Negotiating religious and linguistic difference: a comparative study of North African schools

Hania Sobhy


This project comparatively examines the social organization of difference in urban schools in different North African contexts, especially as they relate to religious diversity and language policies. Unlike monarchical Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia are two republics that have undergone major popular uprisings in recent years, although only Tunisia has been able to shed its autocratic past. Schools and textbooks in all three contexts, however, constitute key arenas of conflict around religious difference in varying intensities, and reflect critical negotiations around secularism, traditionalism, and Islamism. Language policy also plays out differently with accommodation of minority languages in Morocco, different approaches to the legacy of instruction in French in Morocco and Tunisia, as well as shared dilemmas of instruction in Modern Standard Arabic in light of divergent local dialects. The project situates the organization of religious and linguistic diversity in schools in the configurations of a broader historical, political, and social context in each case study. It is concerned with how textbooks and relevant education policies represent and address issues of diversity and difference. Critically, it examines the encounters and experiences of various education stakeholders (officials, teachers, students) with issues of religious and linguistic difference in everyday relations in schools. The project has a policy-relevant aspect, insofar as it seeks to draw lessons about the organization of difference, the promotion of equal citizenship, and the production of more equitable educational outcomes for young people in the region. This includes school and textbook reforms that foster more inclusive citizenship and temper extremist and discriminatory tendencies..

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