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Curriculum and national identity: exploring the links between religion and nation in Pakistan

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This paper investigates the relationship between schooling and conflict in Pakistan using an identity-construction lens. Drawing on data from curriculum documents, student responses to classroom activities, and single-sex student focus groups, it explores how students in four state primary schools in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), Pakistan, use curricula and school experiences to make sense of themselves as Pakistani. The findings suggest that the complex nexus of education, religion, and national identity tends to construct 'essentialist' collective identities—a single identity as a naturalized defining feature of the collective self. To promote national unity across the diverse ethnic groups comprising Pakistan, the national curriculum uses religion (Islam) as the key boundary between the Muslim Pakistani 'self' and the antagonist non-Muslim 'other'. Ironically, this emphasis creates social polarization and the normalization of militaristic and violent identities, with serious implications for social cohesion, tolerance for internal and external diversity, and gender relations.
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Keywords: Pakistan; conflict; curriculum; identity construction; national unity

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Learning Development Unit, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, Lancs, UK 2: Centre for International Education, University of Sussex, UK

Publication date: 2010-04-01

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