Understandings of Acculturation, Identity and Religion in Schools: Straddling the balance between assimilation, integration and marginalisation Ulrike Niens, Alison Mawhinney, Norman Richardson & Yuko Chiba Queen’s University Belfast Research funded by the AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society Research Programme
Acknowledgements • Project: Opting out of religious education: The views of young people from minority belief backgrounds • A. Mawhinney, U. Niens, N. Richardson & Y. Chiba (Queen’s University Belfast) • Funded by the AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society Research Programme • With a big thanks to all research participants who gave up their time for the interviews and without whom the research wouldn’t have been possible! • Niens, U., Mawhinney, A., Richardson, N. and Chiba, Y. (2012) Acculturation and religion in schools: the views of young people from minority belief backgrounds. British Educational Research Journal. doi: 10.1002/berj.3016
Rationale • Increasing public focus on developing effective policies and practices for diverse and inclusive societies • Education as arena where secure identities and tolerant attitudes can be fostered for children and young people from diverse ethnic backgrounds and religious beliefs • Role of religion in schools in multicultural societies questioned • How does the presence of a majority religious ethos and religious education (RE) in schools promote or hinder the development of secure religious identities for minority belief pupils and sense of belonging to the school community and society (Jackson 2006)
Framework: Acculturation theory • Theory widely used and acclaimed (Berry 1997, Bourhis 1997) ‘In its simplest sense, “acculturation” covers all the changes that arise following “contact” between individuals and groups of different cultural backgrounds’ (Sam 2006) • 2 dimensions • Desire to maintain contact with own cultural identity • Willingness to engage with host community
Acculturation theory • Desire to maintain contact with own cultural identity
Interactive model of acculturation • Bourhis (1997): Considers minority and majority acculturation strategies and degree of fit between them • Consensual fit: Majority and minority prefer assimilation, integration or individualisation strategies. • Conflictual fit: One community favours these strategies, the other opts for segregation/separation • Problematic fit: All other combinations of strategies • Consensual fit good predictor of wellbeing for majority and minority children (Nigbur et al. 2008)
Acculturation and religious groups • Theory traditionally applied to ethnic groups • Recently extended to religious majority and minority groups’ strategies (e.g. Abu-Rayya & White 2010, Awad 2010, Maliepaard et al. 2010) • confirms applicability of acculturation theory to explore religious diversity • highlights interrelationship between acculturation orientations, religious identity and out-group attitudes for minority and majority communities • Most research based on quantitative approaches
Acculturation, religion and schools • Schools important contexts of socialisation and acculturation; e.g. school culture, policies and curricula (Banks 2008) • Curricula often assimiliationist (Ogbu 1992), raising concerns about religious education (RE) (Jackson 2006) • Barrett et al (2007): Minority belief students likely to assimilate into majority religious culture due to their desire to fit in • Chaudhury & Miller (2008): Where young people see school norms and RE as negating or disrespecting their values and norms, it is likely to impact on religious identity development and acculturation
Addressing the gap • Explore religious identities and acculturation orientations amongst young people from minority belief backgrounds • Relate to their perceptions of schools’ acculturation orientation (host culture) • Using qualitative approach to enable indepth and complex understanding of young people’s views
Research Context: Northern Ireland • All schools essentially Christian • Collective worship in all schools. RE compulsory to age of 16 • RE Core Syllabus (2007): Designed by 4 main churches • Limited World Religions section: Ages 11 – 14 • Human rights law relies on opt-outs to protect right to freedom of thought, conscience and belief in education • Aim: protect against indoctrination in schools • Parental right to withdraw their children from RE and religious worship in school if these contradict their own beliefs • Opt-out could be seen as separationist strategy
Research procedure • Ethics approval, full informed consent from parents and students • Semi-structured interviews with young people from minority belief backgrounds • Recruitment through religious and community organisations, snowballing and personal contacts • Duration: 30 minutes to 2 hours • 26 students aged 13–18 (13 female, 15 students from ethnic and religious minority backgrounds, 9 opted out of RE) • Thematic analysis: Wider focus of research project; narrowed down for purpose of this paper (Braun & Clarke 2006)
Identity and belonging to own religious/non-religious communities • Religious students: Strong sense of belonging to their faith communities. Religious influence in all aspects of their life and intertwined with cultural identity: • Essentially what to think or what to do… I feel it’s [faith] a part of my identity, cultural identity, you know (Keith) • Non-religious students: Parents non-religious with strong influence on their beliefs. Religious position not seen as individualist but part of community of like-minded people (Ysseldyk et al. 2010): • More and more young people don’t believe in anything so (Peter) • All students: Clear sense of collective identity and no tendencies towards individualisation or assimilation
Relationships with majority peers in school • Diverse student population helpful in making students feel included and in developing positive attitudes • All had friendships with religious majority peers • Respect toward religious beliefs important; e.g. • Anwar explains how it makes him feel when friends fast with him ‘Good—it proves that they are actually my real friends’ • Relationships mostly described positively but some negative experiences and few instances of religious bullying
