2005 volume 23(4) pages 615 – 631

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Kong L, 2005, "Religious schools: for spirit, (f)or nation" Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 23(4) 615 – 631

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Religious schools: for spirit, (f)or nation

Lily Kong

Received 10 October 2002; in revised form 31 December 2003

Abstract. In this paper I draw attention to the study of ‘unofficially sacred’ sites in geographies of religion, which provide significant insights into the construction of religious identity and community, and the intersections of sacred and secular. I show that such sites deserve as much attention as places of worship (the more conventional focus in the geographical study of religion) in our understanding of the place of religion in contemporary urban society. In particular, using the case of Islamic religious schools in Singapore, I examine how Muslim identities and community are negotiated within multicultural and multireligious contexts, and particularly within one in which there is a highly ‘educative’ state [Gramsci, 1971 Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci (International Publishers, New York)] that seeks to guide nation formation and the manufacture of consensus, and which strives to achieve a secular, modernist vision of society, characterized by economic progress and development. The specific analysis focuses, first, on the role of the state in the social construction of ‘schools’--particularly the ways in which state-constructed definitions of multiculturalism, multiracialism, multireligiosity, and modernity shape Singapore schools and education. Second, I examine the ways in which religious schools (madrasahs) are a means by which some Singapore Muslims maintain and enhance their religious life. Further, I analyze state – religion relations, state strategies of nation-building, strategies of identity and community construction among Muslims in Singapore, as well as the fractured nature of the Muslim community by studying the divergent meanings invested in schools by state and religious groups.

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