A quantitative arts-based study was conducted with high school juniors and seniors at a community Jewish school in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This group represented a diverse mixture of students who populate the school in relation to gender, involvement in school life, and religious denominations. Students were prompted to draw a religious Jew and the images were scored based on five different markers.
Of the 35 drawings, only one female was drawn. Additionally, the majority of students drew haredi Orthodox Jews, despite none being present in the study group. The article concludes by addressing the problem of how students understand the word religious, and offers suggestions for how to reframe religious identity in a way that reflects pluralism and denominational diversity.
Additional studies are needed in order to better understand how to counter the stereotypes surrounding students’ understanding of the term “religious.” It would seem, following Finson (2002), that any attempt to change their perceptions would require regular interaction with religious females and with religious Jews of different denominational backgrounds, and a transparent explanation of their religious beliefs and practices would need to accompany these meetings. Additionally, when rituals are taught, they need to be placed in a religious framework irrespective of denomination. Prolonged exposure to non-Orthodox individuals and reinforcement of students’ religious choices as religious choices – even when they make other irreligious choices, could also help change the discourse and the way students consider religiosity and the religious people in their lives.