Relationships with majority staff in school • Differentiated understandings of teachers’ acculturation orientations and motivations to behave respectfully • Responding generally to school culture: It is by the teachers, not by the students [that faith is respected in school], because the teachers could get in big trouble if they say anything bad or anything… and it’s not just about faith really as well it’s about like what’s called like racism, about colours and stuff. (Kamille) • Referring to behaviour change in RE teacher: So that’s probably why she changed so much that she doesn’t want to lose her job or something—maybe she was more worried about that than anything else. (Yadu)
Perceived acculturation orientation in school • Christianity seen as main religious influence in schools • Associated with Christian nature of society and politics • It’s quite Christian but because it is a Northern Irish school so I think they are all like that (Chloe) • You end up accepting that Northern Ireland is a very Christian place, and even everything is driven by like politics, everything is very religion-based. So, and multiculturalism is very slow getting here, so you just get it, I suppose (Hilary) • Limited recognition of influence of N. Ireland conflict • Well in the majority of classes the topic of religion wouldn’t come up because it is a touchy subject in N. Ireland (Matthew)
Christian nature of schools: Assembly • No interviewee opted out of assembly • Seen as compulsory, contain important school announcements • Despite perceived assimilationist orientation, no tensions Interviewer: It [assembly] sounds quite Christian? Chris: Oh yeah—everything is. Interviewer: Do you have no problem with that? Chris: No not at all. No tension even where assimilation was enforced more evidently Yadu: I just do that [keeping his head down] and be respectful for them because I don’t want to be rude by just standing up like this …Interviewer: But you don’t actually say the prayer? Yadu: Sometimes they would tell everybody to say it but I just like hear others so I copy them because in the end it means all good things…
Christian nature of schools: RE • Some students were opted out • Consensus about importance of learning about world religions • Some saw belief in school as important for social education and opportunity to re-evaluate own beliefs • Ethnic minority backgrounds students saw learning about Christianity as relevant to integrate into society • Varied experiences of • acculturation orientation in RE depending on teacher • opt-out provision depending on teacher and school
Harmonious acculturation in RE • Integration: Where world religions were taught in a balanced way, interviewees felt fully integrated into RE lessons, e.g. • Well, I would even consider being an RE teacher I like it so much’ (Radhia, opted in - integration) • Where teacher made efforts to include those who were opted out they felt equally integrated, e.g. • Anwar successfully balanced opt-out position with his positive relationships with the RE teacher and majority pupils in class Interviewer: Do you talk to your RE teacher a lot? Anwar: Yeah. Interviewer: Is he or she your class teacher too? Anwar: She is just RE teacher so she is. Interviewer: Is she nice? Anwar: Yeah she always gives us sweets at the end. […] Interviewer: To everybody? Anwar: Yeah. Interviewer: Oh—and you too? Anwar: Yep. (opted out –individualisation/separation)
Acculturation tensions relating to RE • Assimilationist perception of RE: • ‘The fact that Christianity is just pushed on you—it’s just you know like this is what it is and this is what you should believe and that I don’t like that about it’ (Rachel – opted in) • … after I started doing the course ... it was about the life of Jesus... and it was focused on the one religion and we were being taught it as if this was what we were meant to believe (Chloe – opted out) • Difficulties with opt-out provision • Because none of my friends would [opt out], well, ‘cause I just like to be normal like everyone else (Michael-opted in) • We were just non-RE folk at the back of the room. That’s really what we were known as by the teacher after that, you know, we were kind of faithless, we weren’t their students anymore... (Daniel –opted out) • Forced some students to employ individualisation/ separation or assimilation strategies
Limitations • Generalisibility: Small, self-selected and unrepresentative sample • Self-reported data: Perceptions of schools’ acculturation orientations in this study may neither accurately reflect policies and practices in schools nor be generalized to all schools in N. Ireland • N. Ireland context unique due to Christian influence in all schools, but echoes situation in other locations
Conclusion • Qualitative data: Indepth insights into complexity of students’ understandings of acculturation • Overall: Respondent successfully negotiated own religious beliefs within own communities and Christian majority school environment. Integrationist attitudes were most prominent (Nigbur, 2008) • Interviewees contextualised and differentiated between societal norms, educational policy, school practices and relationships between themselves and majority belief peers and staff • Clearest evidence of acculturation tensions related to RE curriculum • Integration possible where teachers mediated it to allow space for other beliefs • Acculturation tensions where this was not done effectively • Opt-out did not necessarily alleviate tensions but could promote • Separation strategies: When students felt no choice but to opt-out or • Assimilation strategies: When students felt unable to opt out
Conclusion • For young people with minority religious beliefs, human rights law through opt-out for RE not sufficient • to respect and protect their right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion • to accommodate difference and to facilitate effective integration • Berry (1998): Multiculturalism facilitates framework for societies and institutions to meet human rights obligations • ‘the alternatives imply the denial of the right to be different (Assimilation), the rejection of persons who pursue that right (Segregation) or both (Marginalisation)’ (p. 227).
Opting Out of Religious Education: The Views of Young People from Minority Belief Backgrounds October 2010 Alison Mawhinney Ulrike Niens Norman Richardson Yuko Chiba
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