Walking between the raindrops: the role of religion in globalised schooling

Published: 
2020

Source: Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education

 

This study investigates an attempt to integrate global contents into one religious (Jewish) state-run school in Israel. This school falls under the category of Israeli ‘Zionist-religious education’ (often called the ‘religious sector’) – an official sector of state education under the State Education Law, 1953. Currently 25% of all Jewish Israeli students are enrolled in this sector. Further to the goals of the Education Ministry, the religious sector seeks to instill the values of religion in its students, and is consequently defined as ideological education. In recent decades, the Zionist-religious approach has dictated the discourse surrounding Israeli education in general, and certainly within its own sector, which has been claiming increasing autonomy and funding.

However, this sector is also notoriously criticised for its overwhelmingly inward-looking prism, closed off from the external world, alongside its fundamentalist and exclusionary approaches towards both other Israeli sectors and global issues. Religious education is strongly identified with Israel’s political right wing, fostering nationalist approaches combined with religious radicalisation (Schwartz, 2013). That said, in recent years, a bourgeois middle class is expanding within the religious Zionist population. This sub-group is exposed to and participates in the global economy, and thus might be more open to the influences of globalisation (Leon, 2010).

The present study focuses on ‘Ofek’ – a religious primary school that has developed a unique pedagogical and organisational focus. The school embeds various practices of internationalisation; most profoundly, it teaches many classes in English through immersion (or ‘integrative learning’). This approach is combined with child-centred pedagogy and innovative practices (e.g. morning assembly, a makers’ lab, and intensive involvement of English teachers in other subjects) that are rare in Israel overall, and in religious schools in particular. We explore the school’s everyday practices and the perceptions of its main actors (the principal, teachers, superintendents, and parents) regarding the possible meanings of internationalisation in such unique religious settings, which usually tend to focus much less on the global world.

We propose some insights on the internationalisation practices employed there, while posing possible implications for issues of quality, inequality, access, and free choice. Based on this case study, we discuss the notion of ‘alternative futures’ in globalisation and education by focusing on the intersection between religion and education. Through in-depth exploration and a case-study approach, we delve into the organisational dynamics of an Israeli school that serves a traditional Jewish religious community while also proactively embedding specific forms of internationalisation. We argue that integration of values of religion, nationalism and globalisation is possible through ‘thoughtful segregation’, which is nurtured through the hybridity of the networks of influence, custommade by the school leadership’s imagination.

 

This study applies the notion of ‘alternative futures’ in globalisation and education by focusing specifically on the intersection between religion and education. Through an in-depth exploration utilising a case-study approach, we delve into the organisational dynamics of an Israeli school catering to a closed-off, traditional Jewish religious community while also proactively embedding specific forms of internationalisation. We identify and analyse the conflicting rationales and agenda maintained by this school based on interviews with the school’s community, including teachers, superintendents, school leadership, and parents.

We argue that the ideas of segregation, religionalisation, and nationalism are nurtured through the hybridity of the networks of influence, custom-tailored by the school’s leadership to serve this unique community. In particular, we analyse the school’s distinctive practices, norms, and routines designed to overcome the gap between the seemingly contradictory values of universalism vs particularity; globalisation vs nationalism; segregation vs unity; and religion vs modernity, and the ways that these dynamics play out in a country struggling for (self)-recognition as a Jewish and Democratic State, while being situated in an intractable internal and external conflict.

References

Leon, N. (2010). The transformation of Israel’s religious-Zionist middle class. The Journal of Israeli History, 29(1), 61–78.

Sabbagh, C. (2019). ‘Glocal’ neoliberal trends in Israeli education: The case of religionization. International Journal of Educational Development, 68, 88–95.

Schwartz, D. (2013). Religious Zionist extremism: Education and ideology. [In Hebrew] Dor ledor. Studies in the History of Jewish Education in Israel and the Diaspora, 44, 83–126.

 

 


 

Updated: May. 24, 2021
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