Religious students in a public-secular college: feeling unique in a milieu of diversity

From Section:
Teacher Education
Jan. 06, 2019

Source:  British Journal of Religious Education


The current study examined the case of religious students who opted to study in a secular teacher-training college despite the fact that there are religious colleges that would have suited their needs. This phenomenon is unusual because the education system in Israel is segregated and each educational sector has its own teacher-training colleges.

Findings of this qualitative study indicate that the majority of participants did not wish to depart from the religious framework, but rather sought to forge reciprocal relations with the secular society and carve a space for themselves where they could express their identity, which does not entirely conform to the demands of the religious society. These findings highlight an interesting dynamic that developing between students from a minority group and the mainstream secular society in Israel that promotes multiculturalism. An academic campus that adopts a multicultural approach is a safe space for minority students, whose sectorial framework does not fully provide for all their needs.

Research participants and research questions

The focus of this research was on people in a religious minority group who opted to cross the boundaries of their community in terms of professional education, in an attempt to address their needs in the context of the secular majority, rather than in the religious teacher-training colleges affiliated with their own sector. It is important to note that a reciprocal relationship between members of minority and majority groups is not an unusual phenomenon in itself; however, in the context of an education system that is segregated by definition, this phenomenon is of particular interest. The focus of the study was on understanding participants’ experiences, beginning with their decision to attend a non-religious college, through their experience in the course of the program, and ending with their plans for their professional and occupational future.

The following research questions guided this study: What were the motives that led the religious students to opt to study in a secular college? How did they experience the sectoral boundary crossing, in the context of the academic and social frameworks? What are the implications that this experience will have on their religious identity and on their choice of framework for teaching in the future?

The research population included 26 religious students who were enrolled in an undergraduate program at a secular teacher-training college. Given that the college does not keep record of students’ religious affiliation in general, or of the degree of religiosity in particular, participants were recruited using the snowball sampling method. We first appealed to religious students with whom we were acquainted and through them were able to recruit additional participants. 

Updated: Aug. 28, 2019
Religious identity | Research | Teacher training | Teachers' college | Multiculturalism