Spirituality, Care and Wellbeing in Education

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

Late 2009, Springer Publishing House released a huge two volume collection of essays on spirituality, care and wellbeing in education. The volume is timely as schools and other institutions increasingly find themselves grappling with issues of mental health and wellbeing. Despite the Australian government’s focus on Naplan and elementary measures of literacy and numeracy, psychological issues and issues of meaning and relationships continue to occupy teachers’ attention.
There is a need in every society to deal with the deeper issues of what life is about and how, as humans, we relate to others, the environment and the divine. The first volume of essays focusses mainly on the psychology of religion and spirituality. The second volume is primarily about educational programs and environments in promoting holistic learning and wellbeing. This review will focus on the second volume.

What is evident from the various essays is the multitude of ways authors are thinking about spirituality. Indeed, some of the authors note that this diversity in thinking is one of the major problems in tackling spirituality in the educational context. Several essays tackle spirituality in an esoteric way. Jennifer Gidley, for example, talks in quasi-Hegelian terms about the evolving of human consciousness in which new modes of thinking emerge. She suggests that four values emerge from the literature as foci for the developing forms of education: love, life, wisdom and voice.

Zehavit Goss sees spirituality primarily as the human search for meaning, which for some can take place in the religious approach of ‘a supreme power or entity situated beyond human control’, but which can also take secular forms (p.564).

In terms of content, Gidley sees great value in the study of inspirational teachings and wisdom literature, in artistic classes in painting, drama, movement and voice exploring imagination, inspiration and group spirit. She wants subject material to be studied in relation to its broad contexts, and children to be led to contemplate it and be inspired by it. She sees great importance in developing ecological awareness by practising the care for plants, small animals and other sentient beings (p.542). She argues that one of the most effective ways of cultivating wisdom in education is through ‘utilising complex thinking and creativity to represent knowledge from multiple perspectives while showing their integral interconnectedness through our creative artfulness’ (p.548).

‘Spiritual education’ can also occur in the context of counselling. One of the chapters in this book explores the issues of ‘self-injury’ among adolescents. It notes the increasing prevalence in many Western societies of self-injury through such methods as cutting or burning the skin and sticking needles or pins into oneself (p.963). It notes that such activities often occur when there is a state of emotional turmoil when the person is overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety and unpleasantness. At other times, young people engage in such activities when they feel an emotional deadness. Some people experience the self-injury as soothing their agitations, or jolting them out of numbness and helping them to feel alive (p.967).

There are many resources for spiritual development within our religious traditions, but they are not the only source. Spirituality can be explored through art and music, through engagement with nature, and through many kinds of literature, for example.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 21, No. 1, Pages 11-14

Looking at Art looking at Life: Understanding our world through Images

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

One way of understanding the culture that we inhabit is to consider how it is sustained in visual terms. This means looking at the visual shape of things as they are expressed through the images, signs and symbols of the world of hopes that make up contemporary consumer culture. The first observation in this analysis is the most obvious, for we now live in a world mediated, sustained, and monitored through the medium of images. With hand-held devices and the flick of a button, we are now required to negotiate the overwhelming mass of signposts that make up this very postmodern world. It is not possible to close one’s eyes to the all-pervasive effect this has on the formation of individuals and communities. Images are simply everywhere and they sustain and shape our sense of self as well as our understanding of faith.

Images are also part of the way people express their faith and belief, whether it be through formal religious structures or through more idiosyncratic forms of spirituality that weave together the strands of meaning that make up a life. To consider these images is to provide a cognitive and imaginative means to understand the values, philosophy and behaviours that are part of human faith expression.

One of the most important places to keep an eye on the images that express human belief and faith in Australia is the Blake Prize. One of Australia’s oldest art prizes, it has, since 1951, created a place where artists have intentionally explored issues of spirituality and religious meaning, and in turn, provide audiences with a means to see the range of expressions found within a multicultural and diverse society.

The 59th Blake Prize was awarded to Queensland artist Leonard Brown for an abstract painting ‘If you put your ear close, you will hear it breathing’. His work is a painting of great grace and physical delicacy but leaves some people scratching their head. Leonard Brown is a deeply spiritual man, having spent some time as an orthodox priest before giving himself full time to painting. His work raises questions about the capacity of abstract art to sustain religious feeling, and the relationship between a person’s personal belief and the form of their work.

