International Perspectives on Citizenship, Education and Religious Diversity
Senior Lecturer in Education, Westminster Institute of Education, Oxford Brookes University
|Review published||1 December 2004|
When reading this collection of essays I came across a delightful and poignant quote from Tom Paine "…my country is the world and my religion is to do good." It reminded me of John Arlott, the deceased cricket commentator and wine columnist, who made just one visit to apartheid-ridden South Africa to cover an MCC tour. Upon his arrival Arlott was asked by a government official to state his race. Arlott's reply: "human." The whole experience turned him into a passionate anti-apartheid campaigner.
Part of the beauty of a comparative approach such as this, are the unexpected gems of enlightenment contained within. For example, Geir Skeie informs the reader that there is no obvious parallel for the words 'citizen' or 'citizenship' in Norwegian, (though the word 'medborg' (co-citizen) is gaining ground.) Not surprisingly then there is no citizenship curriculum as such in Norwegian schools. Rather, "one broad approach is the see the whole educational system as an introduction to what it means to be a citizen", and issues such as ethics, political literacy and national identity are addressed through the more 'traditional' curricular areas of history, geography and home economics, (strange, that reminds me of something peculiarly pre-National Curriculum…) His chapter (3) also provides a good outline of the twentieth century roots of Norwegian national identity- -grounded in the cohesive effects of the welfare state.
Throughout the book there emerge clear reflections and theory about citizenship, education and religious diversity, taken from studies in four countries: Germany, Norway, South Africa and the UK, These are the results of a seminar of the International Network for Inter-religious and Inter-cultural Education, held in 2001at the University of Warwick, where the editor, Robert Jackson, is Professor of Education and director of the Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit.
Jackson's introductory chapter sets the scene well and, interestingly, seems to clear up once and for all the question about whether the British are citizens or subjects whilst Lat Blaycock's summative chapter contains many reflections on religion and citizenship and considers parallels and contrasts between shared stories of history and national identity and religious shared stories. In between there are nine more well referenced chapters, following an international, comparative, critical and reflective approach and considering in depth issues such as religious diversity and plurality in relation to citizenship, gendered subjectivity and citizenship and a replacement for religious education. The topical focus on state supported faith schools by Jackson is augmented by Weisse's case study, focussing as it does on the anomalous organisation of religious education in Hamburg, which does not segregate denominational groups as do other German Lander. Relevant pedagogy is also considered, with three of the contributors arguing for a 'dialogical' approach to the teaching of religious education.
This is an important contribution to the theory and reflection surrounding citizenship, education and religious diversity, which I am sure will prove stimulating and useful to those delivering both initial training and continuing professional development in this area.