Spirituality and English Language Teaching: Religious Explorations of Teacher Identity, Pedagogy and Context

Spirituality and English Language Teaching: Religious Explorations of Teacher Identity, Pedagogy and Context


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This collection of 16 reflective accounts and data-driven studies explores the interrelationship of religious identity and English Language Teaching (ELT). The chapters broaden a topic which has traditionally focused on Christianity by including Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and non-religious perspectives. They address the ways in which faith and ELT intersect in the realms of teacher identity, pedagogy and the context and content of ELT, and explore a diverse range of geographical contexts, making use of a number of different research methodologies.The book will be of particular interest to researchers in TESOL and EFL, as well as teachers and teacher trainers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781788921527
Publisher: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Publication date: 08/31/2018
Pages: 232
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.23(h) x 0.57(d)

About the Author

Mary Shepard Wong is a Professor in the Global Studies, Sociology and TESOL Department, Azusa Pacific University, USA. She is the co-editor of Christian Faith and English Language Teaching and Learning (with C. Kristjánsson and Z. Dörnyei, 2013, Routledge) and Christian and Critical English Language Educators in Dialogue (with A.S. Canagarajah, 2009, Routledge).

Ahmar Mahboob is an Associate Professor at the University of Sydney, Australia. He is the co-editor ofLanguage and Identity across Modes of Communication(with D.N. Djenar and K. Cruickshank, 2015, Mouton De Gruyter) andEnglish in Multilingual Contexts(with L. Barratt, 2014, Springer).

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Introduction: Why a Book on Spirituality and Language Teaching?

Mary Shepard Wong

Over the past two decades, there has been a resurgence of interest in exploring the relationship of religious faith and/or spirituality in the process and practices of English language teaching and learning (Edge, 1996, 2003; Johnston, 2017; Johnston & Varghese, 2006; Pennycook & Coutand-Marin, 2003; Smith & Carvill, 2000; Snow, 2001; Stevick, 1997; Varghese & Johnston, 2007; Wong & Canagarajah, 2009; Wong et al., 2013). Canagarajah notes in this volume that recent philosophical changes in human inquiry from positivistic views to social constructivist orientations allow for the consideration of religion and spirituality in language learning and teaching contexts. Moreover, new understandings of teaching and learning as a developmental process value the significance of teacher/student identities. With these changes, the door is now ajar for scholars to explore teacher and student religious experiences and spiritual identities in second language teaching and learning. This current volume, Spirituality and English Language Teaching: Religious Explorations of Teacher Identity, Pedagogy and Context, seeks to make a meaningful contribution by exploring how spirituality affects language teaching and learning.

This is the third book co-edited by Mary Shepard Wong on the topic of faith and English language teaching (ELT); however, it is the first that intentionally seeks out contributions from authors from multiple diverse religious backgrounds. It arises from the discussion in Christian and Critical English Language Educators in Dialogue: Pedagogical and Ethical Dilemmas (Wong & Canagarajah, 2009), which sought to establish a dialogue among English language practitioners around the dilemmas of the intersections of religion (mostly Christian) and ELT. It builds on the research in Christian Faith and English Language Teaching and Learning: Research on the Interrelationship of Religion and ELT (Wong et al., 2013), which discussed ten empirical studies of the intersections of Christianity and ELT. This present volume enlarges the conversation and includes Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, non-religious and other perspectives exploring how religious faith impacts teacher identity and pedagogy and the teaching context.

This anthology contains chapters that describe both data-driven studies and reflective accounts, representing a diversity of experiences and perspectives which develop discussions on the philosophies, purposes, practices, material and theories of the interrelationship of religious faith and language learning and teaching. Chapters are organized into three sections, with a response by an invited author to discuss each section. An Introduction and Conclusion is provided by the co-editors, and noted authors bookend the collection with a Foreword (Suresh Canagarajah) and Afterword (Henry Widdowson). As editors, we are interested in how the spiritual faith and religious beliefs of stakeholders come to bear on the learning and teaching of English and other languages.

