Schools, scripture and secularisation: a Christian theological argument for the incorporation of sacred texts within Australian public education

Benson, David Matthew (2016). Schools, scripture and secularisation: a Christian theological argument for the incorporation of sacred texts within Australian public education PhD Thesis, School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry, The University of Queensland. doi:10.14264/uql.2016.181

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Author Benson, David Matthew
Thesis Title Schools, scripture and secularisation: a Christian theological argument for the incorporation of sacred texts within Australian public education
School, Centre or Institute School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry
Institution The University of Queensland
DOI 10.14264/uql.2016.181
Publication date 2016-04-09
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Neil Pembroke
David Pitman
Total pages 238
Language eng
Subjects 220401 Christian Studies (incl. Biblical Studies and Church History)
220202 History and Philosophy of Education
220405 Religion and Society
Formatted abstract
This thesis concerns the purpose of education, and the role of Scriptures therein, centred on the Australian Curriculum. Through ACARA’s (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority) commitment to “equity and excellence”, the telos of this curriculum is the formation of students who are “successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens”. The Shaping of the Australian Curriculum documents offer a vision of youth who can “make sense of the world” and “work together toward the common good”. Working from a practical theology paradigm, the question animating this thesis is, What should be the place of Sacred Texts within Australian public education? Set within the broader issue of religion in education, I seek a mutually critical correlation between the vision in the Australian Curriculum and a Christian theology of education, in arguing for the incorporation of Sacred Texts within Australian “secular” schools for Year 7 to 10 students in the subjects of History and Civics and Citizenship.

In Part I, I describe and interpret the place religions and their revelations occupy in overarching curriculum aims, and specific content for two subjects. At the Shaping level of curriculum philosophy, the civic goals and rhetoric of religious inclusivity suggest a meaningful role for Sacred Texts: capturing diverse visions of the common good in Civics and Citizenship; and making sense of motivations that propelled significant events in the past and shape contested interpretations in the present as studied in History. As the Shaping documents translate into the Australian Curriculum content, however, Scriptures disappear, moved into the null curriculum. This disparity calls for explanation.

Employing a sociological perspective, I contend that ACARA’s treatment of religious revelation is consistent with the perspective of the classic secularisation thesis. According to this narrative, Scriptures are dangerous in Civics and Citizenship and irrelevant in History. While these assertions are deconstructed in light of the post-secular turn, I crystallise the concerns of secularists and multiculturalists alike into a “plural principle”. Across any unit of study, the incorporation of Sacred Texts must meet the criteria of relevance to curricular aims, accountability to professional educators, diversity in perspective, veracity in re-presenting the Other and critically analysing truth claims, and respect for students to determine their own beliefs and practices; it must ultimately foster the integration of a student’s life toward holistic flourishing, and help form a robust, just, inclusive and peaceful democracy.

In Part II, I seek to understand what should be going on, discerning the common ground between theological and philosophical accounts of education’s end. A narrative theology of education is constructed to consider what function Scriptures may perform toward the telos of education for shalom. “God’s Curriculum” represents the core teaching and learning under divine tutelage for humanity to come of age. Across a six leg journey of Creation, the Fall, Israel, Jesus, Church, and the New Creation, we learn about work, knowledge, wisdom, reciprocity, holiness and hope. We are formed as active citizens under the liberating reign of God in the way we cultivate, repent, bless, love, reconcile, and worship. In turn, this vision suggests a meaningful role for the study of diverse Sacred Texts in restoring humanity to right relationship with the Transcendent, others, self and the planet.

Through a dialectical hermeneutic, and in dialogue with Dwayne Huebner among other educational theorists, the Australian Curriculum and God’s Curriculum fuse in a vision of education for holistic flourishing. That is, education may be reimagined as aiming at responsibility, knowledge, understanding, care, inclusion and integration. Sacred Texts can be appropriately incorporated to serve the common good: preserving difference and fostering harmony in Civics and Citizenship; and discerning the wisest path to follow together in the present given our contested past in History.

In Part III, I seek to change the situation, pragmatically exemplifying how this curriculum vision may be implemented as part of a school-based syllabi for the Year 8 study of freedom of speech in Civics and Citizenship, and the Year 10 study of modern conflict and migration within a globalising world in History. I develop a narrative pedagogy comprising a five-movement hermeneutic of encounter, questions, stories, synthesis and response. Adapting this model of engagement to accord with ACARA’s stipulations, I reshape practice to demonstrate how such an approach can augment the curriculum.

In short, while Sacred Texts are largely silenced in secular education, they have a meaningful role to play. By engaging students in explaining, understanding and changing the world through established subjects, the selective incorporation of Scriptures can sensitise adolescents to the many sacred stories at play. In so doing, potentially transcendent revelation may illuminate and enrich our immanent frame as the one thing we must all share.
Keyword Australian curriculum
Public schools
Sacred text
Narrative theology
Common good

Document type: Thesis
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Created: Tue, 05 Apr 2016, 14:26:41 EST by David Benson on behalf of Learning and Research Services (UQ Library)