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  • 2020WartenweilerPhD

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Teachers’ experiences of spirituality in Swiss secular high schools: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

  • Thomas Wartenweiler
Publication date2020
Number of pages204
Awarding Institution
Award date6/07/2020
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Spirituality in education is a contested topic. This is certainly true for Switzerland where there has been avid media-led debate about teacher religiosity / spirituality and their influence on educational practices. This puts highly spiritual Swiss teachers in a dilemma: How can they integrate their spirituality in the classroom without causing controversy?
The research literature indicates that spirituality is a complex phenomenon that generally has positive effects on teacher identity and pedagogical practice. Spirituality has also been shown to be a protective factor and a factor for greater well-being for teachers. Furthermore, spirituality can function as an alternative way of knowing in a school system that is largely defined by rationalism. However, teachers may choose to hide the spiritual aspect of their identity, because spirituality is a contested topic in public schools. While spirituality in education has received greater attention in recent years in various countries such as the UK, the US or Australia, the topic is practically non-existent in the public school sector of Switzerland.
The present study used the qualitative method of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). A repeat-interview process allowed for in-depth analysis and interpretation of the subjective lived experience of six Swiss secondary school teachers’ spirituality and its influence on their teaching practices. It is the first qualitative study on teacher spirituality in secular school settings in Switzerland. Its findings shed new light on this aspect of Swiss education and thus complement the existing literature.
The key findings of this study were that spirituality is an important protective factor as well as a potent coping strategy for highly spiritual teachers. Spirituality is a key aspect of their teacher identity and a valid alternative way of knowing, but they implement spirituality often only through covert or indirect ways in the classroom. While they would wish to be able to implement it more directly, they feel that this is often not permissible. They perceive spirituality as a taboo topic in Swiss education and actively suppress aspects of it. However, they reported that the interview process helped them to reflect on and appreciate spirituality in education.