A critical linguistic analysis of the discourse on religious observances in public schools to establish the hegemonic influence of colonial religious observances and their effect on school populations
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Even after political liberation in South Africa, a mismatch exists between the principles of freedom of religious observance taught in Religion Education and the actual religious observances in public schools. Anglican hymns, prayers and observances are still being used in schools where the religious ethos has changed from one of Christianity to include Hinduism, Islam and Judaism, as well as Shembe and Zionist religions. The Draft Policy on Religion Education stipulates that there should be a distinction between home religions and the school’s official religious instruction. School religious observances, particularly observances which reflect the oppressive nature of past colonial impositions, should not give offence to learners from other religious denominations, or belittle their own practices. This thesis investigates the hegemonic influence of colonial religious observances and their possible effect on school populations. Within a critical linguistic approach, which explores the ways in which language both sets in place and reflects the relations of power implicit in social functioning, a critical discourse analysis was carried out on current and topical media texts reporting on contentious issues involving religious observances in schools. Community members were also consulted by means of surveys and interviews so as to provide an overview of the social context of the wider community within which the schools were situated. The resulting data could then be used to triangulate data obtained from the discourse analysis, and either confirm, modify or challenge the latter. The results suggest that, not only is there a strong hegemonic influence present in schools, as a result of the lingering vestiges of traditional colonial Christianity, but that modern Christian movements are also beginning to exert a persuasive influence on non-Christian populations. The issue of religious observance in schools is a highly complex and potentially controversial issue, but one which merits study in view of the fact that the stakeholders’ right to freedom of religious observance may be violated on a daily basis.