There is a familiar and age old saying that one should “Never Discuss Politics or Religion in polite company”. It simply identifies that discussion of these topics, and bringing into question peoples belief systems can be volatile. Your opinions may offend or you may reveal too much of your true self, and be open to criticism. Both politics and religion have an influence on one another that can become so blurred that it is difficult to separate the two. In some societies, religion is the politics of the country. In others religion is built into the fabric of it’s laws although not always explicitly evident. The UK for example, has a division between church and state that it prides itself upon. However, there is also a monarchy that has it’s own Christian religion, The Church of England. The UK is a Christian based society
Three headings stood out for me when I first read the stimulus paper; Multiculturalism, Minority identities and Government and the public Good. They all, to some extent equate religion and politics together with taking different stances on how much or how little a role religion should play within society or the public sphere which, of course, includes higher education.
Modood’s text reminded me just how new multiculturalism is in western Europe and how easy it is to regress to ‘old’ ways of thinking. It made me question how easy it would be to return to a position whereby I as a black woman, a mother and a teacher am not considered to belong. Simply because of who I am. It saddens me that in some small way this is already happening.
Modood starts his discussion on the emergence of multiculturalism with the 1960’s emergence of organising minority –majority relations. He talked ‘new social movements’ and the ‘politics of politics of gender, race and sexuality’. He sites that it was the recognition of ethno-religious minorities through immigration and the acknowledgement of, and respect for difference in order to provide equality and equal rights, that fuelled this new way of thinking and the need for accommodation and not tolerance of differences. Government policies were put in place to ensure equality and to challenge discrimination. This in effect is what we now call multiculturalism, the ideology that all men are created equal.
I believe our respect for difference is important for how we live in the public sphere. Madood is an advocate for multiculturalism and I identify with many of the opinions he express in his text. For example, I can see the negative influence that incidents like the Iraq war, 9/11 and subsequent terror attacks, have on the way the public sphere views Islam and Muslims. The consequence is that Islam has been called into question and Muslims are now a target for blame by the ‘Ethnic Majority’ who now have reason to feel less safe. The word Muslim has now adopted as a religious identity places both the people and the religion under scrutiny. When grouped together with tough economic policies in the UK and the immigration ‘problem’. Multiculturalism is now becoming unpopular with the ‘majority public’ with Islam one focal point of the cause for its unpopularity.
The majority of this post-immigration ethno-religious population is Muslim but the shift towards Muslimness was partly facilitated by an evolving and expansive set of identity politics and equality discourses in general and multiculturalism in particular, as for example these minority identities transmuted or expanded from colour identities (eg, Black) to ethnic identities (such as Pakistani) to religious identities (such as Muslim).
Immigration policies are promoted by multiculturalism’s unpopularity, by the toleration of difference. Toleration suggests to me the acceptance of something one does really appreciate, not liking someone, something or a situation (through lack of understanding) and merely having to put up with it. This toleration brews resentment where I notice there is now a push back with some of the ‘ethnic minority’ having decided not to put up with multiculturalism in fear of losing their identity in the British landscape of what they deem their Christian country. The argument being that the ‘multi’ mix of different cultures occupying segregated spaces within Britain and not integrating with the British way. This feeling is born of ignorance and that the ‘British way’ is now diverse, multicultural and multi faith. The consequence; border controls, political debates on immigration, social issues surrounding Brexit. Then government position in the addition of ‘Britishness’ to the school curriculum and PREVENT policies in schools, colleges and universities.
Modood in his writing highlights the point:
“Equality therefore requires the abandonment of the pretense of ‘difference-blindness’ and allowing others, the marginalised minorities, to also be visible and explicitly accommodated in the public sphere”
The respect for difference is important, one may not share the same views or religious beliefs but it is important to have open and shared dialogue for understanding amongst each other. To be inclusive of all regardless of religion or non-religion allowing for students to express themselves freely without feeling confined to the opinions of other people and to carry that thinking through all teaching and all characteristics is one way to allow multiculturalism to thrive.
Difference blindness pretending that we are all the same is to ignore the difference rather than being challenged to address our differences. I relate this to my school education in sameness of treatment where the Christian religion featured strongly in British schools and society. UK public holidays and events reinforced this. Christianity dominated throughout my school life, I was taught only on a basic level about other religions however very basic fed from a curriculum that promoted Eurocentric Christian ideals and imagery or as Calhoun mentions in Religion as a Public Good, ‘The one sided presence of Christian public symbolism is telling’.
Therefore in my practice I consider the following to accommodate all students for inclusive teaching:
- Awareness and inclusion of religious and cultural difference of the cohort of students in the lesson.
- Allowing the students to express themselves and their identities through the aims and objectives of the task. Considering outcomes from different religious and cultural perspectives.
- The use of materials, references and subject matter that students can identify and relate.
Calhoun in his lecture on Religion, Government and the Public Good expresses that:
“We live in an era that is shaped by three difficulties which we might think of as difficulties as being articulate. Saying things that we want to say but difficulties that we can’t quite get out. That we know at some level but have trouble being explicit about. The articulacy depends on language and narrative the way we represent the world to ourselves”.
By not talking about it limits us to be articulate our thoughts and feelings therefore unable to promote a harmonious way of living in the public sphere. Because we have not taught about religion it create a problem to be open and articulate our ideas to each other about faith. I see universities are a setting in which I can learn from the cohort of students as they can learn from each other. Therefore I can reflect to learn, develop and share knowledge through open discussion in my teaching practice. Therefore I find Calhouns quote in ‘Religion as a Public Good’ reassuring:
“Public engagement with religion – including in universities – offers opportunities for both learning and achieving the public good.”
I found this paper interesting as the common threads between the two writers for a shared public space. I learnt along the way about interculturalism that is more in favour within current policies, where Modood argues that it leaves out space to accommodate for multicultural policies. I see interculturalism with interesting concepts for interactions and shared understanding of other cultures. However like Modood I wonder if this will see the abandonment of multiculturalism and religious equality.
The university environment is not like school, there is not a scope for generic learning around Multiculturalism, Minority identities or religion, however most will attempt to promote equality as is their legal duty.
There are forums and societies for many protected identities including religions and cultures, however as with society the university environment is a group of people working with one another in the hope that we are all morally aware and seek the best for each other. As an educator and influencer my teaching practice must be inclusive and offer a breadth of understanding that accommodates all.
Discussion points and questions from the reading:
- Religion as a public good:
With the increased level of differing people of different ethnicity and culture how will universities address the burden of integration that falls disproportionately on minorities?
- Minority identities:
Do we face a future where people’s identities through their practice of faith becomes eradicated? This relates to a conversation I had with a friend regarding to a company in France where colleagues, staff with Muslim names had to adopt European name for the sales of the company.