With religion gaining a foothold in the southeastern European country almost two decades after the fall of communism, Bulgaria is planning to introduce compulsory religious studies in schools to raise awareness about different faiths.
"We plan to introduce religion as a subject in the curriculum to improve the general knowledge of students and teach them goodwill and tolerance," Georgy Bakalov of the education ministry told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
He said the plans aim to give "lay" instruction on basic facts about the history and views of the world's different religions.
The religious courses would be compulsory in primary school and optional for secondary students, said Education Minister Daniel Valtchev.
Under the plans, biblical parables would be used to prod moral values into younger children.
Older students would be taught the history of religions, major holy sites, sacred texts, as well as religious ethics and art.
Bulgaria's 7.8 million population is 80 percent Christian Orthodox, by tradition.
Only 30 percent of Bulgaria's population define themselves as believers.
Muslims make up 12 percent of Bulgaria's population.
Prior to communism, religious courses on Christianity were part of every school's curriculum.
Religious rituals were banned under the communist rule.
But after the fall of the communist regime in 1989, religion began to gain a foothold in Bulgaria.
A decade ago, optional studies on Christianity or Islam were introduced in schools.
In 2000, the Bulgarian government introduced separate lectures on Christianity, Islam and Buddhism as well as on faith, fundamentalism and religious sects in high school philosophy classes.
Since 2001, government members take the oath of office on the Bible and before the Christian Cross. The inauguration of new buildings and offices also often includes a religious service.
The compulsory religious studies plans are dividing the Bulgarians.
Political analyst Mira Yanova, mother of two high school students said religious courses would help promote ethnic, cultural and religious tolerance.
"Such knowledge, necessary to all people nowadays, was denied to us," she said.
But other Bulgarians have a different opinion.
"It's not one course a week that is going to keep the young away from religious sects and violence," said Tsveta Brosnichka of the national student parents' association.
"Many parents oppose the introduction of religion as a full-fledged subject in schools."
Iliana Dimitrova, a teenager from Sofia, objected for other reasons.
"The curriculum is already too tight. Those interested in religion can find information on the Internet."
Analyst Andrey Raychev said imposing religious studies on an atheist population could be "dangerous" if religion was only presented in a good light without discussing the Crusades, the Inquisition or moments when religious fervor led to repression and abuse.
This would be "a grave error", he insisted.
Many Bulgarians still confuse religious faith and superstition, a 2004 Gallup poll showed.
Half of Bulgarians still believe in black magic and fear the evil eye, while one in five people believe ghosts exist, black cats bring bad luck and that one can talk to the dead.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 22 Şubat 2008, 15:35