The role of cultural heritage in the development of religious education

12 December 2022


The International Forum for the 50th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention was held in Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, from 4 to 9 December 2022. The event was organized by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation together with the Government of Tatarstan. In his welcome address at the opening of the Forum, Rustam Minnikhanov, President of the Republic of Tatarstan, thanked the President and the Government of the Russian Federation, the Commission for UNESCO and its Executive Secretary Grigory Ordzhonikidze, and Minister of Culture Olga Lyubimova for choosing Tatarstan as the venue for such an important and large-scale event.

The thematic conferences were attended by about one thousand delegates from Russia, as well as from the CIS countries, Asia, Africa and Latin America – experts in the field of world heritage, specialists in the sphere of ecology, culture and education, and religious figures. At the grand opening of the event, held at the Conference Hall of the Presentation Hall in the Kazan Kremlin, on December 7, Kamil Hazrat Samigullin, Mufti of the Republic of Tatarstan, delivered a speech. Welcoming remarks were also made by Metropolitan Kirill of Kazan and Tatarstan, Vicar of His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Deputy Administrator of the Moscow Patriarchate Bishop Savva of Zelenograd, Chief Rabbi of Kazan Itzhak Gorelik and General Director of the International Research Centre for Islamic Culture and Art History (IRCICA) Mahmud Erol Kylych.

One of the international conferences of the forum was devoted to the theme ‘Religious Heritage Sites’. The program of the scientific session included papers on religious World Heritage Sites in the Russian regions, Central Asian countries, Gambia, Iraq, Mauritania and Mali.

The presentation on ‘Role of the Cultural Heritage in the Development of Religious Education’ was made by Elmira Sadykova, Doctor of Political Science, member of the Group of Strategic Vision ‘Russia – Islamic World’, Executive Director of the Foundation for Strategic Dialogue and Partnership.

‘Cultural heritage today is one of the most important factors of social development. In one way or another, it manifests itself in every element of contemporary human life; nobody doubts the importance of cultural heritage in shaping the value system of the individual, especially young people.

The new role of cultural heritage has led to new approaches in defining its composition, thanks to which not only tangible cultural monuments, but also intangible part of heritage has received normative enshrinement and political support from the UN and several states. The UNESCI General Conference adopted the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, from which the concept began to take shape. The mainstreaming of cultural heritage has become one of the leading factors in the domestic policy of our country too. The dedication of 2022 to cultural heritage of peoples of Russia shows the great attention given in the domestic policy of our state to the popularization of history and culture of peoples, the preservation of the continuity of traditions of all peoples and ethnic communities of the multinational country.

The millennia-old traditions that came to Russia in 988 in connection with the adoption of Orthodoxy are an important component of the potential of the cultural heritage of our state. Orthodox culture has determined the identity of Russia in the world community. A huge part of the national cultural heritage expressed in the material culture of the Russian people – historical buildings and constructions, material monuments of history and culture, objects of everyday life, folk art, etc. belongs to Orthodox culture or bears its imprint.

The year 2022 is marked in the history of the Tatar people by a jubilee date – the 1100th anniversary of the adoption of Islam by the Volga Bulgars, ancestors of the Tatars. This event led to the most radical changes both in the political, economic, cultural and even social life of the Bulgars.

This event is important not only for the formation of a new religious order for the Tatars, but also for comprehending Russian history as a single civilizational whole and understanding the deep connection between the past and the present in the spiritual and moral development of the modern multinational state.

Cultural heritage has enormous educational potential, which can be used, for instance, to overcome the decline in the level of general culture in society. For Russia, as a multinational state with representatives of different ethnic and religious communities, cultural heritage is a unifying factor in the education of a generation of Russians, morally healthy, able to appreciate their historical traditions, culture and the past. It is important to emphasize that the concepts of ‘religion’ and ‘culture’ are organically linked.

Education has the main task of preparing young people for life in a dynamic, unstable world, a multicultural environment and interreligious interaction, and of helping to shape an individual with a tolerant mindset, a multifaceted world view, and a readiness for open dialogue and mutual understanding in a multicultural environment.

