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Racialization of the Religious and  Cultural Identities in TESOL



Racialization of the Religious and  Cultural Identities in TESOL


The idea of this chapter emerged from the author’s difficulties and challenges encountered in discussing issues related to religious and cultural identities in second language education. Educational practices are characterized by religious and cultural identities that become evident every day. Although culturally responsive teaching affirms the religious, cultural, and racial background of students as positive assets, there has been a tendency by teachers and some learners to construct students as Other. This chapter seeks to address issues related to cultural, religious, and cultural identity construction as it related to racialization in TESOL.

Teaching English to speakers of other languages represents a field in which people from different racialized background come together to teach, learn, or conduct research. Religion and culture are some of the hard-to-avoid topics as a result of teaching English worldwide. Consequently, these two areas are worthy topics to be studied in detail. In this chapter, key concepts and theories relating to race, religion, and racialization are explored in relation to culturally responsive teaching.Racialization of the Religious and  Cultural Identities in TESOL

English Language Learners (ELL) who consist of students that are learning English as their second language is the fastest growing student segment in K-12 public schools. According to Hastings and Jacob (2018), the number of students receiving ELL services between 2003 and 2004 was 3.8 million, representing a 200% increase from 1993-1994 (p. 261). The findings of these authors are supported by Jiménez-Castellanos and García (2017)Who point out that there are approximately 4.9 million ELL students representing 9.8% of the entire population of students within the US (p. 428). Dense populations of these learners are found in the southwest states including California, Texas, Colorado, and Nevada. There is a need to provide a comprehensive instruction program that meets the needs of ELL students to realize greater and equal educational opportunities for them.

Framing the Case

In today’s globalized world, teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) has become a worldwide enterprise and encompasses people from a different background that are often culturally, religiously, and racially distinct. The learners in TESOL education setting represent varied cultural and social identities in the form of foreigners or locals,  ethnic groups, native and non-native speakers. Despite the evident multiple identities, the pedagogy of English language has, for a long time classified them into a single group labeled non-native speakers (Zacharias, 2010). According to this author, the label has persisted despite efforts to challenge it as a result of the lack of relevant classroom techniques aimed at addressing the different identities present in the classroom. One of the most prevalent myths in English language pedagogy is that students who study English as a foreign or second language must get rid of their cultural, religious, and ethnic identities and instead adopt the norms and standards are associated with native speakers if they are to succeed academically. However,believe overlooks the fact that learner’s religious identity and L1 culture cannot be just replaced. Although teacher education in TESOL aims preparing educators to assist students in multicultural contexts, the current techniques are not effective in accommodating the multiple identities present in classrooms. Cultural and religious identities have been found to influence English language pedagogy and classrooms. Therefore, religion and culture represent critical and current issues whose impact should be investigated in detail for TESOL.


Race, Ethnicity, Identity, Culture, and Religion-Racialization of the Religious and  Cultural Identities in TESOL


Anya (2018) define race to be a group of people that share and phenotypic characteristics that distinguish them from other people all groups. These physical features include the shape of the eye, facial features, skin color, and the texture of the hair. Individuals that belong to a given race have a close history and  kin-ship.. Moreover, they share a language and culture. The common belief that exists among them is that they are one. Anya (2018) points out that a biological view of race has not been fully developed even though it is generally agreed that the acquisition of racialized traits involves genetic inheritance. Her views are supported by Kubota and Lin (2006), who argue that biological evidence does not predetermine race. Consequently, it follows that race does not constitute a biological trait possessed by human beings. Rather, it is a result of socialization and racism evident in social practices of human beings true categorization and appropriation of their identities including their social ways, physical appearance, and even ancestry.


Ethnicity is a concept that is closely related to race and finds application when distinguishing groups of people based on their social-cultural characteristics such as religion, their way of life, language, and traditional customs. Generally, ethnicity is a word used to refer to the category of people that relate with each other on the basis of similarities among them including their ancestry culture, and history. Kubota and Lin (2016), identity ethnicity as a highly contentious term due to problems in its definition. The concerns raised by these authors are evident especially in cases where cultural boundaries need to be identified two separate unique ethnic groups. Taking for example Asians that moved to Latin America tens of decades ago but have now moved back to America and enrolled in English as a second language (ESL) classes, it is difficult to categorize them in any specific ethnic group. Although some people could perceive them to be Asian Americans, others could consider being Latin Americans.