I realise that, for some, the Blake Prize is a source of irritation, but for me it is an inspiring institution that values the social role of the artist in our culture. It gives fresh expression to how things come together, and how at times they fall apart. Through both tradition and innovation we face the future, and seek to express a trust in the process of being human, which this kind of art celebrates.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 21, No. 1, Pages 8-10

Encouragements and Discouragements for Young People in Reading the Bible

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

About 4 per cent of young people read the Bible daily, another 6 per cent read it at least once a week, and 15 to 20 per cent read it occasionally (Hughes, 2010). In 2009 and 2010, the CRA conducted 333 interviews with young people and youth leaders in youth groups across Australia to discover what encouraged and discouraged young people in reading the Bible. The project was commissioned by a group of organisations including The Bible Society, Scripture Union, YouthWorks, the Lutheran Church and The Salvation Army (Southern Territory).

There are many discouragements for young people, such as: Church Practice. Many young people, including many who attend church, never consider reading the Bible personally and are not encouraged to do so by their churches. The Bible is certainly read in Church services and seen as the starting point for sermons and homilies. But that does not translate into reading it at home. The Chore of Reading is also a discouragement for some. Many young people read very little, especially in the form of books. Some younger people said to us that they much preferred activities, such as sport, to reading. When they do read, it is often brief messages from friends or from news sources on their computers. Bible reading requires a sustained effort of a kind that is ‘uncomfortable’ for many young people.

There are also some encouragements, such as: Group Practice. Most young people who read the Bible were members of churches, youth groups and Bible study groups which encouraged them in their reading and which assisted them in the interpretation. In some churches, young people read the passages of the Bible that were to be discussed in the Sunday-night youth service. Some young people need encouragement in Finding Relevance. Participation in groups or in courses can certainly help young people find the relevance of the Bible. Most Bible study groups focus as much on the application of the Bible as they do on the content. Experiencing the Bible as relevant depends on the attitudes one brings to it. If young people read it simply as stories of long ago, it had little relevance. If they read it as God’s communication today, they were far more likely to experience it as relevant to life.

It is very easy to use the Bible for predetermined purposes. The challenge for the contemporary Church, and particularly in its work with young people, is to develop the skills of identifying the wisdom of the Bible, including that which makes us uncomfortable, that helps them to evaluate how they live and the norms of our society. Only if that occurs will engaging the Bible be truly transformative.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 22, No. 4, Pages 11-12

The Impact of Recent Immigration on Religious Groups in Australia

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

Since World War II, immigration has played a huge role in the development of religious faith in Australia. That role has been most evident in the place that many of the world’s religions now have in Australia. Since 1971, the number of Australians associated with a religion other than Christianity has risen from just 0.1 million to 1.5 million. However, many millions of the immigrants have been Christian and some denominations would hardly exist today without the enormous influx of members that immigration has brought. The 2011 Census shows that the story of immigration and its impact on the religious life of Australia is a continuing one.

Analysis shows that the proportion of immigrants in each denomination is closely associated with the rate of growth of the denomination (see Hughes 2012). The religious groups which grew most rapidly over the past 10 years have been those groups with the highest proportion of immigrants. Immigration is the major source of growth in most religious groups, both Christian and others. There is only one exception to this: the growth in the numbers describing themselves as ‘no religion’. Most of the growth in this group is occurring among Australians born of Australian parents.

Most of the remaining growth in the population is the result of more births than deaths occurring in Australia. Hence, it would appear that no Christian denomination is keeping up with normal population growth among the Australian-born population. While recent immigration has made a huge difference to many of the other religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, these other religions have also been growing rapidly through births within Australia. Many immigrant families have children soon after they arrive. Hence, migrants not only boost numbers from overseas but also have an impact on the numbers of children in Australian communities. It is interesting to note that between 2001 and 2011, 23,000 more women than men migrated to Australia.

