Journal of Religious Education

, Volume 62, Issue 2, pp 53–64 | Cite as

A genealogy of the religious versus secular schooling debate in New South Wales (Part II): populism and patriotism



In Part I, I canvassed the geopolitical and domestic political context surrounding the debate over religious schooling in Australia, with particular attention to the legislative response to the spectacular Islamist terror attacks, its divisive effects on Australian society and its focalisation in the 2007–2009 controversy over a proposed Islamic school in Camden. I also considered the proposal of the secular principle in schooling as a solution to such disputes. Adopting a genealogical approach, I sought to historicise the meanings of ‘secular’ contra ‘religious’ education via a detour to 19th century NSW politics, which was marked by sectarian tension and British Protestant prejudice against the Irish Catholic minority in the context of spectacular Fenian terrorism. In Part II, I will specifically foreground the political contestation in NSW surrounding the institution of the 1880 Public Instruction Act and its persistent effects on the religious versus secular education debate today. The point advanced here is that the very terms ‘secular’ or ‘religious’ cannot be defined except as contingent outcomes of historical political battles and power relations.


Religious schools Secular Politics Education policy Genealogy  Terrorism 


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© Australian Catholic University 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of SydneySydneyAustralia

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