Centring Learner Lifeworlds to Foster Deeper Inter-religious Understanding: A Case Study of Australian Muslim Learners

Year: 2019

Author: Memon, Nadeem, Chown, Dylan

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Post 9/11, Australian Muslim learners are increasingly expressing a form of “grounded religiosity” where expressions of faith arise fluidly in classrooms related to values, ethics, and being (Johns et al. 2015). Recent studies have illustrated that Australian learners have complex views about religion. Religion is not observed the same and there are significant variations in how learners associate with faith, if at all (Singleton et. al. 2018). Recent studies have also illustrated that Australian learners are more tolerant and understanding of other people’s religions when taught a multi-faith education in school (Halafoff et. al. 2019). Yet, attempts to embed intercultural understanding, particularly when culture intersects with religion, remains “ritualistic.”

The Australian national curriculum defines intercultural understanding (ICU) as students learning about and engaging with diverse cultures in ways that recognize commonalities and differences, create connections with others and cultivate mutual respect (ACARA, 2015). And under the current curriculum ICU remains a mandated cross-curricular general capability.

Major international collaborations such as the Toledo Guiding Principles for Teaching About Religions and Beliefs in Public Schools (OSCE/ODIHR 2007) promote the importance of multi-faith education. However, teaching about religion in secular public schools is often reduced to religious beliefs and rituals that either culminate in a) broad generalizations of common humanistic values; or b) stark distinctions in religious observance. Both of these results of multi-faith education fail to foster understanding of religious worldviews rooted in distinct epistemologies and ontologies. The secular teaching “about” religion approach, we argue, is void of addressing the broader question of “why. Addressing “why” faith communities adhere to specific religious observances and beliefs is rooted in the way they see the world, understand higher purpose, responsibility, and existence.

This paper will draw on findings from a case study of a public high school in South Australia that has developed a culture of dialogic conversations responsive to the life worlds of learners. This school community comprises of a learner population of over 1100 from across 75+ countries, 55 languages and a significant new arrival refugee population - many of whom identify as Muslim learners. To foster interreligious understanding that appreciates grounded religiosity, we found that educators must lead pedagogically - not with more curriculum and explore and transact intercultural and interreligious identities through learner lifeworlds and individual understandings of faith over generalizations of beliefs and ritual.