioznite denominatsii, 2002, Art. 33).

Depending on the type and stage of training, schools can be divided into non-specialised and specialised; and in elementary, basic, high, combined, and secondary schools. Non-specialised schools are municipal, according to §4 of Art. 38, with the exception of profiled high schools, which are state schools. Art. 39, §1 indicates which schools are specialised, some of which, being of national importance, are state schools: they train professionals in the field of sports, arts, and culture. According to Articles 43 and 44, other categories of state schools are the special schools (for pupils with sensory problems, educational boarding schools, and social-pedagogic boarding schools), schools at penitentiaries, and those created under international treaties.

According to data from the National Statistical Institute (Education in the Republic of Bulgaria for 2018/2019 school year, 2018/19), more than 90% of students are enrolled in municipal schools and in state schools, which are the focus of our discussion. In 2018, there were 78 active private general education schools in the country, encompassing 1.7% from the total number of students in general education. In addition, 0.8% of the students in vocational schools were enrolled in private vocational gymnasiums and private vocational colleges (Education in the Republic of Bulgaria for 2018/2019 school year, 2018/19).

The Place of Islam Within National Life and Education

Muslims in Bulgaria: Confession, Ethnicity, and State Policy

The Muslim community is the second largest religious community in Bulgaria. According to the latest census, 10-11% of Bulgarian citizens are Muslims (Population Census, 2011; Pew Research Center, 2017).

Their number has decreased drastically in the last 20 years due to the wave of emigration - motivated by poverty and unemployment - after the start of democratic changes and, in particular, in the period of great economic difficulties (1990-1997), when 400,000 Bulgarian Turks emigrated to Turkey and Western Europe (cf. infra).

The largest Muslim ethnic group is the Bulgarian Turks, of whom 87.6% are Muslims, followed by the Pomaks (Bulgarian citizens whose native language is Bulgarian but who are of the Islamic confession), some of the Roma (18.3%), and some of the Tatars. Muslim communities live in compact groups in the north-western part of the country in the Rhodope region. Suni Muslims (546,004) are in the majority in the Eastern Rhodopes and in north-western Bulgaria, while Shiites (27,407) live in villages in the districts of Targovishte, Razgrad, Ruse, and Silistra. The Pomaks (150,000) live in the western and central Rhodope mountains (Nazarska and Shapkalova, 2009, 91; Georgieva, 1998).

Islam in the Balkans and in Bulgaria is often presented as being syncretistic (Gradeva and Ivanova, 1998, 11) and not inclined to religious fanaticism (Tanaskovic, 2013, 36; Zhelyazkova, 1998, 376). This is true in the everyday sphere of communication and attitudes, where the ethos of neighbourhood and peaceful coexistence defines the mutual relations between different confessional communities (Lubanska, 2015). At the same time, the historically formed stereotypes have often been an instrument of political pressure and manipulation by the state. In the past, this inconsistent state policy, mostly applying models of expulsion and assimilation, and motivated by political interests or by external pressure, was the cause of mass waves of emigration to Turkey during the 20th century (Nazarska and Shapkalova, 2009, 91). The Bulgarian state applied the assimilation model primarily to the Pomaks who were subjected to conversion to Christianity and large-scale expulsion during the Balkan wars (1912-1913), to attempts at assimilation on the eve of World War 2, and to attempts at changing their names in 1964 and 1972-19743.

Impact of Muslim Presence on Educational

Life: Types of Muslim Schools

The Law on Public and Private Schools (1885) was the first official document relevant to the organisation of private Muslim schools, which were of two categories: secular schools for Muslim children and religious schools (madrasas). They were controlled and financed by the Muslim community in Bulgaria and, in the period 1923-1934, under bilateral agreements, by Turkey as well. For the main part, these schools were Turkish, but during the 1920s, the Pomak and Tatar communities also had approximately 50 schools each (Evstatiev and Makariev, 2010, 645-646). In accordance with Art. 368 of the 1909 Law on National

Education, Muslims, Armenians, Jews, and Greeks had the right to establish private minority schools in which religion was taught under the supervision of the mufti in whose district a given school was located (Ilchevski, 2007, 100-101). In the period 1934-1944, when Bulgaria was governed by an authoritarian regime, the number of secular schools for Muslim children was reduced from 1,700 to 404. The madrasas for Pomaks were shut down (Evstatiev and Makariev, 2010, 647).

