QI Abstract 2016
Twelfth International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
May 18-21, 2016

Plenary Title: Secular Schools in a Religiously Saturated Era
Chair: Michael Giardina, Sports Management, Florida State University

Description: As Canadian public schools alter from their historical Christian roots to models that either have secular options, or structures that are “entirely non-religious”, how are teachers navigating these new professional orientations and sometimes uncertain situations? Much like its neighbour to the south, Canada’s public spaces have been flooded with often highly visible and heated disputes over issues of religion, with minorities often being targeted to gain political advantage. For example, whether it is a former prime-minister referring to “old-stock Canadians”, or a presidential candidate calling for a ban on Muslim immigrants, the public landscape appears charged with politics of division. All the while, teachers attempt to live secular mandates in a public space that scholar Charles Taylor believes should be locations for openness and tolerance. This plenary session introduces the initial findings of an ongoing SSHRC funded study on secularism in Canadian public schools, by teachers who professionally define themselves as secular.

Paper Titles: 

The Secular Teacher: Soldier in the War on Christmas?
C. Darius Stonebanks, School of Education, Bishop’s University

Description: Whether we hear it whispered in school staffrooms or screamed from media pundits, we are told in no uncertain terms that there is a “war on Christmas”. Despite the argument of a clear and current danger on Santa Claus and baby Jesus, Christmas symbols and songs overwhelm most Canadian public spaces, but what about public schools? From warm fuzzy feelings of students making glitter, gouache painted, dry macaroni covered Styrofoam orb decorations in class, to the singing of “He is born, the divine Christ child” at a public school’s holiday concert, in one way or another, this curriculum “teaches” us. This paper examines the intended and unintended curriculum of Christmas, and chronicles how the professionally secular teacher makes sense of this most jolly time of the year along with their potential role in both the micro and macro debate.

Secularism in Canadian Schools: Are the Provinces Responding to a Call for Inclusive Citizenship?
Nathalie Knott, Lester B. Pearson School Board and David Emory, McGill University

Description: In 1971, in response to a growing diversity, Canada was the first country in the world to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy. Touted as affirming the value and dignity of all Canadian citizens regardless of their racial or ethnic origins, their language, or their religious affiliation, it also confirmed the rights of Aboriginal peoples and the status of Canada’s two official languages, English and French.  Under the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories, are schools truly considered secular public spaces? To date only Quebec, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador have made a move to eliminate segregated school systems. What is the picture in other provinces?  Are schools divided along religious lines or do they have mandates that clearly lay out an inclusive space for all beliefs and worldviews? Where are we now and how do teachers committed to these inclusive principles perceive policy as relates to practice and need?

Talking About Secularism: Professional Dialogue and/or Professional Divide;
Melanie Bennett-Stonebanks, School of Education, Bishop’s University  

Description: Staff meeting discussion point, professional development workshop, water cooler conversation about last night’s news; or after school classroom discussion? Whether scheduled or occurring out of the blue, this paper will investigate what results when teachers gather together to talk about the topic of secularism. How do teachers across Canada work to gain new understanding of this often misunderstood principle. Does exploration and evaluation of their own practice occur or is the end result resentment, frustration and a stop of any communication?

Secularism Dismissed! Teachers Ponder Colleagues’ Attitudes on Religion in Public Schools;
Kassandra Norrie, MA student, School of Education, Bishop’s University 

Description: Given that educational reforms sometimes do not take place in the classroom, can the same be said for a secular based education designed to foster equity? Teacher participants share their experiences on the disconnect between what they believe are secular spaces and the culture of public schools. In addition, this paper also explores the notion of a teacher archetype as relates to Christian privilege in non-religious public schools.


Kingston Abstract
Unraveling Religion 3: Space, Place, and Affect
Queen’s University, Kingston Ontario
May 13-14, 2016


​With the exception of some publicly funded Catholic schools boards in certain provinces, public schooling in Canada has transitioned from religious based boards and schools towards non-denominational, secular based schools. As Canadian society has developed, religion has gone from taking an active position in the educational decision making process to having no official role in the policy making and development of public schools, but in spite of this curricular and policy based shift across the provinces and territories, Christian privilege remains a factor in many schools, regions and school boards. At times this privilege exerts itself consciously and actively, but it can also manifest passively and even unconsciously, perpetuated simply by the cultural and historical links between Christianity and Canadian society. Exploring the perspectives and experiences of public school teachers who identify as professionally secular, this paper will consider the pervasiveness of Christian privilege in the secular spaces of Canadian public schools; considering it in relation to the history of religion’s role in education and the current climate of Canadian public schools. This paper is connected with the larger research of ROSE (Research on Secularism and Education); the SSHRC funded research project on the perspectives of public school teachers towards secular education.