Being a secular teacher in a religious school: about passing and everyday forms of resistance

Ilana Finefter-Rosenbluh, Lotem Perry-Hazan, Elizabeth Muzikovskaya

    Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


    This study explored Jewish secular teachers’ experiences in American, Australian and Israeli Jewish religious schools. It focused on secular teachers’ perceptions of the disparities between the personal views and the school’s religious ethos. Data derived from 25 semi-structured interviews: six American, seven Australian, and 12 Israeli teachers who worked in Jewish schools that integrated religious practices in their organizational practices. Findings revealed teachers’ perceptions of the benefits and the challenges of being secular teachers in religious schools. Benefits included student exposure to different worldviews and providing support to religiously struggling students. Challenges included moral dilemmas stemming from conflicts between professional duties and personal freedom of religion and conscience. For example, interviewees grappled with gender segregation in school events, colleagues’ views on homosexuality, and the obligation to participate in prayer sessions/other religious activities. We identified three patterns of teacher coping strategies: (a) Oppositionists: circumvented practices which they viewed as derogating their freedom of religion and conscience and/or undermining their educational credo. They exposed students to diverse non-religious views and revealed their secularity. Their practices reflected everyday forms of resistance. (b) Adaptors: accepted the school’s religious and organizational culture and conformed to the school’s rules. Some noted their aims to discuss religion-related material in ways that make sense to them; reporting being cautious in expressing their opinions or avoiding to express them. They concealed their secular identity and were passing as religious teachers. (c) Fence-sitters: were in an intermediate position. They learned to live with their moral and educational conflicts, and maintained a low profile in school. Unlike the adaptors, they do not feel a sense of belonging to the school. Like the adaptors, they engage in passing. The study offers illuminating guidelines that may assist in integrating teachers in schools that their ethos differs from the teachers’ religious background.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages1
    Publication statusPublished - 2019
    EventAnnual Meeting of the American Sociological Association 2019 - New York, United States of America
    Duration: 10 Aug 201913 Aug 2019
    Conference number: 114th


    ConferenceAnnual Meeting of the American Sociological Association 2019
    Abbreviated titleASA 2019
    Country/TerritoryUnited States of America
    CityNew York
    Internet address

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