Identity-Racialization of the Religious and  Cultural Identities in TESOL

Norton (2013) defines identity as “the way a person understands his or her relationship to the world, how that relationship is constructed across time and space, and how the person understands possibilities for the future” (p. 104). A similar definition is provided by Aronson, Wilson, Akert, and Fehr (2001) who view identity as a term used to imply self-concept. It is the knowledge that people develop about themselves.  According to Aronson et al. (2001), individuals develop an additional representation of self through a combination of this knowledge and self-awareness. Therefore, the formation of identity involves both internal and external factors, which together influence the manner in which people see themselves and who they become in the future.


Culture and Cultural Identity-Racialization of the Religious and  Cultural Identities in TESOL

To a great extent, identities that human beings develop are influenced by what they relate with or identify with. Cultural identity is as a result of people belonging to a given race or ethnicity identifying specific sites for ideas that characterize the larger family, tribe, or nation to which they belong. These group of individuals may identify with a given religion, press, language, dialect, cuisine, naming style, or even country. By accepting and practicing such set of ideas handed down over the years by members of the larger tribe or nation, a person is identified to belong to a given culture. Therefore, cultural identity may be defined as the characteristics associated with a given group of people such as their language, social habits, religion, and music. Culture identities make people from different ethnicities and races unique. On the other hand, culture is a term used to refer to the values and beliefs of all the individuals that belong to a specific ethnicity. Additionally, culture includes the way of thinking of these people and their ability to understand both their lives and the world. Culture varies considerably across societies, regions, and even sub-groups.

Religious Identity-Racialization of the Religious and  Cultural Identities in TESOL

Religious identity refers to an identity formation type that influences the understanding of a person or a group of people and their experiences as a result of religious affiliation. In essence, it is the feeling associated with group membership of a specific religion and the significance of this membership in shaping an individual’s self-concept. The term religious identity does not imply religiousness or religiosity. Rather, it denotes being a member of a particular religious group irrespective of religious participation. Just like cultural identity, this type of identity influences the perspective from which individuals view the world.

The Racialisation of Identities

Woodward (2005 explains that due to problems and complexities associated with defining the terms “race” and ‘ethnicity,” researchers in this field have given attention to processes involved in each of these terms instead of giving attention to identifying unique characteristics of each group. Consequently, he defines both “race” and ethnicity” as a “process of making differences between people on the basis of an assumption about human physical or cultural variations and the meaning of these variations” (Woodward, 2005, p. 125). Furthermore, Woodward emphasizes that “this is what we mean when we say that individuals and groups are racialized.” (p. 125). From the definition that he provides, it is evident that racialization involves identifying individuals on the basis of socially constructed categories such as they are physical attributes. Racialization is a term that is distinct from racism, which involves distributing distinctive privileges on the basis of the same socially constructed categories.

The Role of Cultural and Religious Identity in Teaching of English Language-Racialization of the Religious and  Cultural Identities in TESOL

Any given language serves two different purposes: propagating identity and as a means of communication. Altugan (2015) explains that researchers have spent a considerable amount of time studying the relationship that exists between learning of a language and the social world. According to him, researchers like him have encountered enormous challenges in the airport to integrate religious and cultural identities into learning. The difficulties encountered in incorporating identity into learning could be because the process involved in the formation of identity is usually complicated. Moreover, the identity of individuals develops gradually, being shaped by the social surroundings.

The cultural backgrounds of ESL students are relevant considering the fact that religious, ethnic, linguistic, and racial differences can result in cultural disconnection that can discourage learners from acquiring the language. Zacharias (2010) asserts that it is crucial for teachers to be aware of different identities that students enrolled in TESOL education bring to class. Several other researchers have also conducted studies in an effort to uncover the relationship between students on one hand and the impact of cultural and religious identities in the learning process. All of them indicate that a link exists between these identities and learning. In one such study, Shardakova and Pavlenko (2004) demonstrated that ESL students I’m faced with significant identity conflicts when learning English. Alim (2005) and Norton (2000) conducted similar studies in which they found that some ESL learners were pressured to completely avoid the culture associated with their L1 as a result of the belief that the move would help them to be incorporated with ease into the mainstream English discourse.

The Racialisation of Cultural and Religious Identities-Racialization of the Religious and  Cultural Identities in TESOL

The impact of race and ethnicity racialization in TESOL are evident through ethnic and racial bias present in the stereotypical image of native English speakers. The main aim of language education is to teach people a standardized form of a given language with the intention of preparing them to interact with native speakers. Although English is considered to be a global language that is spoken by people from different cultural and religious backgrounds, the dialects and practices but are usually chosen as representatives of native speakers are from countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Although these nations are considered to be the real owners of the language given that native speakers originated from them, the truth is that being a native speaker of any given language does not translate to complete mastery of it.

