Dr Nafsika Alexiadou
Nature and Control of School Knowledge
'Religion should be a private affair exercised freely by people in time and space outside that of education or other civic functions. In other words, I think that the principle of secularism as it features in the French and Turkish states is one that should be adopted by all modern states that wish to foster civic values.'
'School knowledge and citizens’ identities should be constructed on the basis of rational thinking (i.e. not based on faith), scientific developments and the humanistic values of respect for others, equality and free thought.'
Two key questions that we need to discuss with regard to the role of religion in schooling concern the values and purposes of education, and who decides what these are.
The role of the school in shaping identities and contributing to children’s socialisation into certain social, political and civic norms and values is well established. So, in evaluating the place of religion within education, we can juxtapose the value of autonomous and critical thought that could only (although not necessarily) be developed within a secular school, to a school that draws on faith in order to construct a set of values and framework of thinking.
The frequently used phrase by Greek religious representatives, ‘believe and do not question’ (pisteve ke mi erevna), reflects exactly this juxtaposition and places faith as a superior element to that of research and critical thinking.
But, marginalising or displacing critical thought by faith would seem to be the characteristic of education systems of a long-distant past, where the purpose of education was primarily to ‘keep people in their place’ and to develop ‘subjects’ rather than free thinking and democratic citizens.
, where all pupils and teachers receive their textbooks from the Ministry of Greece
Education, school knowledge is defined exclusively by the state with no alternative options or room for flexibility. Based on her analysis of Greek school textbooks (of Religious Education, Language, History, Social and Political Education) Zambeta argues that religious matters are not limited to the subject of RE but permeate school knowledge in general, especially in the subject of Language (chapter 5).
Religious education as taught in the Greek school context is not a critical examination of various religions in their social and historical context. It is of a denominational character and does not allow any space for questioning or presenting alternative ways of thinking.
This, Zambeta argues, makes RE entirely faith-based as opposed to knowledge-based, and so by definition should not be a school ‘subject’ (p. 124). It is not framed by either empirical examination of the world or the practice of rational reasoning. Instead, it is defined by ‘revelation’ based ‘truths’ and so, it should not be offered as a subject of an equal status to that of history; mathematics, or physics.
Zambeta suggests that the transmission of values of religious tradition could be the
responsibility of churches and even offered within the premises of state schools but not as part of school ‘knowledge’. This could be in a framework of pluralistic instruction whereby other faiths would be respectfully represented for those parents who wish their children to be introduced to them.
I would argue instead for an entirely secular school model where religious instruction (of a denominational nature) has no place in the curriculum, and the school premises are free from religious influences of any type. Religion should be a private affair exercised freely by people in time and space outside that of education or other civic functions. In other words, I think that the principle of secularism as it features in the French and Turkish states is one that should be adopted by all modern states that wish to foster civic values.
The differences between the ‘pluralistic’ model of religious representation in public life in Britain and that of secular France have been very much in the British media during the end of 2005 because of the recent riots in the French ‘banlieues’ from some parts of Muslim youth. The discussion about the French banning of religious symbols within school premises has been central in the discussion about ‘causes’ for the unrest, and symbolically have been given high significance.
So, many British commentators discuss the ban as a violation of the human right to express one’s identity and religion. But the discursive significance of the ban of course goes further than that: if pupils are allowed to carry religious symbols within the school, why not introduce or allow other forms of religious practice? Who would then decide and on what criteria where the line needs to be drawn with reference to instruction of particular areas of the curriculum (for instance; the recent controversy and legal battle in the United States around ‘evolution’ and the instruction of ‘intelligent design’ as part of the Biology or RE curriculum); instruction around sex education that would find objectors amongst the conservative parts of faith communities; withdrawal of pupils
(mainly girls?) from certain school activities and/or subjects (sport; sex education); interruption of the school day for prayers, etc. Once religion is part of the school life and features as an integral part of educational practices all of these issues are negotiable between the educational establishment and the faith communities. School knowledge and citizens’ identities should be constructed on the basis of rational thinking (i.e. not based on faith), scientific developments and the humanistic values of respect for others, equality and free thought. These are mostly values that are not represented in the practices of organised religions.
But, the logical contradictions inherent in a curriculum that combines revelation-truths with the desire to develop rational thought are not the only problem identified with giving denominational religious instruction a place in the curriculum. Another problem relates to the exclusive nature of religious practice and the desirability (or not) of institutionalising this within the education system.
Social Divisions and Religion in Education
Europe is becoming increasingly multicultural and multi-religious, and the questions of
Social Divisions and Religion in Education
The [U.K.] Labour Government introduced citizenship education that requires ‘knowledge and understanding of the diversity of national, regional, religious and ethnic identities in the
’ (in Judge, 2001, p. 5) and since their coming to power in 1997 they have tried systematically to ‘co-opt faith communities’ into their project of political modernisation (Smith, 2004, p. 185). UK
I suggest that the encouragement of religious pluralism within education as practised by Britain offers an example to be avoided since, in the words of Harry Judge (2001) it makes a virtue ‘of the magnification of difference, and therefore of fragmentation. … and institutionalises segregation’ (p. 469).
This is highly relevant for Greek education, which indeed follows in its religious curriculum such a ‘magnification of difference’, although by being exclusive rather than plural. Based on her detailed discursive analysis of the Greek textbooks but also of other religious practices within the Greek school (such as attendance to religious services etc.), Zambeta shows how religious dogmatism constructs a set of social hierarchies within the curriculum whereby certain identities are valued higher than others.
School knowledge codifies Greek identity and the Greek Orthodox religion as inseparable concepts: this codification reveals the ethnocentric and highly denominational character of education, but it also serves to exclude or/and to devalue ‘religious others’. Thus, Islam is presented as an inferior religion and culture that clearly corresponds to ‘our enemy’. These issues are discussed in depth in the penultimate chapter of the book, where the focus is on education and ‘religious otherness’. This chapter is based on empirical analysis of educational practices of the Muslim minority people outside of
 (i.e. not studying in minority schools). It attempts to analyse the identity of the Muslim Greek citizen, the reasons for population mobility and the relationship they have with Thrace . Thrace
Zambeta’s book concludes that the Greek school and education policy have to reconsider their practices with regard to religion and to the management of religious otherness. The current practices undermine the social right to education, they are offensive to a large part of the population that does not practise religion or has a different faith, and keep the country distant from the European developments in this sphere: that of pluralism and of respect for difference.
diversity, pluralism, human rights and social integration are central. The European Union mission to achieve ‘unity in diversity’ as an entity that gathers citizens of different religions and ethnicities, and to guarantee freedom of thought, conscience, and religion is one that draws on the need to protect human rights and the pursuit of social progress and social justice. These ideals, I would argue, would be much better achieved if religion was removed from the public sphere and especially from education altogether and was protected and respected as a purely private
Dr Nafsika Alexiadou, Department of Education,
, Keele ST5 5BG, Keele University