After the establishment of the communist regime in 1944, all religious schools were closed, and religion became an elective subject for Muslim children in the secular state schools.1 In 1945, the teaching of religion as a school subject was abolished. After a brief period of application of the model of secular cultural autonomy, there were periods of coercive integration and attempts at assimilation (cf. supra). These actions, which led to the largest forced wave of migration to Turkey, were conducted on a particularly mass scale and by the use of force in 1984 during the so-called Revival Process.

After the start of democratic changes in 1989, the party Movement for Rights and Freedoms was established, whereby the Turkish community acquired representation in the parliament and on several occasions took part as a coalition partner in national governance. Social surveys conducted in the last 30 years show that these events had a positive effect on the image of the Turkish minority in society at large (Stoyanova, 2007; Nakova, 2011).

These processes also influenced Islamic religious education (IRE) and the spirituality of Muslims in Bulgaria. At present, under the leadership of the Chief Mufti’s Office, several private educational institutions are functioning: the Higher Islamic Institute, established in 1998 as the successor to the Shumen Religious School; three secondary religious schools in Shumen, Ruse, and Momchilgrad; 450 summer courses teaching the Qur’an; and six all-year teaching centres (Nazarska and Shapkalova, 2009, 96). The curriculum for these schools is approved by the Ministry of Education and Science (MES) and the Grand Mufti’s Administration and follows partly the national curriculum. Two-thirds of teaching hours are scheduled for secular disciplines and one-third for confessional subjects (Evstatiev and Makariev, 2010, 649). Graduates of these schools receive diplomas for secondary education from the MES and a diploma from the Mufti’s Office certifying they can exercise the profession of imams in mosques.

Some topics of heated public debate are the issues of state funding for these schools and the exercise of stricter state control over the study programmes in order to prevent radical Islam propaganda. Fears of radicalisation are often expressed in the media, motivated either by attention to similar trends occurring in some countries of the former Yugoslavia or by a few cases in Bulgaria, which are at times overly publicised and politicised. Some illustrative examples are: the building of

Teaching Religion — Islam in Bulgaria 55 new mosques; the trial of 13 Muslim clergyman accused of fundamentalism and sentenced in 2019; and the case of youngsters who maintained contacts with foreign radical fundamentalists (2019).

Religious Education and Islamic Religious Education in Bulgaria: The Current Situation in Government Schools

The most general term designating confessional education in Islam in public or governmental (municipal and state) schools in Bulgaria is instruction in Religion - Islam, which is the name of the subject in the curricula approved by the MES. With regard to the implementation of this subject, we can distinguish two stages: the experimental stage (1997-2002) and the stage of legal regulation (2003-2017).

The Experimental Stage: 1997-2002

In the school year 1997-1998, religion was introduced experimentally into Bulgarian state and municipal schools as an optional subject which was scheduled for one hour per week for children from the second to the fourth grades (aged 8-10 years). The subject was confessional and was offered in two separate forms (i.e., as two separate confessional subjects): Religion - Islam and Religion - Christianity (i.e., Orthodox Christianity) (Bogomilova, 2015b, 232).

The teaching of Religion - Islam started in the school year 1999-2000 in 16 schools as an elective subject. In 2000-2001, Religion - Islam was taught in 68 schools to 3,215 students in the second to fourth grades. Later, it was extended to the whole school course up to the eighth grade (11-14 years).