The study of inter-confessional dialogue in educational programs meets peace-loving principles of Islam: ‘O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Aware’ (49:13) and ‘And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colors. Indeed, in that are signs for those of knowledge’ (30:22). It must be remembered that difference and diversity are the choice and will of the Creator, so respecting that choice and preserving difference and diversity is the duty and moral obligation of the believer.

In my presentation, using the example of the Bulgarian Islamic Academy, I will focus on the experience of using the potential of cultural heritage of Ancient Bolgar in the educational process. The adoption of Islam as a state religion in the XI century played a significant role in the fact that Volga Bulgaria came into the orbit of Islamic states, expanded its cultural and trade-economic relations, became the centre of transit trade and had a significant impact on the development of Islam in the Eurasian space.

It is no coincidence that the Bulgarian Islamic Academy was established on the territory with the rich historical past. Ancient Bolgar is a model of historical and cultural interrelations and transformations in Eurasia over several centuries, which played a significant role in the formation of civilizations and cultural traditions. It is home to UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Bolgar Museum-Reserve, located on the banks of the Volga River south of Kazan.

For Islamic higher education institutions, the Educational Standard of Higher Religious Education in the direction of ‘training of ministers and religious personnel of religious organizations’, ‘Islamic Sciences’ education profile (qualification – ‘Bachelor of Islamic Sciences’) was adopted at the meeting of the Council for Islamic Education Minutes № 2/19/CIO of July 29, 2019. The basic part of the cycle ‘General Humanities and Social Disciplines’ includes as mandatory disciplines ‘History of Religions and Ethical Studies’, ‘Civil and Ethno-Cultural Identity of Russian Muslims’, as well as ‘History of Islam in Russia’ (as a part of the national-regional component). Within the framework of the aforementioned disciplines, visits to historical religious sites and cultural heritage monuments are of great importance.

Among them, a special place was taken by the work on organizing and conducting the VI International Summer School ‘Bulgarian Dialogue of Cultures’ in assistance with the Group of Strategic Vision ‘Russia – Islamic World’, on the theme ‘Personal Model of Interreligious Dialogue’ and two academic round tables ‘Prospects of Interreligious Dialogue in the Republic of Tatarstan’ and ‘History of Interreligious Dialogue in Russia: Peace through the Millennium’.

During the year a series of reciprocal visits between the students of the Bulgarian Islamic Academy and Kazan Orthodox Theological Seminary as well as a series of visits of the 1st year postgraduate students of the 2021 enrollment to Kazan Chabad-Lubavitch Synagogue and Kazan Parish of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross of the Roman Catholic Church, as part of the realization of the Religion – Space of Peace and Kindness project, were conducted.

Lectures dedicated to the history of interaction between Orthodoxy and Islam in Russia, such as ‘History of Christian-Muslim Relations in Russia during the period of the Golden Horde’, were delivered to postgraduate students, in addition to it, 5 full-length feature films of participants and laureates of the XVII Kazan International Muslim Film Festival were shown to students in the introductory format followed by a discussion. The project ‘Religion – Space of Peace and Kindness’ of the Centre for Interreligious Dialogue is being implemented.

Meetings with representatives of creative circles are held. For instance, in July 2022 a creative meeting was held with Almaz Askhadullin, Head of the Ethnic Group and Creative Association of Musical Masters ‘Alpar’. The speaker of the event also gave an interactive lecture on ‘History of Tatar Music Culture of the Middle Ages and the Current State of Muslim Performing Arts’.
Religious education aimed at learning about a particular religious’ tradition and culture, but it also seems important to develop a correct perception and understanding of the importance to preserve and develop cultural traditions and peculiarities of the peoples of the Russian Federation.

As conclusions and recommendations, it seems that the system of religious education should be based on a creative approach to the study of religious traditions and reinterpretation of religious sources on the basis of accumulated socio-cultural and scientific-philosophical experience. In this regard, the direction of activity related to the formation of basic skills to perceive cultural heritage in the process of general education should be considered extremely relevant’.



Photo: official website of the President of the Republic of Tatarstan