Theses Doctoral

Religious Education and Political Activism in Mandate Palestine

Schneider, Suzanne

This dissertation offers a conceptual analysis of Jewish and Islamic religious education in Palestine during the years of British military, civil and Mandatory control (1917-1948). It examines the policies toward religious education pursued by the Government of Palestine, as well as practices developed by Jewish and Muslim educators for use within Zionist and private Arab schools. Based on a combination of archival sources, school curricula, textbooks, memoirs and newspapers, this dissertation elucidates the tensions that characterized attempts on the part of colonial and "native" reformers to transform the structure, content and purpose of religious education in pursuit of their respective political goals.
In order to situate the Department of Education's policies within Palestine's sectarian context, I chart how an understanding of religion as an apolitical source of individual ethics found reflection in a legal structure that tied educational freedom to the religious community. I further argue that the Department of Education promoted a novel version of religious education within both Jewish and Muslim communities as, somewhat paradoxically, a means of preserving the "traditional" order in which religious knowledge was separated from national politics. Therefore while secular studies were encouraged on an instrumental basis, administrators vigorously opposed the development of secularism as an ideological framework associated with moral discord and political upheaval.
The second half of this project discusses educational initiatives among Zionist and Palestinian Muslim leaders in order to highlight the points of overlap and rupture with policies pursued by the Mandatory state. Notwithstanding a strong impetus within both groups to vilify customary forms of communal schooling, neither acquiesced to the colonial view of religious education as the source of "universal" values that transcended the realm of mass politics. In contrast, Jewish and Muslim leaders in Palestine offered alternative educational models in which control over religious knowledge was innately linked to the goals of their respective political movements. Rather than viewing religious education as a source of social continuity, modernists placed the reform of religious education at the center of a program that aimed at revolutionary change.
Finally, by adapting a theoretical model borrowed from Bruno Latour, this project argues that the apparent differences between the Government of Palestine on one hand, and Jewish and Muslim educators on the other, were more discursive than material. Education functioned as a political tool within the schools maintained by each group; however, the link between pedagogy and politics was one that the Mandatory government refused to recognize. On the contrary, the Department of Education accused Jewish and Muslim leaders of transgressing the boundary meant to separate education as an exercise in character formation from education as a site of social conditioning and political mobilization. Battles over the content and purpose of religious education therefore constituted part of a larger conflict regarding the relationship between mass schooling and political engagement in modern Palestine.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
Thesis Advisors
Khalidi, Rashid
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 7, 2014