In order to address the areas of teacher spiritual identity, the actual classroom experiences and the diversity of language teaching contexts, we grouped the chapters into three sections: religious faith and (1) teacher identity, (2) pedagogical practice and (3) the language learning context. Questions we sought to explore are:

(1) How do teachers' faith beliefs impact their identities, i.e. how do language teachers view themselves and how are they viewed by others?

(2) What common values and practice do teachers from different religious backgrounds share and what can they learn from each other?

(3) How does faith inform their pedagogy and interactions with students in the various contexts in which they teach?

(4) In what ways do religion, faith and other belief systems enter the language classroom and what roles do they play in teaching and learning?

(5) What connections do language teachers with religious convictions make between their faith beliefs and language policies?

Defining Spirituality

The meaning of spirituality varies greatly depending on who you ask, even among those of a similar religious group. Although it may be difficult to arrive at a definition that everyone can agree on, much can be gained from seeking to understand spirituality from multiple perspectives. I became aware of the importance of the distinction between religion and spirituality at a panel I had organized at the TESOL convention in Seattle in 2007 which I had called 'Spiritual Dimensions and Dilemmas of English Teaching'. During my brief introduction, two people suddenly stood up and stormed out, stating 'you should have told us that this was going to be about Christianity and not spirituality!' As the room was packed with people sitting on the floor, their vacated chairs were quickly taken and we continued. But I learned that day that I should not conflate the terms spirituality and Christianity, or assume we all mean the same thing when we speak of spirituality. Although the term 'spirituality' is appropriate for this volume because we address multiple religious and nonreligious viewpoints, it was not an appropriate title for that panel which focused mostly on Christian views. Some would describe spirituality as that which includes a search for what lies beyond ourselves, which may or may not include a belief in God, and which, of course, is not limited to one religion.

Some scholars like to contrast spiritual and religious views. Consider some of these definitions of spiritual versus religion, adapted from the National Center for Cultural Competence (Georgetown University).

Spiritual is:

• 'the experience or expression of the sacred' (Adapted from The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Stein & Urdang, 1967);

• '... the search for transcendent meaning' (Astrow et al., 2001);

• 'individual search for meaning' (Bown & Williams, 1993);

• 'the search for meaning in life events and a yearning for connectedness to the universe' (Coles, 1990);

• 'a person's experience of, or a belief in, a power apart from his or her own existence' (Mohr, 2006);

• 'a quality that goes beyond religious affiliation, that strives for inspiration, reverence, awe, meaning and purpose, even in those who do not believe in God (Murray & Zentner, 1989);

• 'in harmony with the universe, strives for answers about the infinite, and comes essentially into focus in times of emotional stress, physical (and mental) illness, loss, bereavement and death' (Murray & Zentner, 1989);

• 'a broad set of principles that transcend all religions. Spirituality is about the relationship between ourselves and something larger. That something can be the good of the community or the people who are served by your agency or school or with energies greater than ourselves. Spirituality means being in the right relationship with all that is. It is a stance of harmlessness toward all living beings and an understanding of their mutual interdependence' (Kaiser, 2000).

Contrast this with the following definitions of religion.

Religion is:

• 'a set of beliefs and practices related to the issue of what exists beyond the visible world, generally including the idea of the existence of a being, group of beings, an external principle or a transcendent spiritual entity' (Adapted from The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Stein & Urdang, 1967);

• a 'set of beliefs, practices, and language that characterizes a community that is searching for transcendent meaning in a particular way, generally based upon belief in a deity' (Astrow et al., 2001);

• 'formed within the context of practices and rituals shared by a group to provide a framework for connectedness to God' (Davies et al., 2002);

• 'an organized system of practices and beliefs in which people engage ... a platform for the expression of spirituality ...' (Mohr, 2006);

• 'outward practice of a spiritual system of beliefs, values, codes of conduct, and rituals' (Speck, 1998).

