Department of Catechetics and Pedagogy was established at the Faculty of Catholic Theology of the University of Zagreb as early as November 14, 1919 as an expression of the desire for a stronger representation of catechetics and religious education as sciences, in the swing of the catechetical movement. The head of the Department was Franjo Lasman (1872 – 1957), former professor at the Royal Male Teacher Training School in Zagreb. The founding of the department can serve as an indicator of the Faculty’s involvement in the current thought process in Central Europe. This innovative concept was, unfortunately, short-lived and the department was abolished, with its courses returning to the Department of Pastoral Theology. It was re-established only on June 2, 1996 under the name of the Department for Religious Education and Catechetics. The first acting head of the Department of Religious Education and Catechetics after its re-establishment in 1996 was a pastoral theologian and head of the Department of Pastoral Theology, Prof. Josip Baloban, Ph.D. In 1998, the religious educationalist Prof. Alojzije Hoblaj, Ph.D., was elected to lead the department, which he remained doing until his retirement in 2010. The same year, Prof. Ružica Razum, Ph.D., became acting head of the department, and in 2011 she became the official head. Since 2017, Prof. Ana Thea Filipović, Ph.D., has been performing that service.
Prior to the establishment of the department, courses from the fields of religious pedagogy and catechetics were taught within the Department of Pastoral Theology. Catechesis, as an activity of the Church, is as old as the Church itself. Moreover, traces of catechetical practices can be seen in the work of the historical Jesus, as witnessed in the New Testament. Catechetics as an academic discipline is a relatively young branch of theology, formed under the auspices of Catholic Enlightenment in Europe. With the reform of theological studies in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, carried out under the project of the Benedictine abbot Franz Stefan Rautenstrauch (1734-1785), pastoral theology gained its rightful place as an independent theological discipline at all the theological colleges of the Kingdom in 1774. Catechetics was taught (and studied) as part of pastoral theology or as an independent matter. Some authors consider the German theologian Johann Baptist Hirscher (1788 – 1865) to be the founder of catechetics as a scientific discipline in the true sense of the word. He earned this honorary title with his work ‘Catechetics or the Vocation of Spiritual leaders to Teach and Educate the Youth Entrusted to Him in Christianity, in its Full Range’, published in 1831. The emergence of such a work should certainly be seen as the fruit of the gradual independence and profiling of catechetics and religious education as a scientific discipline, which began early in the 18th century and eventually transformed itself into a separate university course by establishing the departments of the same name at the theological faculties.
More recently, the development of catechetics as a science has been pushed by specialized teaching programs designed and implemented by catechetical institutes established in the 20th century in Brussels, Nijmegen, Paris, Munich, Rome, and other places.
The Department of Religious Education and Catechetics at the Faculty of Catholic Theology of the University of Zagreb, with the present-day Institute of Religious Sciences, has been included in the postgraduate study programmes at the Faculty since 2007. In carrying out scientific-teaching and scientific-research activities in the process of licensing and doctoral education, the Department of Religious Education and Catechetics cooperates with the Department of Pastoral Theology, under whose leadership the 4th specialization module entitled Contemporary Pastoral Challenges between Theory and Practices is organized.
The Department of Religious Education and Catechetics affirms and promotes its own theological branch in the Croatian cultural and linguistic context through teaching and scientific research, as well as participating in international discourse. Religious education and catechetics belong to the scientific field of the humanities, the field of theology, and the scientific-teaching theological field of practical theology. It is a scientific discipline that studies catechesis as an ecclesiastical practice within the ministry of proclamation, but its subject is also the overall educational activity of the Church, studied using historical, systematic, and empirical methods. Religious education and catechetics explore the identity and role of catechetical proclamation in the processes of becoming Christian, that is, in the processes of Christian initiation, religious upbringing and socialization, as well as lasting growth toward the maturity of faith. Furthermore, it studies the places, forms, addressees, and carrier of catechetical and religious educational practices. In a broader sense, it is devoted to all areas and contexts of Christian educational activity, increasingly researching and studying religious educational practice in various religiously pluralistic societies, often realized only in partial, selective or exclusively cultural relation to the Church.
As a theory of practice, based on the attention it gives to the addressees of catechesis, religious education and catechetics as a theological discipline, it is necessarily linked to research in the field of education and other humanities, as well as social sciences, such as pedagogy, didactics, psychology, andragogy, cultural anthropology, communication sciences, sociology and others – interdisciplinarity is its core feature. Numerous compulsory and elective courses, seminars, and methodological training, delivered by the department’s teaching staff as part of the Faculty’s study programmes, provide insight into the breadth of the scientific field and the necessary interdisciplinary knowledge.