19 SES 03 B, Parenting, Diversity and Religion
In western countries Muslims are often perceived as migrants and representatives of other non-indigenous cultures. In these countries Muslim schooling is discussed through the prism of transnationalism, i.e. the challenge of accepting a foreign culture and its customs (Zine, 2007). Although Russia is a secular country with a predominantly ethnic Russian population following Orthodox traditions, there is a significant Muslim population. The majority of Muslims in Russia are representatives of indigenous peoples residing in the North Caucasus and the Volga region, where Muslim culture is seen as a part of Russian culture. For the most part, Russian people remain committed to the ideals of secularism despite the collapse of the Soviet Union and the abandonment of Marxist ideas. According to Berger (2008), Russian society, as well as other modern societies in the world, can be described as post-secular and characterized by growing religiosity among the population. He further adds that representatives of religious communities, primarily Protestant and Muslim, have begun to challenge long-held beliefs about secularism. The Russian education system has undergone substantial transformations since Soviet times when the study of religion was prohibited due to the prevailing ideology of atheism. Russia has become more tolerant of studying religion in private educational establishments, resembling education systems in Sweden and France (Daun & Armand, 2005). However, Russian mainstream schools remain secular. Private schools that provide religious instruction are less accessible and make up only 2% of all schools. As a result, conflicts related to Muslims’ desire to observe their religious rites and customs (e.g. hijab wearing) often arise in Russian regions with a Muslim minority.
This research was conducted in Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, situated approximately 800 km east of Moscow. The majority of the population is composed of two ethnic groups, namely Tatars (53%), who constitute the second largest population of Sunni Muslims in Russia, and Russians (40%), who follow Orthodox traditions. The education system is more favorable for Muslims in Kazan than in other regions of central Russia. A private Muslim school, national schools for Tatars, as well as mainstream schools providing halal food are available for Muslims in Kazan. In this paper, the approach to the education system’s adaptation to Muslims’ needs is based on heterotopias of deviation (Foucault & Miskowiec, 1986) and postcolonial theory (Bhabha, 1990). The application of postcolonial theory to the post-Soviet educational space makes it possible to analyze the traces of the past ‘as signs of the tenuous re-workings of twentieth-century capitalist empires and their twenty-first-century successors’ through the prism of discrimination and racialization (Chari & Verdery, 2009). Secularism was one of the fundamental concepts in Soviet schools, which ensured equal access to education regardless of gender, social status and nationality. Nowadays secularism in Russia, following Eurocentric ideals of rationality, may be viewed as a discriminatory and limiting societal practice that disregards social equality. The problem is most acute in the context of Russian schooling, where the Muslim minority has a limited capacity to influence educational norms at schools. We believe that it is crucial to let the ‘missing voices’ of Muslim parents be heard, especially those who are interested in raising their children in a secular society yet in accordance with Muslims ideals. Thus, the goal of this paper is twofold: 1) to evaluate the availability of school education for Muslims in Kazan in terms of the observation of religious rites and customs; and 2) to examine how Muslim parents rethink the ideals of secularism in regard to school education in Russia.
This ethnographic research took place in two stages. The first stage consisted of the analysis of education opportunities in Kazan in terms of accessibility for Muslims and identification of schools that allow for the observation of Muslim religious rites and customs. Such schools are seen as examples of a hybrid space in which generally accepted rules and principles are intricately combined with those of minorities (Bhabha, 1990). The main criteria for selection of schools were the following: wearing the headscarf is allowed, availability of halal food and prayer, and gender-segregated education. The search for schools was supplemented by analysis of feedback from Muslim parents in social media and semi-structured interviews. The main issues raised in interviews were connected with access to education, the quality of school education, and the possibility to observe religious rites and customs. Semi-structured interviews were used in this research, as this allows the researchers to “obtain descriptions of the interviewees’ lived world, as well as probe and expand the interviewee's responses” (Kvale, 2008; Hitchcock & Hughes, 1995). During the second stage of the research three schools were selected: a private Muslim school, which is one of three similar private schools functioning in Russia, and two national schools for Tatars. It should be mentioned here that geographic access to these schools varies: the private school is located in a remote rural town, one of the national schools is in a sleeper neighborhood, and the other national school is in the city center. Fifteen interviews with Muslim parents living in Kazan who have children at one of the aforementioned schools have been collected since 2017. Internal and external observation of school settings were also used for multidimensional analysis of the educational space. We believe this research would help to amplify the important ‘voices’ of the Muslim community vis a vis Muslim parents’ perspectives on conditions that are favorable for the education of Muslims in secular Russian schools. It would also be useful in rethinking secular ideals regarding the educational space in order to grant Muslims equal access to educational resources.
It is our hope that the results of this research will help examine valuable ideas about transforming the educational space of Russian public schools in accordance with the demands of the Muslim community. Conditions for the education of Muslims, which are more favorable in the Republic of Tatarstan than in other Russian regions, would help identify effective teaching practices that could be adopted in other Russian regions, and possibly also in other post-Soviet countries. We intend to reveal discriminatory discourse related to secularism by allowing Muslims to publically voice their opinions regarding the educational space. Nevertheless, we consider that secularism will remain a unifying concept for education in Russia, as the majority of the population shares the value of equal and fair access to educational resources. We expect to later expand the scope of this research, taking into account the perspectives of teachers and school administrators, as well as Muslim students and non-Muslim parents who share the values of secularism. This would be aimed at increasing the level of availability of education for Muslims and countering forms of racialization and discrimination. The results obtained during interviews will first be presented at the conference. The development of a culturally sensitive curriculum based on the results would address the needs of minorities. The question ‘How inclusive can Russian schools be?’ remains equally important. The diversity of views shows that there should be no unique model of Islamization of mainstream schools. Rather, a wide range of hybrid spaces with a different degree of Islamization addressing the needs of different Muslim communities should be created. Despite the fact that interviews with Muslim parents represent the only perspective from the Muslim community, their opinions will help shed some light on issues that have remained unresolved to date.
Berger, P. L. (2008). Secularization falsified. First things, 180, 23. Bhabha, H. (1990). Interview with Homi Bhabha: the third space. Identity: Community, culture, difference, 207-221. Chari, S., & Verdery, K. (2009). Thinking between the posts: Postcolonialism, postsocialism, and ethnography after the Cold War. Comparative studies in society and history, 51(1), 6-34. Daun, H., & Arjmand, R. (2005). Education in Europe and Muslim demands for competitive and moral education. International Review of Education, 51(5-6), 403-426. Foucault, M., & Miskowiec, J. (1986). Of other spaces. diacritics, 16(1), 22-27. Hitchcock, G., & Hughes, D. (1995). Research and the teacher: A qualitative introduction to school-based research. Psychology Press. Kvale, S. (2008). Doing interviews. Sage. Zine, J. (2007). Safe havens or religious ‘ghettos’? Narratives of Islamic schooling in Canada. Race ethnicity and education, 10(1), 71-92.
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