It seems from these definitions that the spiritual is a search for transcendence, whereas religion is a set of beliefs and practices that seek to express spirituality or connect a group of people to a transcendent spiritual entity. For this book, the editors use Palmer's (2003: 377) definition that spiritual 'involves the eternal human yearning to be connected with something larger than our own egos', but we acknowledge that each author may use the term in their own ways with various nuances and in some cases the authors use the terms interchangeably. With this in mind, the following overview of the chapters is presented to orient the reader to the volume.

Chapter-by-Chapter Overview

The book begins with a foreword by Suresh Canagarajah, who provides context for the volume and notes the potential it has to make a contribution to the field of second language education (SLE). Canagarajah outlines three reasons why spirituality is important to educators and why it is high time to explore its significance. He contends that recent philosophical changes in the nature of inquiry, current understandings of the developmental learning process and the importance of cultivating dispositions within language learners allow us, if not compel us, to probe 'our beliefs in the light of our professional experiences to deepen our spirituality' (this volume, p. xix).

Part 1: Religious Faith and Teacher Identity

The four chapters of Part 1, as the section title notes, explore religious faith and teacher identity. In Chapter 2, The Dangers and Delights of Teacher Spiritual Identity as Pedagogy, Mary Shepard Wong analyzes the factors one might consider when determining what may or may not be appropriate when it comes to issues of faith and professional practice. Wong discusses the importance of contextualizing an ethical quandary, provides a discussion of the difference between ethics and morals, and lists eight potential sources for teachers to consider when making ethical and moral choices in the classroom. The chapter outlines three dangers and three delights of faith-informed pedagogy and professional practice and concludes with a set of questions and scenarios in which the eight sources of ethical and moral choices can be applied.

In Chapter 3, Buddhist Principles and the Development of Leadership Skills in English Language Program Administration and Teaching, MaryAnn Christison provides a personal account of how she has applied her Buddhist beliefs to her role as a leader within the TESOL organization. The overlapping concern for change and growth in both Buddhism and leadership creates a space for her to apply her spiritual practice in her professional life. In her words, she shows how 'the basic principles of Buddhism can serve as a useful guide when one is working across the international boundaries of language and culture and focused on developing skills as program administrators and leaders' (this volume, p. 33). Christison provides a brief background to Buddhism and then discusses the principles of Buddhism expressed in the Eightfold Path or Middle Way, namely, right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. These concepts along with her personal interpretation of the doctrine have contributed to her rewarding and satisfying professional life and serve as an example of how faith can inform practice.

Joel Heng Hartse and Saeed Nazari collaborate in Chapter 4, Attempting Interfaith Dialogue in TESOL: A Duoethnography, to describe a research project that spanned two years in which they set out to explore the common values of their religious faiths – Christianity and Islam. What they found was that the co-exploration of interfaith dialogue led to deeper understandings of how their faiths were constructed, received, contested, expressed, concealed, critiqued, changed and reconceived. The original goal to find a set of common values was eclipsed by the act of 'different individuals trying to make meaning of their life histories and then reconceptualizing those meanings' (Norris et al., 2012: 178). Nazari found himself asking how it is possible to assign a stereotypical label to this dynamic transformation. The chapter concludes with suggestions for further research and the potential that duoethnography has to explore power, inequality and religious difference.

