From the cathedral to the classroom : the emergence of new discourses on religious education

Ivers, Peter James (2010) From the cathedral to the classroom : the emergence of new discourses on religious education. Professional Doctorate thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


In 2009, Religious Education is a designated key learning area in Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Brisbane and, indeed, across Australia. Over the years, though, different conceptualisations of the nature and purpose of religious education have led to the construction of different approaches to the classroom teaching of religion. By investigating the development of religious education policy in the Archdiocese of Brisbane from 1984 to 2003, the study seeks to trace the emergence of new discourses on religious education. The study understands religious education to refer to a lifelong process that occurs through a variety of forms (Moran, 1989). In Catholic schools, it refers both to co-curricula activities, such as retreats and school liturgies, and the classroom teaching of religion. It is the policy framework for the classroom teaching of religion that this study explores. The research was undertaken using a policy case study approach to gain a detailed understanding of how new conceptualisations of religious education emerged at a particular site of policy production, in this case, the Archdiocese of Brisbane. The study draws upon Yeatman’s (1998) description of policy as occurring “when social actors think about what they are doing and why in relation to different and alternative possible futures” (p. 19) and views policy as consisting of more than texts themselves. Policy texts result from struggles over meaning (Taylor, 2004) in which specific discourses are mobilised to support particular views. The study has a particular interest in the analysis of Brisbane religious education policy texts, the discursive practices that surrounded them, and the contexts in which they arose. Policy texts are conceptualised in the study as representing “temporary settlements” (Gale, 1999). Such settlements are asymmetrical, temporary and dependent on context: asymmetrical in that dominant actors are favoured; temporary because dominant actors are always under challenge by other actors in the policy arena; and context - dependent because new situations require new settlements. To investigate the official policy documents, the study used Critical Discourse Analysis (hereafter referred to as CDA) as a research tool that affords the opportunity for researchers to map and chart the emergence of new discourses within the policy arena. As developed by Fairclough (2001), CDA is a three-dimensional application of critical analysis to language. In the Brisbane religious education arena, policy texts formed a genre chain (Fairclough, 2004; Taylor, 2004) which was a focus of the study. There are two features of texts that form genre chains: texts are systematically linked to one another; and, systematic relations of recontextualisation exist between the texts. Fairclough’s (2005) concepts of “imaginary space” and “frameworks for action” (p. 65) within the policy arena were applied to the Brisbane policy arena to investigate the relationship between policy statements and subsequent guidelines documents. Five key findings emerged from the study. First, application of CDA to policy documents revealed that a fundamental reconceptualisation of the nature and purpose of classroom religious education in Catholic schools occurred in the Brisbane policy arena over the last twenty-five years. Second, a disjuncture existed between catechetical discourses that continued to shape religious education policy statements, and educational discourses that increasingly shaped guidelines documents. Third, recontextualisation between policy documents was evident and dependent on the particular context in which religious education occurred. Fourth, at subsequent links in the chain, actors created their own “imaginary space”, thereby altering orders of discourse within the policy arena, with different actors being either foregrounded or marginalised. Fifth, intertextuality was more evident in the later links in the genre chain (i.e. 1994 policy statement and 1997 guidelines document) than in earlier documents. On the basis of the findings of the study, six recommendations are made. First, the institutional Church should carefully consider the contribution that the Catholic school can make to the overall pastoral mission of the diocese in twenty-first century Australia. Second, policymakers should articulate a nuanced understanding of the relationship between catechesis and education with regard to the religion classroom. Third, there should be greater awareness of the connections among policies relating to Catholic schools – especially the connection between enrolment policy and religious education policy. Fourth, there should be greater consistency between policy documents. Fifth, policy documents should be helpful for those to whom they are directed (i.e. Catholic schools, teachers). Sixth, “imaginary space” (Fairclough, 2005) in policy documents needs to be constructed in a way that allows for multiple “frameworks for action” (Fairclough, 2005) through recontextualisation. The findings of this study are significant in a number of ways. For religious educators, the study highlights the need to develop a shared understanding of the nature and purpose of classroom religious education. It argues that this understanding must take into account the multifaith nature of Australian society and the changing social composition of Catholic schools themselves. Greater recognition should be given to the contribution that religious studies courses such as Study of Religion make to the overall religious development of a person. In view of the social composition of Catholic schools, there is also an issue of ecclesiological significance concerning the conceptualisation of the relationship between the institutional Catholic Church and Catholic schools. Finally, the study is of significance because of its application of CDA to religious education policy documents. Use of CDA reveals the foregrounding, marginalising, or excluding of various actors in the policy arena.

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ID Code: 33234
Item Type: QUT Thesis (Professional Doctorate)
Supervisor: Danby, Susan, Taylor, Sandra, & Weir, Catherine
Keywords: Catholic, Catholic education, critical discourse analysis, curriculum change, genre chain, intertextuality, policy, religious education
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Office of Education Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 23 Jul 2010 01:45
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 19:56

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