We have grown together as one humanity. Planes and ships connect the continents, production and trade chains span the globe, financial flows and transactions chase each other around the world in seconds, a dense network of telecommunications provides near real-time information and data about the remotest parts of the universe.
Dangers have also become global: Nuclear overkill capacities enable the self-destruction of humanity, pathogens and climate change have no regard for national borders. This poses the task of shaping society from a global consciousness. Only through solidarity will it be possible to solve the big questions of our time about the peaceful coexistence of cultures, the fair distribution of goods and a sustainable economy.
In this context, religions play a central role, as they are the basis of value orientation and lifestyle for billions of people. What potential lies hidden in them? Does their diversity give rise to a clash of civilisations and even terrorist attacks and armed conflicts? Or do they offer the basis for a global ethic of non-violence and justice, of human dignity and sustainability? In view of these questions, an interreligious dialogue, as it is now being conducted in many ways, appears to be of great social importance. This is true not only at the international level, where a Parliament of the World's Religions has been meeting regularly since 1993, but also for national, regional and local initiatives. Tolerance and cooperation presuppose an active interest in the views and motives of the person of a different faith.
An attitude of true human love
This is not least an educational task: it is important to make the pupils aware of the richness of the different religions. Time and again, the view is put forward that the Waldorf School is a Christian school. Reference is made to a statement made by Rudolf Steiner during his speech at the closing ceremony of the first school year of the first Waldorf School in Stuttgart on 24 July 1920:
«It is basically the spirit of Christianity which blows through our rooms, which, starting from every teacher, goes to every child, even if something apparently remote from religion is taught, such as arithmetic. Here it is always the spirit of Christ which, starting from the teacher, should enter the hearts of the children, this spirit which is permeated by love, by true love of humanity.»
These sentences show that the Christian element of Waldorf education does not mean something exclusively denominational, but rather the attitude of genuine love for humanity, which should have an effect right down to the teaching methodology. Rudolf Steiner described the attitude to be striven for even more clearly in lectures of 11.2.1919 and 16.2.1919. In these lectures he made it clear that the modern human being, who has awakened to self-awareness, has a defect within him: the insistence on one's own point of view, the insistence on one's own opinion, the prejudice. This defect, however, challenges us to overcome the ring of our egocentric world view through energetic self-education. Rudolf Steiner describes this effort as the modern path to Christ:
We come closer to him «when we broaden our interest in inner tolerance for everything human [...].» The Christ impulse can be found «when I consider myself a member of humanity down to the innermost part of my soul [...].» Tolerance is more than acquiescence, it consists rather in an active interest in the thoughts of the other.
This also applies to religion. We are called upon to deal with religions other than our own in a benevolent and active way: «Self-education must carefully ensure that there is nothing left in the soul that could give preference to one religion over the other». This attitude is expressed in Rudolf Steiner's curriculum specification to deal with the world religions in the Waldorf School's free religious education in grade 12: «This should culminate in a survey of the world's religions in grade 12. It should culminate in the fact that in the 12th grade one should be able to go through an overview of the religions of the world, but not in such a way that from this overview one should evoke the idea that all of them are actually inauthentic, but rather that one should show their relative authenticity through the individual forms.» Rudolf Steiner then added that this reference referred to the «ninth level» of religious education; from a note it can be gathered that at that time the 11th grade also belonged to it.
Since there has not yet been a presentation for the treatment of world religions in the upper school of Waldorf schools, Angelika Schmitt and I have attempted to fill this gap and have presented a publication in seven volumes entitled: «The World Religions - Diversity and Harmony». In it, the following topics are treated: Religiosity of Indigenous Peoples, Chinese Religiosity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Religions spring from spiritual experiences
Each volume is structured in a similar way: After an initial approach, usually through a topical introduction, the origins of the respective religion are dealt with, its basic myths or the personality of the founder are presented. Then usually follows, based on the sacred scriptures handed down, a presentation of the ideological foundations. These include the concept of the divine-spiritual, the image of creation and the human being, and ethics. Further chapters deal with the diverse forms of life: the symbols, rites, festivals and cults and the historical developments.
It can be noted that Confucianism, Buddhism or Islam, Judaism or Christianity do not actually exist. Rather, diverse forms of religious life have developed within a stream over thousands of years. Although they refer to one origin, they have undergone numerous metamorphoses in the course of their spread. In addition, one finds that the concept of «religion» coined in the West, which refers to a binding back («religare») to a divine-spiritual origin, is not at all applicable to many religious currents dating back to ancient times. The separation of the sacred and the profane world never took place here in the way it did in the Abrahamic religions: the order of earthly life is always permeated by the laws of a spiritual cosmos.
A guiding theme of the presentation is the conviction that religions are based on spiritual experiences. Insofar as the spiritual life is not part of the official doctrine – as in the Eastern religions, for example – this aspect is addressed in a separate chapter on mysticism. Biographical sketches about one or more supporting personalities from recent times round off the explanations. At the end, there is a reflection on the potential contribution of the respective religion to interreligious dialogue. In addition, the last volume on Islam contains a concluding reflection on the harmony of the religions.