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  You are in: Home > Education > Intercultural Education  

Intercultural Education
Ethnographic and Religious Approaches

Eleanor Nesbitt

Author text to follow


This book has been written for teachers, teacher trainers and their students, and others working with children and young people. It provides a valuable resource for those engaged in religious studies and South Asian studies, comprising a rich library of data relevant to current debates in these fields.

Drawing on field studies of children of South Asian and other backgrounds in Britain, Nesbitt argues the value to schools of teachers adopting an ethnographic approach in intercultural education. Examples from primary, secondary and higher education demonstrate the urgent need for teachers and others to be better informed of cultural diversity and to understand the interconnections between ethnographic studies, pastoral care, the curriculum, and international events.

Intercultural Education examines a wide variety of issues, including spirituality, identity formation, the ways in which ‘beliefs’ and ‘practices’ are represented, stereotyping communities, being a Christian at school, and the role of caste. The book contains Practical Guidelines for teachers, as well as a Glossary, covering pastoral care, racism, liaison with parents, recognizing the diversity of language, etc.

A Note on Transliteration

Introduction: Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Education

1 Birthdays – A Spectrum of Difference

2 Young Hindus and Vegetarianism

3 The Diversity of Experience within a Faith Tradition

4 Festivals – Schools’ Involvement in ‘Tradition’

5 Belief and Practice – God and Holy Water

6 Tradition and Choice – What Young Hindus Believe

7 Caste, Hindus and Sikhs

8 British, Asian and Hindu – Multiple Identities

9 Spirituality and Religious Experience

10 Ethnography as Reflective Practice

Appendix: Practical Guidelines for Teachers – Cultural Diversity and the School


“The great value of this book is its insistence that diversity, syncretism and the lived reality of religion should be taken into account in religious education teaching, and that it is important to hear the voices of children and young people alongside the discussions of orthodox religious ideals. It is an immensely enriching book, drawing as it does on Eleanor Nesbitt’s 25 years of ethnographic research on religious practice and belief. It is hard to think of anyone working in teaching or teacher training who would not find reading it an enlightening and enjoyable experience.” Dr Sarah Smalley, General Adviser for Religious Education and SACRE, Cambridgeshire LEA, writing in the British Journal of Religious Education

“Eleanor Nesbitt succeeds in vividly bringing to life the traditional plurality (ethnic, cultural and linguistic, etc.) of different communities of faith, and the modern plurality related to the intellectual climate of late modernity or post modernity. She also makes absolutely explicit the gap between the rhetoric and reality of religions, and the urgent need for a religious and cultural literacy that takes us beyond, on the one hand, multiculturalism and, on the other, antiracism. She offers a set of educational ideals which are inspiring. At a time when religion is often deeply politicised and the integrity of scholars challenged as never before this book on intercultural education is timely, accessible and immensely rewarding.” Anna King, Journal of Punjab Studies

“This is a treasury of keenly observed signals of meanings that matter to children and young people, and which therefore need to matter and be understood by their teachers and wider community. It draws on a quarter of a century’s field work by the author, well matched with the relevant scholarship of others. Its warning against misleading generalisation is made in the best possible way: vivid illustration of deeper significance. This book is an invaluable resource for teacher education and community relations generally, as well as for those with a particular concern for RE and Citizenship.” Brian Gates, Professor of Religious and Moral Education, St Martin’s College, Lancaster

“Clearly written, challenging, yet very accessible. The author warns against those convenient, misleading generalisations we often make, as the book explores the richness of religious and ethnic diversity.” Church Times

“A fascinating and impressive body of research, whose findings are often striking and thought-provoking, and always clearly presented…The book is written for teachers at all levels, although the case studies are drawn mainly from primary and secondary school level students in the UK … this is a book which will resonate most for teachers in schools, teacher trainers (and textbook authors), and students, but it is certainly also of interest to a wider audience which I hope it receives.” British Association for the Study of Religions

“This book is an end product of the University of Warwick studies in the educational experiences of young people, including the Ethnography and Religious Education programme. The book, and the studies on which it is based, uses ethnography as its methodology… It is fairly described as the ‘discipline of deep listening and close, reflective observation’, with interpretation playing a necessary part. It is a book well worth pondering over. Teachers of multi-faith classes will in particular find its insights useful.” Journal of Beliefs and Values

“The text is wide-ranging in its coverage of belief and lifestyle, providing an insight into the social history of the UK in ways that bring to life the traditional ethnic, cultural and linguistic traditions of faith communities … Inspirational and thought-provoking.” SHAP World Religions in Education

“Eleanor Nesbitt’s Intercultural Education draws upon the important research carried out by the University of Warwick’s Institute of Education over the last two decades. The author and Professor Robert Jackson of the same Institute have long argued the significance of an ethno-graphic approach to understanding cultural and religious diversity in British schools…. Education itself is a factor in religious and cultural identity formation processes. The way in which religion is represented in the classroom is one factor by which children arrive at conclusions concerning who they are. It would be easy to confine the author’s conclusions to the realm of the education of children, significant to teacher training and classroom interaction, but she is saying something crucial for the contemporary study of religion that needs to be heard. It is not only religious education that needs to move away from the phenomenology of religion to, in the words of John Hull, ‘the phenomenology of the life-world’ (Hull, 2003) but also the academic study of religion which remains dominated by textual study.” Fieldwork in Religion

In the challenging contemporary milieu of teaching in pluricultural contexts – as well as teaching about cultural diversity and complexity – useful, well-written resources are more rare than one would hope. Eleanor Nesbitt’s Intercultural Education is a book that offers a wonderful combination of insight and practical knowledge for educators who do recognize that all teaching has to be aware of issues of cultural diversity. This book addresses matters of religious identity and expressions of spiritual diversity in the lives of adolescents with care and sensitivity.

Nesbitt brings together extensive cultural knowledge, a wide scope of pertinent research, an astute educator’s sensitivity to the impact of cultural perspective, and a generous, open view of religious communities and their complexity. Her insight is shaped, in part, by her own cross-cultural insider’s perspective and her reading of current research, as well as by her ability to understand how complicated multiple identities can be for adolescents who live in minority religious and ethnic families. Nesbitt challenges how often those from religious communities are seen as stereotypical or as all alike and makes clear that in every religious context there are variations that must be recognized and acknowledged.

It is also important to note that Nesbitt includes a researcher’s sensibility, drawing on the resources of ethnographic practices to underscore some of the central themes of the book. She recognizes that ethnography can lead to a form of reflective awareness that is necessary for educators and caregivers who work in pluricultural environments. An ethnographic sensibility can assist professionals to acknowledge cultural complexities, to be aware of young people who are effectively engaging plural identities and to succeed with families from across the spectrum of cultural diversity.

I will be recommending this book to colleagues and to graduate and undergraduate students who work across cultures. Most do these days, and so the insights of this book become a necessity for good professional practice and its resources a handy compendium of details and insights.” International Journal of Children’s Spirituality


Publication Details

Hardback ISBN:
Paperback ISBN:
Page Extent / Format:
224 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Release Date:
July 2004
  Illustrated:   No
Hardback Price:
£25.00 / $45.00
Paperback Price:
£17.95 / $32.50

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