Identity and Dialogue: Learnings from a Personal Interreligious Encounter

  • Toni FoleyEmail author
  • Maree Dinan-Thompson


Addressing conceptualisations of Catholic identity in Religious Education and acknowledging the reality of identity as polyvalent and paradoxically both static and changing, I grapple with my own experience of religious identity determined by encounters with religious others. By applying autoethnography, an approach developed to help researchers better understand cultural experience, to understanding religious experience, I utilise my experience of attending a Shabbat service with a Jewish colleague to organically engage my understanding of my Catholic identity in dialogue with the religious other. The process expanded my knowledge of both traditions, including the function of prayer, the concept of relationship with God, the role of community and the religious life of the individual. Critical reflection upon this encounter, while steeped within the discourse of my own prior knowledge and experience, offered me new possibilities for interreligious learning. It stretched my consciousness in relation to how I live my life, how I encounter diversity and what questions I ask. This reflection, and the subsequent internal and external dialogue it evoked, has created new insights into pedagogical opportunities for working with students and highlighted the importance of relationships and encounter with the other. This lived experience offers possibilities for the learning and teaching of religion in the contemporary classroom. Encountering religious diversity in the flesh, approached with the appropriate dispositions and skilful critical reflection, potentially offers students an expanded understanding of their own religious identity and the opportunity to breakdown negative stereotypes and humanise the religious other.


  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2016). ABS Census of Population and Housing, 1996–2016 Retrieved from:
  2. Arbuckle, G. A. (2013). Catholic identity or identities? Refounding ministries in chaotic times. Collegeville: Liturgical Press.Google Scholar
  3. Astley, J. (2004). What is religion and whose faith is it anyway? In H. Lombaerts & D. Pollefeyt (Eds.), Hermeneutics and religious education. Leuven: Leuven University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Attard, K., & Armour, K. M. (2005). Learning to become a learning professional: Reflections on one year of teaching. European Journal of Teacher Education, 28(2), 195–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Boys, M. C., & Lee, S. S. (2006). Christians and Jews in dialogue: Learning in the presence of the other. Woodstock: Skylight Paths Publishing.Google Scholar
  6. Brooks, C., & Dinan-Thompson, M. (2015). Insideness and outsideness—An autoethnography of a primary physical education specialist teacher. European Physical Education Review, 21(3), 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Crawford, M., & Rossiter, G. (2006). Reasons for living: Education and young people’s search for meaning, identity and spirituality: A handbook. Camberwell: ACER Press.Google Scholar
  8. D’Orsa, T. (2013). Catholic curriculum: Re-framing the conversation. International Studies in Catholic Education, 5(1), 68–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Ellis, C., Adams, T. E., & Bochner, A. P. (2011). Autoethnography: An Overview. Historical Social Research, 36(4), 273–290.Google Scholar
  10. Ellis, C., & Bochner, A. P. (2000). Autoethnography, personal narrative, reflexivity. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (2nd ed., pp. 733–768). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  11. Engebretson, K., Souza, M. D., Rymarz, R., & Buchanan, M. T. (2008). Cornerstones of Catholic secondary religious education—Principles and practice of the new evangelization. Terrigal: David Barlow Publishing.Google Scholar
  12. Fullan, M. (2012). Stratosphere: Integrating technology, pedagogy, and change knowledge. Toronto: Pearson.Google Scholar
  13. Fullan, M., & Langworthy, M. (2013). Towards a new end: New pedagogies for deep learning. Retrieved from Seattle, Washington.
  14. Haers, J. (2004). Religious education as conversation: schools as communities of discernment. In H. Lombaerts & D. Pollefeyt (Eds.), Hermeneutics and religious education (pp. 313–336). Leuven, Belgium: Leuven University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Hattie, J. (2011). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  16. Lombaerts, H., & Pollefeyt, D. (2004). The emergence of hermeneutics in religious education theories: An overview. In H. Lombaerts & D. Pollefeyt (Eds.), Hermeneutics and religious education. Leuven: Leuven University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Maso, I. (2001). Phenomenology and ethnography. In P. Atkinson, A. Coffey, S. Delamont, J. Lofland, & L. Lofland (Eds.), Handbook of ethnography (pp. 136–144). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. McGrath, J. (2017). The religious education curriculum in Australian Catholic schools: An overview. In R. Rymarz & A. Belmonte (Eds.), Religious Education in Australian Catholic Schools: Exploring the Landscape. Mulgrave, Vic: Vaughan Publishing.Google Scholar
  19. McMahon, J., & Dinan-Thompson, M. (2008). A malleable body—Revelations from an elite Australian swimmer. ACHPER Healthy Lifestyles Journal, 55(1).Google Scholar
  20. McMahon, J., Penney, D., & Dinan-Thompson, M. (2011). ‘Body practices—Exposure and effect of a sporting culture?’ Stories from three Australian swimmers. Sports, Education and Society, 17(2), 181–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Moyaert, M. (2014). In response to the religious other: Ricoeur and the fragility of interreligious encounters. London: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
  22. Pollefeyt, D., & Bouwens, J. (2010). Framing the identity of Catholic schools: Empirical methodology for quantitative research on the Catholic identity of an education institute. International Studies in Catholic Education, 2(2), 193–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Pollefeyt, D., & Bouwens, J. (2014). Identity in dialogue: Assessing and enhancing Catholic school Identity research methodology and research results in Catholic schools in Victoria, Australia. Zweigniederlassung Zurich: Lit Verlag GmbH and Co.Google Scholar
  24. Rossiter, G. (2012). Religious education as cultural interpretation. Journal of Religious Education, 60(2), 67–68.Google Scholar
  25. Rossiter, G. (2013a). Perspective on the use of the construct ‘Catholic Identity’ for Australian Catholic schooling: Areas in the discourse in need of more emphasis and further attention—Part 2. Journal of Religious Education, 61(2), 17–29.Google Scholar
  26. Rossiter, G. (2013b). Perspective on the use of the construct ‘catholic identity’ for Australian Catholic schooling: Part 1 The sociological background and the literature. Journal of Religious Education, 61(2), 4–16.Google Scholar
  27. Rossiter, G. (2017). A personal, critical perspective on the development of Australian Catholic school religious education: Where to from here? In R. Rymarz & A. Belmonte (Eds.), Religious education in Australian Catholic schools: Exploring the landscape. Mulgrave, Vic: Vaughan Publishing.Google Scholar
  28. Ryan, M. (2014). Religious education in Catholic schools—An introduction for Australian students (Revised ed.). Hamilton: Lumino Press.Google Scholar
  29. Rymarz, R. (2017). Religious education in a changing context: The paradox of Catholic schools. In R. Rymarz & A. Belmonte (Eds.), Religious education in Australian Catholic schools: Exploring the landscape. Mulgrave, Vic: Vaughan Publishing.Google Scholar
  30. Sharkey, P. (2017). Better understanding the context of religious education: The CECV Leuven project. In R. Rymarz & A. Belmonte (Eds.), Religious education in Australian Catholic schools: Exploring the landscape. Mulgrave, Vic: Vaughan Publishing.Google Scholar
  31. Sultmann, W., & Brown, R. (2011). Modelling Pillars of Catholic school identity: An Australian study. International Studies in Catholic Education, 3(1), 73–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Willms, D., Friesen, S., & Milton, P. (2009). What did you do in school today? Transforming classrooms through social, academic and intellectual engagement. Toronto: Canadian Education Association.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Catholic Education ServicesCairnsAustralia
  2. 2.James Cook UniversityCairnsAustralia

Personalised recommendations