Paths of intercultural coexistence in the school environment

2017 - 2020

Enrico Nivolo
University of Turin
Doctoral School in Human and Social Sciences
Doctorate in Psychological, Anthropological and Educational Sciences

A complex work in cultural anthropology, pedagogy and psychology entitled "Religious pluralism and secularism in the Italian school", financed with a three-year research grant from the Intercultura Foundation.

In the final chapter the author interviews 494 foreign students who have just completed their study program in Italy, 83% for a year and 17% for a semester (2017-18). They come from 52 countries and 325 are women while 169 are men, between 17 and 18 years old. He encourages them to talk about how they were received in Italy and at school in particular, using a 49 questions questionnaire on their perception of cultural alterity and on religious differences and perceived discrimination.

These are topics that have been debated in our Foundation since the international conference on "The unspoken sacred", held in Bari in April 2017, which highlighted how the topic of the sacred, so important to understand cultural differences, is almost always "silenced", avoided in intercultural encounters, out of embarrassment, ignorance or fear of hurting feelings.

Nivolo's work confirms this. Our foreign students say that their Italian friends almost never talk about religion (50%) or never at all (18%). Only a third speak about it "sometimes" and only 5% "often". Half of them followed the "religion" hour at school, but only 53% found it interesting. Only 30% showed some interest in religious life in Italy and only 7% "often spoke about religion" during their stay in Italy. Their opinion is that 50% of Italians are indifferent to these issues, that 30% look benevolently at other religious traditions and that 20% have a negative opinion. It is interesting that 2/3 of them think that being Muslim in Italy is a disadvantage. Generally, Europeans and Americans show a more secularized attitude towards religion, while Asians seem more traditionalist.

At school (of which boys have a more positive memory than girls) as many as 35% say they felt discriminated: not because of religion, but rather for being a foreigner and speaking a bad Italian. Even if the numbers are small to draw conclusions, the most discriminated ones attended musical high schools, agricultural or technical institutes. There seems to be an underlying intercultural illiteracy that makes the encounter with foreigners problematic. The absence of religious discrimination at school can be linked to the lack of interest in this topic among young people.

However, the author makes an interesting notation: "even when they do not talk about religion, it seems to influence their way of looking at reality in a latent way". It is an encouragement to give more space to these issues in the formation of those who participate in an intercultural program.