Since the school year 2001-2002, Religion - Islam has also been included as experimental teaching in the framework of the compulsory elective subjects, that is, as one of several subjects among which students must choose. Seven schools and 634 students from the first through fourth grades participated in the experiment. Along with the 8,713 students studying Religion (i.e., Religion - Islam and Religion -Christianity) as an elective subject in 215 schools, the compulsory elective subject Religion in its two confessional forms was chosen by 10,788 students in 135 schools. Teaching was initially funded by the MES, but later (starting from the school year 2002-2003) it was funded by the municipalities. Classes were held in Bulgarian (Ilchevski, 2007, 103).

Legal Regulation: 2003-2017

Since 2003, Religion has been taught from the first to the 12th grade as an elective or compulsory elective subject, depending on the teaching policy of the specific school. An important legal document in thisregard is ‘Instructsiya no.2' (2003), regarding conducting classes in the school subject Religion, approved by the MES. Religion - Christianity and Religion - Islam are studied as elective or compulsory elective subjects for one hour a week. From the second to the 12th grade, students are given annual grades in these subjects. Students up to the age of 14 submit an application signed by a parent and, from the ages of 14 to 18, signed by the student and a parent.

In the school year 2006-2007, 16,667 students signed up for classes in Religion: 13,009 choosing Religion - Christianity and 3,658 Religion -Islam. Out of the total number of students studying Religion, the number of schoolchildren from the first to the fourth grade was highest (12,925), while among high school students, it was only 994 (Stoyanova, 2007). This decrease in the number of students continued in the following years: in the school year 2017-2018, Religion had been chosen by 10,500 students: 8,200 students signed up for Religion - Christianity and 2,300 for Religion - Islam (Georgieva, 2018).

One of the basic reasons why many students have lost interest in the subject Religion - Christianity is the low degree of religiousness among Bulgarians who self-identify as Orthodox Christians. According to sociological surveys, the percentage of ‘devout’ religious Orthodox Christians in Bulgaria (those who have a strong faith and reliance on the Orthodox doctrine, who regularly attend religious services and follow the moral norms of Christianity) is relatively low. The reasons for this - well analysed by scholars (Garvanova and Shapkalova, 2015; Hadzhiyiski, 2002; Mutafchiev, 2000) - are amongst others related to history and to national psychology. Apart from this, the secular nature of Bulgarian state schools stipulated in the Constitution and the Preschool and School Education Act is valued by teachers and by the public at large. The prevailing trend is towards a plea for non-confessional teaching of religion (Bogomilova, 2015a), viewed as a ‘cultural fact’ (Jackson, 2007, 32, 44).

Even though the level of religiousness among Muslims in Bulgaria is considerably higher, their interest in the confessional subject Religion -Islam is very low. The causes of this disinterest are varied: (1) secular tendencies among this community, motivated by the same tendencies in Bulgarian society at large during the second half of the 20th century and beyond; (2) the psychological trauma of the so-called Revival Process, which has fostered mistrust in the state and its educational institutions; it is not accidental that along with the decreasing interest in the confessional subject Religion - Islam, there is a burgeoning interest in Qur’an courses conducted by Muslim lecturers from Bulgaria and abroad; and (3) as a result of this trauma, Islam has become, for the members of the community, a marker that distinguishes them from the rest of society rather than a marker that is a part of Bulgarian society.

Islamic Religious Education: Curricula, Textbooks, Teacher Training, and Inspection

Curricula and Inspection

Articles 9 and 10 of Instructsiya no. 2 make it obligatory that the curricula and textbooks are prepared in accordance with the concept for the Religious Education (RE) subjects, proposed by experts from the organs of the MES (the Expert Council, which includes secular scholars and theologians, representatives of the confessions, etc.) and/or the Parliament (expert committees) and confirmed by the MES. The main approach adopted in the teaching programs and teaching aids is connected with religious training in the tradition of (Sunni) Islam as a universal, dominant, and tolerant religion.

