Doctoral Dissertation Research: Legal Practices of State Neutrality in Educational Settings

Project: Research project

Project Details


My dissertation project investigates the contentious debate around the role of Moroccan teachers of Islam
in Belgium, who are implicitly positioned on the frontline of the battle against the "radicalization" of
Belgian youth of Moroccan heritage after the 2016 attacks. Following the attacks, media discourse
immediately focused on youth and public education, pointing the finger at the instructors of Islam, along
with imams (prayer leaders) for youths' radicalism. Media attacks on teachers concentrated on their
alleged failure to teach the democratic values of le vivre ensemble, a popular expression in the European
francophone region that means co-existence. The teaching of religion, especially Islam, has become
controversial, putting teachers in charge of reshaping a new "Belgianness" to ensure that Muslim and
immigrant youth learn liberal democratic values through "neutrality," a concept central to the Belgian
Constitution. This ethnographic project explores the role of Moroccan teachers of Islam in the newly reconceived
and widely popular post-attack approach of co-existence. I will examine the networks of
teachers, students, parents, administrators, and activists, which anchor the idea that schools are
institutions through which the government can confront radicalization, and especially that schooling is a
significant place for these daily encounters among religious and ethnic minorities. The objective of this
research is to examine the role of teachers of Islam from a Moroccan background in crafting potential
new meanings of co-existence. I am particularly interested in uncovering how and why the politics of
teaching or not teaching religion, specifically Islam, in public schools in francophone Belgium have been
controversial to democratic liberal secular governance.
Effective start/end date9/1/198/31/20


  • National Science Foundation (BCS-1917943)


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