Misclusion of religion in classroom discourse

In this final chapter, we critically examine the hitherto unexplored issue of religious misclusion in RE classrooms, which, as noted earlier, is the final and extreme stage of misrepresentation. Admittedly, dealing with religion in the classroom can sometimes be a daunting task for teachers because religion is a polarising factor in society, and what is said in classroom discourse, if not handled effectively, can degenerate into misunderstanding, chaos and the further misclusion of religion, instead of the classroom being a mitigating factor for citizenship. As such, the contemporary RE classroom has the complex task of wrestling with issues straddling the "... intersection of geo-politics and religion...” (Farrell, 2016, 295). The inclusion-exclusion paradigm inherent in such discourses also relates to questions of power in legitimising certain forms of religious knowledge, and by contrast delegitimising others. In Foucauldian sense, such power existing in social relationships imbricated by the complexities of the social reality it produces, whether positive, neutral or negative.

As discussed in the previous chapter, RE ‘texts’ are part of the socio-cultural resources that include and exclude a dynamic that influences and impacts on classroom discourse. Kimanen and Poulter’s (2018) Finnish study found two types of teacher discourse in RE as enacted in the classroom.The first, involving the use of ‘scientific language’ based on academic theological and religious vocabulary and expressions, is a discursive approach that reinforces some religious voices and silences others. The second, involving the use of‘belonging language’ in expressions such as ‘we’,‘us’ or ‘together’ in an effort to mark the borders between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’, aims to engage “students’ personal and group experiences and feelings of belonging” (147). In both approaches, teachers are also continuously attempting to soften their assumptions or diminish exclusion by providing alternative interpretations. In classroom discourse, the mis/use of language matters because language can facilitate discursive practices that can open up RE as an educational space for openness and inclusivity, but it can also easily become a divisive tool of exclusion, leading to misclusion. Classroom discourse is not just about communication, as in everyday discourse, but rather an educational discourse that has a different function and purpose existing in a schooling context guided by professionalethics, common decorum, and with the aim of transforming the learner towards positive destination in life (see de Wai Pastoor, 2005).

Misclusion of religion in classroom discourse: Some practical issues

In the previous two chapters (Chapters 6 and 7), we analysed how and why religious misrepresentation and religious misclusion in ‘texts’ occur in KE.The insights gained from the supranational contexts of Malawi and Ghana provide important starting points in engaging with the equally important notion of religious misclusion as enacted in classroom discourse, and the resultant implications on inclusive 1

Interreligious exclusion

Besides exclusionary practices of non-religious persons, interreligious exclusions in the context of schools in sub-Saharan Africa challenges the development of inclusive RE. Official records in Ghana and Malawi show the presence of varied religious groups (see Table 1.1). Both Malawi and Ghana admit to the presence of a group of religions categorised as “other religions”, which include Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Sikhism, Baha’ism, Rastafarianism, Judaism, Eckankar and Hare Krishna, among others. Official acknowledgement of these religions in the countries mean that any attempt at inclusive RE should make room for all religions. However, in our study, it became evident that only three religions are acknowledged in the curriculum: Christianity, Islam and AIR. It is worth noting that in our study, many educators and students justified the neglect of these minority religions in RE discourse. Here are some students’ remarks from a focus group discussion:

researcher: Do you think it would have been important for you to learn about these religions?

Ghana student i: I don’t think so. What we are learning is about the religions we have.The ones you mentioned, we don’t have them here so why should we study about them?

Ghana student 2: Those religions, even if people attend, they are shy to say it, I don’t think we need to learn about them because their own people are not proud of the religions.

In other focus group discussions, the few students who had heard about minori-tised religions held distorted views of them, in part perpetuated by stereotypes, as the excerpts below illustrate:

The Buddhist religion forces people not to eat meat but only vegetables. This is not good.

(MFG 1)

God has given us the Bible to follow and since these religions do not follow it, they are satanic religions.

(GFG 3)

These religions are not any good religions, they are all about idol worship.

(GFG 6)

What Rastafarians do is smoke chamba [marijuana/Indian Hemp]. It will be chaos if government allowed each and every one to practise their faith in such a bizarre way.

(MFG 2)

In this instance students justified the neglect of other religions because they are not popular and their adherents feel shy about identifying with such religions. Surprisingly, their teachers’ views did not differ much from them. For instance, when asked about her dealings with any student in such minoritised religions, a female teacher at a public school remarked:

I have met one of them before. There was one girl in my class some time ago. Initially I didn’t know that he was one of those... is it Eckankar or something like that? Yeah, it’s one of her mates who mentioned that she belongs to a different religion.

(Ghana teacher 7, italics our emphasis)

From the discussion that ensued, the teacher admitted to ignoring discussion about her faith. She argued that since the curriculum did not mention those religions, the sole presence of the student in the class did not convince her to bring her religion up for discussion. We have argued elsewhere that the selective nature of the multifaith RE in Malawi and Ghana has produced exclusionary practices that leave teachers with severe misunderstandings about other religions. What we have learnt in all these interviews is that the attempt to create religious inclusivity in the Malawian and Ghanaian curriculum has occasioned an absent curriculum - “the options learners are not offered, the perspectives they many never know about, much less be able to use...” (Eisner, 1985, 107). It is ironic that a subject that is premised on pluralism is, by its very nature, excluding knowledge about other faiths that have legitimate claims to their existence.

 
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