The curricula for compulsory elective subjects are approved by the MES, and for the elective subjects, by the school principal. In a comparable way, the teaching process and inspection are under the supervision of the MES, exercised by experts in religion, usually professionals in history and in philosophy in the regional Inspectorates of Education.

Teacher Training

Teachers in Religion need to have completed higher education in the field of humanities and in the professional specialty of religion and theology, or they may be elementary school teachers who have completed courses in religion in the theological faculties of Bulgarian universities, or persons who have graduated from the Higher Islamic Institute (Instructsiya no. 2, 2003). In the school year 2006-2007, there were 290 Religion subject teachers. Among them, 126 were graduate theologians: 100 in Christianity, and 26 in Islam. The remainder had taken short courses on the subject of Religion in Orthodox faculties or in the Higher Islamic Institute with a relatively appropriate level of relevant education background. All teachers are paid by the schools (Stoyanova, 2007).

Textbooks Religion — Islam 2002-2020

The new textbooks in Religion - Islam for first to fifth grade, connected to new, modern curricula are ready; they were deposited on January 20, 2020, at the MES and are at the time of writing under final assessment. They are expected to become official textbooks in state schools starting with the school year 2020-2021. The new textbooks from sixth to 12th grade are expected to be ready by the end of 2020.

The previous textbooks on Religion - Islam up to the eighth grade were prepared in 2002-2003 by lecturers from the Higher Islamic Institute and experts from the Chief Mufti’s Office. They were published by the

Chief Mufti’s Office and approved by the Commission on Religion at the MES. In the same period, experimental handbooks were prepared for the subject Religion - Christianity for fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grades (Bogomilova, 2015b).

The textbook for the first grade offers a brief description of the Five Pillars of Islam in a way that aims to strengthen the pupil’s faith in and subservience to Allah. The handbook for the second grade presents various themes and plots, which convey as indisputable truths the ideas of Islam and the Qur’an about the creation of the world and mankind; the immaculate conception; the Flood; miracles; the sacrifice of Ibrahim; the salvation of Ismail; and the Muslim’s duties of obedience to and respect for the creator, parents, and neighbours. There is also a theme entitled ‘The Infidel’.

The third grade textbook contains the life, sufferings, prophecies, battles with the pagans, and death of the Prophet Muhammad. It depicts him against the background of historical events in the context of important moments in the destiny of Muslims. The textbook for the fourth grade is like a handy guide to Islamic anthropology, which explains in a rather elementary way questions regarding the purpose of mankind. It offers something like a moral code for young Muslims. Tolerance is indicated as an important value, but rather at a declarative level.

The textbook for the fifth grade is based on a religious-historical approach and is devoted to the history of Islamic religion. The textbook for the sixth grade consists of three sections: faith (Iman); cult (Ibadet); and morality (Ahlak). The third section develops a typology of religions: a division into ‘true’ religion, which is Islam; religions that have lost their truthfulness, which are those that existed before Islam; and ‘invented’ religions, which include Buddhism and animism. According to the author of the book, Islam prohibits offence against the life, property, freedom, and dignity of a person, but ‘person’ is largely taken to mean ‘Muslim’.

The focus of the seventh grade textbook is on Islamic ethical ideas and conceptions. Some of the more important themes are: What is morality; Islamic moral virtues; Justice and honesty; Kindness and charity; Love of nature; Love of the Fatherland; Reverence for one’s parents; Obligations to society, mankind, and the Almighty; Rules of relations with others; Injustice and corruption; Religious tolerance; and Work ethics. In this textbook, tolerance is well grounded and described as the virtue of accepting otherness, the understanding that everyone has a religion of their own that should be respected, and that Islamic ethics should not be imposed upon people of other faiths (Hilmi, 2002, 96).

