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What, in heaven's name, are we teaching our children?: religion and social inclusion in Australian public schools

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posted on 2022-03-28, 23:02 authored by Catherine Jane Byrne
Australia is both religiously diverse and inter-religiously illiterate. It shows high levels of intolerance and rejection of religious diversity but also suffers from a contradictory political position regarding multiculturalism, aiming for inclusion on the one hand, while protecting exclusive Anglo-Christian privilege on the other. Historic and continuing Christian priority in 'secular' public education undermines efforts to teach respect for diverse perspectives. The state's apparent reluctance to address this dilemma contributes to polarisation of the debate, which tends to focus on 'getting religion out' or 'keeping religion in' public education. The complexities of 'good and bad' ways to teach religion are rarely dealt with. -- The research distinguishes between two common and, importantly, different mechanisms for religion in public primary schools - segregated Religious Instruction (RI) via access privileges for authorised providers, and in-curriculum (social science) General Religions Education (GRE). It also examines non-curricular activities (such as school prayers and religious assemblies) which are often bound to school ethos. The study combines quantitative and qualitative surveys in 13 New South Wales schools to examine inclusion and exclusion of religious diversity, exploring the question: Does public primary school religion help or hinder social inclusion? -- The surveys find differences between the ideological perspectives and pedagogical preferences of Christian religious volunteers, and parents and professional educators. Taking note of regional variance, the study highlights a potential link between these preferences and children's attitudes to religious difference, suggesting that the religious identity of the school may influence the development of children's attitudes to religious diversity. The study includes an examination of the legitimacy of religion in state education. It puts forward arguments for non-segregated secular religions and ethics education in public schools as part of the remedy for reducing intercultural ignorance and inter-religious prejudice. -- Research in this field is rare. In Australia the field is increasingly controversial. This study's contribution includes focusing attention, trialling research methods and instruments, providing insight into debates and practice, and, by raising difficult questions, suggesting both improvements to current policy and pathways to future research.


Alternative Title

Religion and social inclusion in Australian public schools

Table of Contents

Introduction -- 1. What is social inclusion? -- 2. What is secular education? -- 3. The hot potato of religious diversity -- 4. Freire's critical pedagogy - the challenge -- 5. Ideology in public school religion -- 6. 'Mummy, Jeesis is alive. He is the King of Australia' -- 7. Inclusive religions and ethics education -- Summary.


Includes bibliographical references Thesis by publication.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Centre for Research on Social Inclusion

Department, Centre or School

Centre for Research on Social Inclusion

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Marion Maddox

Additional Supervisor 1

Anne McMaugh


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Catherine Jane Byrne 2012. Complete version suppressed due to copyright restrictions. However, on receipt of a Document Supply Request, placed with Macquarie University Library by another library, we will consider supplying a copy of this thesis. For more information on Macquarie University's Document Supply, please contact




1 online resource (269 pages) illustrations

Former Identifiers

mq:31217 2041175