Between 2001 and 2011, immigrants arrived in Australia from all over the world. The Census counted more than 250 countries as their places of birth. However, just four countries provided 43 per cent of Australia’s migrants between 2001 and 2011: India, England, China, and New Zealand. An additional two countries, South Africa and the Philippines, brought that total to more than 50 per cent of all immigrants. Immigrants from Sri Lanka, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan are highlighted in the media because of the issue of ‘boat people’. Yet these people are a very small part of the flow of recent immigrants. Together they constitute just 5 per cent of the immigrants who came to Australia between 2001 and 2011.

Assumptions are often made about the religion of immigrants based on the major religions in the country of birth. For example, since 85 per cent of all Indians are Hindu, one might expect most Indian immigrants to be Hindu. However, only 54 per cent of Indians who have migrated to Australia recently have been Hindu.

Churches need to ensure that they are equipped and ready to welcome immigrants. As the immigrant patterns change, so there is a need to adjust languages and other facilities to cater for the new groups at both denominational and local level.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 22, No. 4, Pages 1-8

The City is my Parish? : Understanding the Hillsong Model

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

Among Pentecostal churches, Hillsong is the most widely known in Australia and internationally. The weekly attendance at its Sydney services alone is more than 20,000, making it the largest megachurch in Australia. There are some parallels in the Hillsong development to the growth of Methodism in the 18th century, and the Salvation Army in the late 19th century. Hillsong has remained highly focussed on having one or a few centres for worship in each major city rather than having many centres throughout suburban, regional and rural areas.

What do people think of now when they hear the word Hillsong? Probably, most people think of music. The Hillsong name was formally chosen in 1999 to reflect this way of branding the movement. Hillsong titles are used in churches throughout Australia and the world. The services allow for a variety of reflection, from full-on rock style, to general contemporary and also opportunity for milder and quieter reflection. Music has been the key to Hillsong’s development with the congregational music of Hillsong Live and the Hillsong United band.

Church members are encouraged to be volunteers, and do so enthusiastically, especially in relation to the services at the two main campuses in Sydney. Volunteers are encouraged to help at one service and attend another for worship. Volunteers also help with the range of Hillsong social and community services and events and ministries.

Church news at services and the use of video and music in all areas of the life of the church highlight the contemporary nature and their multimedia focus. Hillsong has its own television channel. Websites and music are all linked so they can draw and build on each facet of the organisation. They reflect the convergence of technology that is moving rapidly now where the TV will be the web, and iTunes and apps will be accessible in all ways. Live streaming was begun for selected Hillsong Conference material this year. Hillsong has a well-developed programme for children and youth, with different groups ensuring good age-appropriate learning and activities. It is also clear that Hillsong provides good facilities for families in terms of bathroom amenities and access arrangements. All the family can be at a service time, though in different parts of the facility, coming together to perhaps have meals or times with other families afterwards.

It appears to me that Hillsong has been taking more moderate Protestant theological positions than in the past, positions that would be acceptable to people from different denominations. They have been trying to make their presentation of faith understandable to those with little or no church contact or understanding of ecstatic gifts. The main campuses now hold special services and times for healing during the year. In ordinary services, people are invited to fill in cards for special prayer and healing before-hand and the cards are ‘offered to God’.

It will remain to be seen whether Hillsong Church will witness significant growth in future years. One form of growth may be as a broad umbrella-type organisation providing resources to and networking a wide range of larger and smaller churches in Australia.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 22, No. 3, Pages 12-16

Religion Around Australia: Changing Populations

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

In regards to religious identification, different geographical areas throughout Australia have always revealed different pictures, particularly when one compares the capital cities to non-urban areas. States and Territories differ. Inner city areas can be different from the suburbs. Urban areas are different from rural areas. Different geographical areas have their own histories and traditions, and different denominations are stronger in some areas than in others.

Each decade sees Australia increasingly urbanised. Between 2006 and 2011, the population of the capital cities grew by 9.2 per cent. While populations in some farming areas are declining, overall, the population outside the capital cities also grew, albeit at a slower rate: 6.7 per cent, partly due to the mining boom. Of those people living outside the capital cities, two-thirds (65.6%) identify with a Christian denomination. This compares with just 58.8 per cent of the population in the capital cities.

