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Teaching Scripture: moving towards a hermeneutical model for religious education in Australian Catholic Schools


In 2006 the Catholic Education Commission, Victoria, Australia, entered into an agreement with the Centre for Academic Teacher Training of the Faculty of Theology of the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, to conduct research which would frame the identity structure of Victorian Catholic schools (Pollefeyt and Bouwens in Int Stud Cathol Educ 2(2):193–211, 2010). As this agreement has now been extended to other dioceses in Australia, there is widespread interest in the project and in how to respond to its findings. Indeed, the finding that a disproportionate number of students are demonstrating strong fundamentalist belief has brought into sharp focus the very way that religious education is taught in Australia. Calls for a new, hermeneutical, model of religious education are loud and persuasive. But while dioceses search for religious education that emphasises dialogue, embraces religious pluralism and promotes active enquiry, this paper contends that they are overlooking a major impediment in the development of post-critical belief; theme or topic-based religious education curriculum programmes. This paper proposes two weaknesses inherent in this design model. First, in reducing Scripture to the role of validating or proving the predetermined theme Scripture is used in a manner that is a priori, an approach that, of itself, invites a literalist reading. Second, as the theme or topic is known by students at the outset of learning any interpretation by them is rendered unnecessary; passages mean what the theme teaches that they mean. These two realities, it will be argued, make theme or topic-based curriculum design incompatible with a hermeneutical approach to religious education. It is to be noted that this paper does not attempt to argue the existence of the practices described. This has been done elsewhere (Carswell in Rymarz and Belmonte (eds.) Religious education in Australian Catholic schools. Exploring the landscape, Garratt, Mulgrave, 2017, Br J Relig Educ 40(3): 288–297,, 2018). Rather, it offers only a summary of the problems associated with the placement of Scripture in theme-based curricula deliberately framed around Pollefeyt and Bouwens (Identity in dialogue. Assessing and enhancing the Catholic school identity. Research methodology and research results in Catholic schools in Victoria, Lit-Verlag, Hamburg, 2014) own concerns. It is hoped that, in responding to ECSI, dioceses in Australia will consider their use of theme-based religious education. This paper will conclude by outlining a new direction for religious education, one that allows Scripture to speak for itself.

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Correspondence to Margaret Carswell.

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Carswell, M. Teaching Scripture: moving towards a hermeneutical model for religious education in Australian Catholic Schools. j. relig. educ. 66, 213–223 (2018).

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