In Chapter 5, Response to Part 1: Possibilities for Nonattachment: Investigating the Affective Dimension of Imposition, Ryuko Kubota provides a response to the chapters by Wong, Christison, and Heng Hartse and Nazari. She asks two overarching questions in her response: How can we come to terms with the problem of imposing one's perspective onto others? How can we deal with our emotional attachment to a certain belief or view, which may conflict with the beliefs and views of others? This process, she contends, requires a deeper engagement with difference, which involves both intellectual and affective domains. Kubota contrasts two approaches that teachers can take when seeking to increase their openness and more profoundly engage with difference: the liberal pluralist approach, often used when teaching controversial issues, and the poststructuralist intellectual approach, used to examine knowledge production. Her personal account of her struggle when dealing with her students' denial of the Nanjing Massacre demonstrates the difficulties teachers can have when seeking a more profound engagement with difference. Her application of concepts of nonattachment and emptiness found in Buddhism, which helped her through this process of hyper-self-reflexivity, further supports her point that religious faith and spirituality play a significant part in our professional lives.

Part 2: Religious Faith and Pedagogical Practice

The four chapters in Part 2, Religious Faith and Pedagogical Practice, written by Sid Brown, Bal Krishna Sharma, Stephanie Vandrick and David I. Smith, are informed by Buddhist, Hindu, non-religious and Christian perspectives. The authors discuss what happens when teachers seek out applications of their religious (and in one case non-religious) beliefs within their classrooms.

Brown, in Chapter 6, A Buddhist in the Classroom Revisited, describes 'daily Buddhist practices and stories and the moment-by-moment transformations of teacher, student and classroom that arise from them, informed by a definition of religion based on how religion functions' (this volume, p. 75). Brown asserts that all teachers have values and that teachers need to be aware of how their values impact their classroom and students. Trained to keep her religious views away from the classroom, she was made to feel her religious practices and views were irrelevant to her teaching. She states:

I expected students to leave their religious (and anti-religious and nonreligious) commitments and questions at the door, until I found that if they did so they could not walk into the room; the experiences and practices that have formed them and their (non- or anti-) religious commitments are how they (and we) are in the world; these commitments and questions form their eyes and move their legs. (This volume, p. 83)


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Table of Contents

List of ContributorsAcknowledgementsForeword: Suresh Canagarajah: Complexifying Our Understanding of SpiritualityChapter 1. Mary Shepard Wong: Introduction: Why A Book on Spirituality and Language Teaching? Part I. Religious Faith and Teacher IdentityChapter 2. Mary Shepard Wong: The Dangers and Delights of Teacher Spiritual Identity as PedagogyChapter 3. MaryAnn Christison: Buddhist Principles and the Development Leadership Skills in English Language Program Administration and TeachingChapter 4. Joel Heng Hartse and Saeed Nazari: Attempting Interfaith Dialogue in TESOL: A DuoethnographyChapter 5. Ryuko Kubota: Response to Part I: Possibilities For Nonattachment: Investigating the Affective Dimension of ImpositionPart II. Religious Faith and Pedagogical PracticeChapter 6. Sid Brown: A Buddhist in the Classroom RevisitedChapter 7. Bal Krishna Sharma: The Relevance of Hinduism to English Language Teaching and LearningChapter 8. Stephanie Vandrick: Multiple, Complex and Fluid Religious and Spiritual Influences on English Language EducatorsChapter 9. David Smith: Response to Part II: ‘Religious Faith’ and ‘Pedagogical Practice’ – Extending the Map: A Response to Brown, Sharma and VandrickPart III. Religious Faith and the Language Learning ContextChapter 10. Kassim Shaaban: Language and Religion in the Construction of the Lebanese Identity Chapter 11. Deena Boraie, Atta Gebril and Raafat Gabriel: Teachers’ Perceptions of the Interface between Religious Values and Language Pedagogy in EgyptChapter 12. Carolyn Kristjánsson: Church-Sponsored ESL in Western Canada: Grassroots Expressions of Spiritual and Social Practice Chapter 13. Brian Morgan: Response to Part III: Religious Faith and the Language Learning Context: Exploring the InterfaceChapter 14. Ahmar Mahboob and Eve Courtney: Spirituality and English Language Teaching: Moving ForwardAfterword: Henry Widdowson: Spirituality in Language Teaching

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