The textbook for Religion - Islam for the eighth grade discusses Islamic ethics and offers new arguments for the advantages of Islam. Faith and human dignity and the view of the human being as the supreme creation of Allah are set in opposition to the views of Darwin and Freud on

Teaching Religion — Islam in Bulgaria 59 human beings. Atheism is criticised as humiliating for humans. Islam is presented as a universal religion that preaches kindness, defends the spiritual over the material, does not contradict science, is not fanatical, and does not accept imposing a religion upon people. The conclusion is that if religion ends, the world will end as well (Hadzhy, 2003).

Improving Islamic Religious Education:

Recent Trends and Initiatives

In the period 2018-2019, a radically new stage of the conception of teaching religion in Bulgarian governmental schools began. New, modern curricula were proposed for the confessional subjects Religion - Christianity and Religion - Islam, and for the first time, for a non-confessional subject about Religion. This model resembles the non-confessional form of teaching religion adopted in some Western European countries (Willaime, 2007, 63, 57-66; Ferrari, 2005, 37, 31-39; Plesner, 2004, 796, 801-802; see also the contributions on Denmark, England, Norway, and Sweden in this volume).

The objectives and tasks of the curriculum for ‘Religion - Islam’ (Uchebni programi Religiya-Islyam 1-12 clas, 2018) are presented in its Introduction, which states that gaining familiarity with the fundamentals of Islamic religion, presented in the religious, historical, and cultural aspects (doctrine, traditions and art) on the basis of the ‘Islamic moral values, humanism, and the spiritual traditions of our country’, would contribute to a moral-educational influence towards tolerance and mutual respect (Uchebni programi Religiya-Islyam 1-12 clas, 2018). The curriculum formulates thematic cores, objectives, and tasks, while the lesson units are defined in the new textbooks.

Further, the new Study Programme formulates the concrete tasks and objectives of the subject Religion - Islam. Along with the task of familiarising students with Islamic religious culture, and the formation of a morality based on the values of this tradition, the programme formulates more general moral-ethical and cognitive tasks, such as teaching about and learning from other religions in the Republic of Bulgaria; religion-society-state relations; the fundamental norms of secular and religious morality; the importance of the values and standards for a worthy life of each individual, the family, the religious community, and Bulgarian society; religion and its place and role in the culture, history, and present day of Bulgaria; and the historical role of traditional religions in the formation of Bulgarian statehood (Uchebni programi Religiya- Islyam 1-12 clas, 2018).

The basic values, narratives, and themes upon which the study content is built are: the prophet Muhammad as a model person and teacher of morality; the Pillars of the Faith and Islamic ethics; the obligations of Muslims; Islamic art; the Muslim calendar; holidays of the

Muslim community in Bulgaria; and love and respect for the Fatherland through the prism of Islamic culture and traditions. Further, the study programme describes the basic thematic emphases in the subject content of Religion - Islam for each grade, from first to 12th.

For elementary schools (first to fourth grades), the basic objective of instruction in Religion - Islam is indicated as ‘helping pupils to acquire knowledge of the Islamic religion, to build and develop respect for religious and moral values’ (Uchebni programi Religiya - Islyam 1-12 clas, 2018) in the framework of 32 or 64 hours a year. For the fifth to seventh grades, instruction in Religion - Islam encompasses themes from the fundamentals of religion: (1) Faith; (2) Ibadet', (3) Islamic morality and ethics; (4) Muslim society; (5) Relation to the Fatherland and people of other religions. The emphasis here is on patience, humility, responsibility, and conflict resolution as elements of children’s moral education based on the example of Muhammad. Finally, in grades 8 to 12, the tasks and goals of teaching Religion - Islam involve the formation of a general idea about Islam in the perspective of its historical and modern development; sustainable assimilation of religious values; and the formation of a sustainable religious, national, and civic identity.

Overall, the new curriculum suggests that the underlying idea of the textbooks should combine education in the Islamic religion, learning from the Islamic religion, and learning about the Islamic religion in the context of other religions and their values.

