Faculty of Arts and Education

Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation

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While the role of religion in Australian schools has been vigorously debated since the 1870s, it has recently generated considerable controversy, particularly in the state of Victoria. Christian volunteers currently teach the vast majority of the students who elect to take Special Religions Instruction (SRI) in Victoria’s government schools. Minority faith communities, including Baha’is, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs also provide SRI programs while the Humanist Society of Victoria’s proposal to teach Ethics as a non-religious SRI alternative was rejected in 2009. In early 2010 the case Aitken and Others vs. Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) was lodged at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), in which three families claimed that their children had been discriminated against as a result of their choosing not to participate in SRI classes, given that there was, and currently still is, no non-religious SRI option available in Victoria. This case has stimulated extensive public debate and calls for the introduction of education about religions and beliefs (ERB), which incorporates teaching about diverse religious and non-religious worldviews by qualified teachers, in Australia’s new National Curriculum from the first years of schooling. Presently such programs are largely taught in faith-based schools, while few government schools provide ERB only in years eleven and twelve.

Up until recently, public education has been the responsibility of State Governments in Australia. Consequently, each Australian State has its own unique history, laws and policies concerning religious education/instruction. Dr Anna Halafoff’s research on SRI and ERB focuses on the State of Victoria, given the prominence of the Victorian context in the current ‘religion in schools’ debate. She commenced research in this field in 2006, when she began researching the multifaith movement and the impact of crisis events on culturally and religiously diverse communities.

Dr Halafoff is involved in local and international scholarly networks researching religions and education and is advising Victorian and national state actors, and peak interfaith bodies, on issues pertaining to ERB in Australia. She has published her research in international journals, edited collections, and in her recent book on The Multifaith Movement and Common Security (Springer 2013). Since the news of the VCAT case broke in 2010, she has frequently been invited to comment in the media on SRI and ERB.

 

CRGS Research Project

Dr Anna Halafoff, was awarded a Deakin University Central Research Grant in 2012 to further her research on Education about Religions and Beliefs (ERB).

The central aim of this project is to investigate Education about Religions and Beliefs (ERB) in Victoria’s schools. To achieve this aim the project has four inter-related objectives:

  1. To examine the history of policies and practices of teaching Special Religious Instruction (SRI) and ERB in Victoria’s government and non-government schools and how they have changed in response to growing religious diversity.
  2. To compare current policies of ERB in Victoria with other Western societies, including Canada and the United Kingdom.
  3. To conduct a pilot study investigating levels of religious and interreligious understanding among young people in Victoria.
  4. To develop and apply a new theoretical framework of cosmopolitan governance and religion to the study of ERB.

This study will apply a glocal framework, investigating ERB policies in the ‘local’ context of the state of Victoria, Australia within a ‘global’ context of other Western multifaith societies, including Canada and the United Kingdom. While there are similarities within these countries, such as a rise in religious diversity and also of critiques of multiculturalism, each of these societies has a unique relationship between religion and state and its own approach to including or excluding ERB in its state education system, which can potentially inform one another.

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20th November 2013