For the classroom 5-14

Complex webs of identity in RE

In 2006, I was lucky enough to travel to Japan. My hosts were keen to understand more about the UK and British culture. We talked about many things – Shakespeare, the Queen, the history of the Tower of London – before the conversation moved onto more controversial territory. I quickly realised that my hosts believed that everyone in the UK had fully supported the Iraq War in 2003 because the leader of the country had supported it. To be British, they thought, was to support the invasion of Iraq. This did not in any way cohere with my individual identity, nor with my understanding of
what it means to be British, but to my hosts it was an easy way of understanding Britishness in relation to Japanese-ness. This is a defining feature of Homo sapiens – to distinguish, to differentiate, to encounter someone and decide who they are in relation to me; to decide whether they belong or do not belong. Just as God in the creation narratives of Judaism and Christianity separates light from darkness, land from sea, humans separate ‘us’ from ‘them’ as a fundamental part of forming a sense of individual and communal identity. This is somewhat ironic, given that the term ‘identity’ originates in the Latin ‘idem’ or ‘sameness’.

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