Improving IRE: The Current Position and Future Prospects

The debates and solutions in Bulgaria identify similarities and differences both within the countries of this cultural zone and across countries in Western Europe (Miedema, 2007; Weisse, 2007; Basdevant-Gaudemet, 2002). The prevailing trend in most of the post-communist countries - the introduction of confessional teaching of religion - is estimated as being a sort of post-communist syndrome. I share this view because the introduction of confessional training in religion, although as an elective subject, into an educational system that is based on a scientific worldview creates an unsound mental conflict in pupils. The same phenomena and events are given radically different explanations, based on rational cognition on the one hand and on the religious canon on the other. Many Balkan authors have written about the unfavourable consequences of such an intellectual clash in schoolchildrens’ minds. At the same time, confessional training, as much as it might call for tolerance, emphasises religious affiliation as a mark of difference, of otherness, and thereby divides pupils into different groups based on religion.

The new training programmes for these subjects, as well as the efforts the MES is making to prepare new, good-quality textbooks on those

Teaching Religion — Islam in Bulgaria 61 subjects, will probably lead to some growth of interest among pupils. In this sense, no matter how well the educational system might organise this training (especially in Religion - Islam), its success will depend on far more varied, complex factors related to the effacement of the traumas of the past and the minority’s restored trust in the macro-society. Such processes are already going on, but they are countered by unfavourable factors such as economic inequality and external religious influence. Against the backdrop of a modern secular culture like the Bulgarian one, it seems even less acceptable and strongly clashing with many legal regulations (cf. Temperman’s contribution in this volume) -and hence unlikely - to introduce confessional RE as obligatory, a variant that is supported chiefly by clerical circles and theologians.

Non-confessional teaching of religion, which is included in the new study programmes and for which textbooks are currently being prepared, enjoys wider support in secular circles, institutions, and the general population; it is seen as a subject that conveys knowledge and information about religions. I expect that schoolchildren will show greater interest in it, although possibly not to a great degree due to the growing load of new subjects in the school programmes. At the same time, the detailed study programme of the non-confessional subject Religion prepared by the MES has visible elements and aspects of a rather inter-confessional subject that not only provides knowledge about the ideas and values of religions but also conveys certain religious suggestions related to faith in God (Programa Religiya-nekonfesionalno, 2018). The compromise of learning from and through the values of religion, as set down in this pro-gramme, leads to the following paradoxical result: it proves to be effective only if the pupil believes in God as a supreme source and support of these values. Ultimately, there is a probability that such non-confessional training may prove a concealed form of (inter)confessional training. Of course, such a variant does not eliminate but rather duplicates the division of education between knowledge and faith (especially if the subject is introduced as mandatory). The idea has already met with criticism on the part of citizens, which contributes to its further improvement. Nevertheless, there are similarities in the general processes and trends going on in this sphere in Enlightenment-based Europe for non-confessional teaching of religion. It does not clash with the secular character of the education system, and it avoids creating conditions for the division of students according to their religious affiliation.

Translated from Bulgarian by Vladimir Vladov


1. The total population of Bulgaria is 7,364,570. Religious denomination is a question on which the share of non-responded persons is the highest - 21.8%.

  • 2. Website available from: https://grandmufti.bg/en/ [Accessed 11 May 2020].
  • 3. The ’Bulgarisation’ of the Pomaks by the Communist regime by means of repression, changing names, and a prohibition of practicing the Islamic faith, was based on the view that Muslims in Bulgaria are the descendants of Bulgarians who had been forced to convert to Islam (Georgieva, 1998, 293).
  • 4. The classification of schools into state and municipal was first clearly present in the Acts of 1991 and 2015; the difference between the two lay in the source of financing and in their national importance (Art. 37 and 39). Earlier laws, up to the middle of the 20th century, referred to the term ’national’ schools, which comprised all forms funded by the state, except for the private ones.


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