23 SES 01 B, Islamic Education
European and worldwide universities, having traditionally served as centers for the production of rational knowledge in society, are being challenged by the post-truth era in which evidence is shunted and emotion is exploited. Universities are able to serve as advocates for minorities in order to lessen educational inequalities and increase educational opportunities (Anderson 2009). This paper presents the experience of one of the units of the university in Russia in connecting academic practice and academic activity to social change, which leads to the creation of policy knowledge (Dumas and Anderson 2014). We support the idea that ‘the role of academic research should be to reflect critically on the taken-for-granted assumptions of policy makers rather than simply confirming or legitimizing them: to make them visible and open to inspection’ (Bakewell 2008).
We explored how Resource Center for Islamic Education Development (Resource Center) established at Kazan Federal University in Tatarstan, Kazan serves as an advocate for Muslim minorities in the field of education in Russia. It receives an annual funding from the Russian government for the implementation of a program aimed at training professionals with in-depth study of the history and culture of Islam and engages professors and administrative staff working in the field of Islamic studies and education in its activities. Apart from the engagement with private and mainstream schools, there has been a strong cooperation between the Resource Center and religious and educational institutions, administrative institutions, academic establishments, and non-governmental and public organizations. As staff members of the Resource Center, we aim to investigate how academic research based on qualitative methodology can help develop knowledge on issues of Muslim minorities.
The understanding of secularism in modern Russia has not changed dramatically since the collapse of the Soviet Union and is perceived as common sense in society. This is particularly relevant for the freedom of religious practice and religious instruction in schools. According to the Russian legislation, mainstream schools should be secular, while private schools may introduce religious classes and religious practice (Federal Law 2012). There are only a few schools founded by Muslim communities in Russia. Thus, Muslims experience problems relating to the observation of their religious rites and practices in school settings, as mainstream schools are the most accessible form of school education in the majority of the Russian regions.
Tatarstan is a Russian region where relations between Muslims and Christians have a long history involving colonial aspects and dealing with the long-term development of public, national, and interfaith relations between indigenous peoples.
Building on a qualitative approach, we identified schools favorable for Muslims (interviews were conducted with teachers, parents, school authorities, and Muslim leaders). Counter-narratives associated with secularism allowed for the development of political decisions which are aimed at lessening educational inequalities. The purpose of this paper is to show the process of engaging different stakeholders when creating policy knowledge on Muslim schooling.
We believe that universities could serve as advocates for challenging established views on secularism as hegemonic discourse (Laclau and Mouffe 1985; Jørgensen and Phillips 2002). Building on Foucault’s ideas of heterotopias (Foucault and Miskowiec 1986) and Bhabha’s third spaces (Bhabha and Rutherford 2006), we attempted to determine hybrid spaces in Kazan, where new practices and ideas related to Muslim schooling challenging the status quo are developed. It was also necessary to let the missing voices of Muslim and indigenous communities be heard and engage them in the creation of policy knowledge. By applying a mixed-method approach (online surveys in social media groups, interviews, round tables, focus group discussions), we have identified the most favorable forms of school education for Muslims in Kazan. Here we refer in particular to the only private Muslim school in Kazan, some national (Tatar) schools, and different forms of homeschooling. Qualitative research began in 2016. At this stage, we analyzed the educational space of a private Muslim school using methods of critical ethnography (Anderson 1989), including ten interviews with teachers and school authorities. The next stage drew on research carried out in two national (Tatar) schools. We conducted interviews with 17 teachers and school authorities. The research also involved interviews with 20 Muslims parents who chose different types of school education for their children. At the last stage of the research, we collected interviews with Islamic religious leaders and government officials. These interviews were analyzed by using methods of discourse analysis (Jørgensen and Phillips 2002; Laclau and Mouffe 1985). We have identified aspects of social practices which can be viewed as ‘floating signifiers’ (Laclau and Mouffe 1985) as their meaning is challenged by ‘secular’, ‘national (Tatar)’ and ‘Muslim’ discourse focused on women’s religious attire, halal food, participation in music, art, and physical education classes, celebration of Russian holidays (New Year, Victory Day), the performance of prayer, and the annual observance of Ramadan. Results obtained during this research correlate with studies on Muslim schooling in Britain, Canada, and Sweden (Parker- Jenkins 2002; Zine 2007; Berglund 2011).
We found that the notion of secularism reflected in social practices of hybrid spaces was reformulated, which led to the creation of a new balance between contending discourses, thereby allowing for the harmonization of some social contradictions and ensuring that educational opportunities are equitable for ethnic and religious minorities. The activities of the Resource Center were focused on various forms of collaboration between a Muslim community and stakeholders, such as the organization of round tables, meetings involving public authorities, Muslim leaders, journalists, parents, teachers, and school authorities, where participants discussed results obtained during research and articulate solutions to problems related to Muslim schooling taking stakeholders’ interests into account. There is a concentrated effort to reformulate established views on secularism and the presentation of alternative viewpoints on this issue. Russian pedagogy has inherited many ideals from Soviet pedagogy, and does not, unfortunately, include Muslim schooling in its priorities of academic research. We attempted to engage teachers, school authorities, university professors, and researchers into a critical reflection on Muslim schooling in order to create a platform for further studies. Taking advantage of political opportunities in Tatarstan, we believe that this research would allow the development of successful educational practices and forms of the creation of policy knowledge at universities, as they can be applied to other Russian regions with Muslim populations as well as to countries with Muslim minorities.
Anderson, Gary L. 1989. Critical ethnography in education: Origins, current status, and new directions. Review of educational research 59 (3): 249-270. Anderson, Gary L. 2009. Advocacy leadership: Toward a post-reform agenda in education. Routledge. Bakewell, Oliver. 2008. Research beyond the categories: the importance of policy irrelevant research into forced migration. Journal of Refugee Studies 21 (4): 432- 453. Berglund, Jenny. 2011. Global Questions in the Classroom: The Formulation of Islamic Religious Education at Muslim Schools in Sweden. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 32 (4): 497-512. Bhabha, Homi K., and Jonathan Rutherford. 2006. Third space. Multitudes 3: 95-107. Dumas, Michael J., and Gary Anderson. 2014. Qualitative research as policy knowledge: framing policy problems and transforming education from the ground up. Education Policy analysis archives 22 (11): 1-24. Federal Law of the Russian Federation No. 283-FZ of December 29, 2012. On education in the Russian Federation. Foucault, Michel and Jay Miskowiec. 1986. Of other spaces. Diacritics, 16 (1). Gerasimov, Ilya, Jørgensen, Marianne W., and Louise J. Phillips. 2002. Discourse analysis as theory and method. Sage. Parker-Jenkins, Marie. 2002. Equal access to state funding: The case of Muslim schools in Britain. Race Ethnicity and Education 5 (3): 273–289. Zine, Jasmin. 2007. Safe havens or religious ‘ghettos’? Narratives of Islamic schooling in Canada. Race Ethnicity and Education 10 (1): 71-92.
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