Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Religious Participation as Cultural Capital Development: Sector Differences in Chicago's Jewish Schools

Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Religious Participation as Cultural Capital Development: Sector Differences in Chicago's Jewish Schools

Article excerpt

This paper uses the case of Jewish schools in Chicago to explore the role of religious schools in the development of cultural capital among youth. The authors focus on three sectors of Jewish schools (Orthodox day schools, non-Orthodox day schools, and non-Orthodox supplementary schools) as contexts for learning and expressing Jewish practices, affiliations, and beliefs, which are understood to be markers of cultural capital for the Jewish community. Survey results from 834 students in grades 7-12 revealed that family and school environments are independently associated with cultural capital development. Generally, the contributions of families are more prominent than the impact of schools, but both school type and learning opportunities also contribute to cultural outcomes.

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Most research in the sociology of schooling focuses on cognitive outcomes. Following the accepted wisdom, many sociologists duly emphasize the contributions of families and schools to cognitive development. Yet schooling also has cultural outcomes: the practices, attitudes, and beliefs that play important roles in the transition from youth to adulthood, and that provide access to particular cultural groups. Dominated by the seminal writings of Bourdieu (1977a, 1977b, 1984), the literature on cultural reproduction also recognizes the dual contributions of families and schools. This essay examines the emergence of adolescent religious identity as a form of cultural capital development, drawing on a pilot study of Jewish schools in the Chicago area. Three sectors of Jewish schools are included: Orthodox day schools, the most religiously observant and intensive group; a non-Orthodox day school, sponsored by the Conservative movement, which advocates an intermediate level of observance; and non-Orthodox supplementary schools, which are attended on weekends and/or weekday afternoons and are sponsored by the Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist movements, with the latter two as the most religiously liberal of the Jewish denominations. The analysis considers the roles of both family affiliation and practices, and school type and curriculum, as potential influences on young persons' Jewish cultural capital, as represented by their commitment and capacity to engage with the traditions and practices of the Jewish people.

The focus on cognitive outcomes of education to the exclusion of other outcomes has been heightened by the current emphasis on high standards for students' academic performance, but cultural outcomes also deserve attention. Although generally overlooked in today's debates about standards as a means to improve the quality of schooling, cultural outcomes also contribute to the development and future opportunities of young persons. In the case of religious identification and activities, research on adolescents is sparse, but a recent review concluded that greater religious participation among teenagers is positively associated with a variety of indicators of health and well-being (Bridges & Moore, 2002). The question of whether and how schools and families reproduce cultural outcomes, including religious practices and attitudes, is thus of broad interest.

Survey research on education and cultural transmission has been limited by two shortcomings: cross-sectional data and inadequate measures of cultural capital (Nagel & Ganzeboom, 2003). This study is also cross-sectional, so the findings must be considered speculative rather than conclusive. However, the study uses new, richer measures of Jewish affiliation, practices, and commitment than are commonly found in either research on Jewish identity or in studies of cultural capital more generally. The contributions of the study thus lie in framing the problem of Jewish identity development as a matter of cultural capital transmission, and in providing evidence on the associations among family, school, and young persons' religious expressions. …

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