Aims of the project
Drawing on several recent studies of ethnic and religious minorities in Danish schools, the focus of the present project is on:
- Religion. Previous studies have pointed out the importance of Islam as an identity marker and as a common point of reference for school children with minority backgrounds. None, however, has specifically investigated ways in which Islam is constructed in changing social, intellectual and cultural contexts, and how boundaries between religion and culture are negotiated and shifted. Thus, key questions in the present study are how religion in general and Islam in particular are perceived, practiced, and constructed in schools, both from the perspective of schools and from the perspective of Muslim families and children. One central issue is the shifting boundaries between “religion” and “culture”. As previous studies have shown, “religion” may in some instances possess an authority in schools that culture does not have, and “culture” therefore may be reinterpreted as “religion,” or “religion” as “culture.”
- The relationship between schools and religion. The Danish public school provides an interesting case with regard to religious education. Though shaped by a secular progressive pedagogy, the Danish public school still grants the official state Church, and Christianity as such, a central position. Children – including children belonging to minority religions – thus receive instruction in Christianity of the Evangelical Lutheran variety. While this instruction is no longer confessional, the school system still creates strong – explicit and implicit – links between Christianity, “Danishness” and citizenship. Minority students enrolled in Danish public schools must find ways to navigate this forceful, potentially exclusive religious/ethnic/national figure. The project investigates changes presently taking place in religion and schooling, specifically in the encounter between an immigrant religion, Islam, and traditional Danish public schools.
- Families. Although many studies see the social, cultural and religious background of pupils as highly significant, they generally treat these as contextual, explanatory factors. A focus on different families’ norms, values, morals and beliefs, and how these temper and are tempered by schooling, is rarely incorporated in research design. The existing literature on the intimate encounter between families – particularly Muslim families – and schools is minimal.
- Children. In relating to the various moralities of home and school, children bridge different – and potentially contradictory – demands and expectations. The project will investigate how children deal with these demands, how they perceive their identities in school and at home, and how new meanings of Islam, of being “Muslim” and “Danish” are created in the process.
- What interests and codifications produce a conflated “ethnic/religious” affiliation – Muslim – that comes to work in opposition to a “national” affiliation – ”Danish.”
The project will combine expertise in Islam and religious studies with expertise in educational anthropology, psychology, and anthropological child research.
Three methods of data gathering will be used:
- Interviews with school authorities, teachers, school-children, parents, Muslim “religious authorities”.
- Observation of classroom practice, school outings and events, parents’ meetings. Two to three folkeskoler will be selected for fieldwork to achieve as wide as possible coverage.
- Textual and content analysis of religious educational texts.
The project has a comparative dimension, looking at:
- The experience of Muslims in other European countries and USA.
- Historical and current experience of Christian and non-denominational Western schools in Muslim countries.
- Historical debates on issues such as Muslim participation in non-Muslim festivals.