According to Anya (2018), a high proportion of methodological thought and research in TESOL come from these core countries namely Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. From the research that she conducted, Anay found that in TESOL education, students are guided to approximate native speakers. Moreover, practitioners involved in developing curriculum and instruction create learning materials based on the dialects and cultures of native speakers. Unfortunately, this approach to teach the English language has been found to be undesirable and ineffective. Although it is essential for ESL students to learn the English language in its natural context, research has shown that many of them encounter problems when seeking to give access to English-speaking communities. For instance, in one study conducted by Norton (2000), students engaged in natural language learning lack the opportunities to practice it even in cases where they are surrounded by fluent native speakers of the target language.

Culturally Responsive Teaching: Its Pedagogical Potential in Addressing the Current Problem

Culturally responsive teaching refers to a pedagogy that is based on teachers’ ability to display cultural competence skills when imparting knowledge in a multicultural setting. Educators who apply this theoretical framework create a learning environment in which they encourage the learners to establish some form of connection between their cultural context and the course content. Although the term is usually used in relation to African-American students and English as second language (ESL) teachers, it has been shown that this form of pedagogy is effective among students of different ethnic and racial backgrounds. In this paper, detailed research of the culturally responsive teaching as a theoretical framework is presented. The focus is given to its historical roots, major contributors, and past as well as the present application in education.  According to Gay (2010), the term culturally responsive teaching was coined by Gloria Ladson-Billings back in the 1990s. Vavrus (2008), on the other hand, reports that this framework has its theoretical and historical foundation in the civil rights movement that ushered in a reform movement that advocated for multicultural education (p. 51). Vavrus points out that around 1980s, this movement initiated a campaign that envisioned transforming the traditional schools into more inclusive and democratic learning institutions. Over the years, different education stakeholders began to see the need of ESL teachers with a high level of cultural competence with regard to their performance, skills, and knowledge-Racialization of the Religious and  Cultural Identities in TESOL

Culturally responsive teaching is more popular in institutions that contain a high proportion of students from mixed races and ethnicity where it serves as an educational reform aimed at motivating and raising the level of engagement of these learners. For many years, these students have suffered as a result of social alienation by public schools. As a result, the majority of these students have been unsuccessful in academics.  Vavrus (2008) points out that this form of teaching strives to acknowledge and incorporate the culture of these learners into the curriculum. Moreover, the approach of including student’s culture establishes meaningful connections with the culture of the communities that the students come from. Therefore, culturally responsive teaching could be viewed as a direct response to the high rate of school dropout and differences in academic achievement on the basis of socio-economic status, race, and students’ ability to master English, which is the language of instruction in the academic setting in the United States. Demographically, the identified gap in academic achievement is evident between White students from economically advantaged backgrounds and students of color, those from economically disadvantaged families, and all immigrant children.

Since its inception, culturally responsive teaching was intended to provide a solution to the problems faced by students in secondary and elementary levels of education by providing equitable learning opportunities for all of them. Just like in elementary and secondary levels, higher level education is increasingly becoming more diverse socially culturally, economically, and even ethnically. As classrooms at this level become increasingly varied, there is growing pressure for professors to come up with more effective teaching strategies that reflect the changing student demographics to ensure effective delivery of class content. Consequently, culturally responsive teaching is applicable in all schools ranging from kindergarten to elementary schools, to high schools, and in institutions of higher learning such as colleges and universities.Racialization of the Religious and  Cultural Identities in TESOL

Today, the framework has become so popular that it is finding use among scholars in different scholarly discussions of English as an International Language. Consequently, this particular framework is known worldwide. For instance, teachers of English as an International Language evaluate how their teaching approach will match with the culture of their students. To arrive at the most appropriate pedagogical decision, educators must weigh in the attributes of the local culture, a scenario that clearly portrays the extent to which the application of the framework has expanded.

It is evident that culturally responsive teaching would be the best approach to address the present racialization of religious and cultural identities. It is a pedagogy that is based on teachers’ ability to display cultural competence skills when imparting knowledge in a multicultural setting. In essence, it is a form of education that seeks to equip learners with what they need to succeed academically while maintaining their cultural integrity. The framework has the potential to give every learner an opportunity to dream bigger for themselves and their communities. Over the years past, it has proven effective in promoting student engagement and achievement. Educators who utilize culturally response teachings create a learning environment in which they encourage the learners to establish some form of connection between their cultural context and the course content












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