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

Author(s): Adam Gamoran and Matthew Boxer

Source: Gamoran, Adam, and Matthew Boxer. 2005. “Religious Participation as Cultural Capital Development: Sector Differences in Chicago’s Jewish Schools.” Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry & Practice 8(4): 440-462.


While academic outcomes dominate much of education research, cultural outcomes of schooling—practices, attitudes, and beliefs—can play an important role in identity formation and provide students with access to cultural groups. Gamoran and Boxer examine the role of the family environment and religious schools, specifically Jewish schools, in the transmission of cultural capital.

About the Study
Gamoran and Boxer use a cross-sectional sample of 9 Jewish schools, grades 7-12, in Chicago. Of these schools, 6 were supplementary schools, meeting on weekends or weekday afternoons and 3 were day schools. The supplementary schools included Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative schools and the day schools included one non-Orthodox school and 2 Orthodox schools, for a total of 834 respondents. The survey included questions about student and family ritual practices and cultural affiliations, denomination, and type of school attended. The authors approached the study with three hypotheses: 1) while ritual often takes place in the family, schools generate the formal knowledge of ritual practice; 2) family effects on cultural transmission will be stronger than school effects; and 3) school effects for cultural transmission will be stronger where family conditions are weaker.

The authors found support for the first two hypotheses. They found that school and family have independent effects on cultural transmission, with family effects consistently stronger and explaining more of the variance than the school variables. However, they did not find any interaction effects between family and school, causing them to reject the third hypothesis. The finding that families have a larger role in cultural transmission is consistent with previous literature. While Jewish schools can provide a means of transmitting culture and religion, it does not seem to replace the role of the family in this process.

Points to Consider
As this is a cross-sectional study, the authors point out that these findings are speculative rather than conclusive. However, they provide an interesting starting point for other faith traditions to consider the cultural transmission of religious schools. These findings may be specific to the Jewish faith tradition as differences in time spent in religious instruction and ritual in other religious schools may lead to different outcomes. It is also important to note the role of the school when the faith tradition is in a minority within the community versus when it is a majority religion. While this study does not suggest the religious school is the primary means of transmitting cultural capital, it does support the theory that religious schools can play a significant role in this process.

Keywords: cultural capital, Jewish education

Sector: Jewish

Outcomes: Cultural Impact,  Family,  Religious and Spiritual

Date Posted: 2014-01-13