Between 2006 and 2011, 316,000 people immigrated to Victoria from overseas. By far the largest group were 62,300 Indians contributing to 97 per cent growth in the Hindu community and an even larger growth in the Sikh community. Nearly 44,000 arrived from China and Hong Kong, 24,500 from the United Kingdom, 21,000 from New Zealand, 14,000 from Sri Lanka, 12,300 from Malaysia, and 11,400 from the Philippines. 341,000 people immigrated to New South Wales from overseas in the five years from 2006 to 2011. The largest groups were Chinese (51,000), followed by Indians (43,000), United Kingdom (33,000), New Zealanders (20,000), Philippinos (14,000) and Koreans (12,000).

Tasmania had the slowest growth rate of all States: 3.8 per cent. It received few migrants from outside Australia compared with other States: just 10,400 between 2006 and 2011. There were similar numbers from China and from the UK (1,300 from each) and 800 from India. With a slow growing population, it is hard for the Christian community to grow. Indeed, it was the only State in which the numbers identifying with a Christian denomination actually fell (by 4 per cent).

Overall, the historical patterns of religious identity throughout the states and cities of Australia are slowly changing as new immigrants add to the picture. A big challenge for churches and denominations is how to minister in an ever-changing demographic and religious environment. The Census data provides an important tool for local churches as they seek to understand their community and ministry within their local context.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 22, No. 3, Pages 6-8

Sydney Launch of ‘Life, Ethics and Faith in Australian Society: Facts and Figures’ – 12 June 2014

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Life, Ethics and Faith in Australian Society: Facts and Figures is being launched in Sydney on Thursday 12th June at 2014. The launch will take place at the Broken Bay Catholic Schools Office, Caroline Chisholm Centre, Building 2, 423 Pennant Hills Road, Pennant Hills, 2120 between 4.30 pm and 6.00 pm..

Dr Peter Kaldor, the founding director of NCLS, lecturer at UTC and current director of NewRiver Leadership, will be speaking alongside the author, Rev Dr Philip Hughes, on how religious faith makes a difference.

This books will be of great interest to teachers of religious studies, as well as clergy and all working in churches and church agencies.

There is no need to RSVP. Everyone is welcome.

Australian Megachurches

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

If one defines a megachurch as one with more than 2,000 attenders on a typical Sunday, then Australia had about 21 such churches in 2012. While they constitute a very small proportion of the more than 15,000 churches in Australia, they account for about 5 per cent of all people attending a church on a typical Sunday. Sam Hey, a lecturer at the Christian Heritage College, has completed an excellent doctoral thesis on the megachurches, which has now been published as a book. It is highly recommended for those interested in the development of church life in Australia.

The megachurch movement began in the 1980’s. It occurred at a similar time to the development of regional shopping centres. With increased accessibility to cars for transport – in other words, having more than one car in the family – different family members could travel independently of each other to church. Most of the mainstream denominations had established their churches across the suburbs at walking distance from each other. However, in the 1970’s and 1980’s new Pentecostal churches were planted which served much larger areas.

While the megachurches are products of social change, they were not passive in relation to their contexts. Each of these megachurches was led by strong, charismatic leaders who ‘pursued innovative responses to the religious needs of their times’ (p.15). Hey notes that, in Australia as in North America, most of the megachurches reached ‘megachurch size’ under a single leader known for their charismatic leadership (p.94). In a number of cases, senior leadership of the megachurch has been passed from father to son. Hey argues that these leaders exhibited great confidence in their leadership and visionary thinking, while maintaining a sense of humility by pointing people to God as the source of their confidence (p.95).

It is highly unlikely that megachurches will take over the religious life of Australia and Hey suggests there will be a further plateauing of their growth (p.279). Some people will look to them for their experiential emphasis on faith, for the professionalism of their activities and the variety of programs they offer. While the ‘consumer’ orientation was a major factor in their growth, maturation leads to responding to
its negative aspects such as the over emphasis on individualism, unquestioning certainty and superficiality (p.281). The development of engagement with society through education and social welfare, Hey believes, will contribute to their long-term growth and survival (p.281).

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 23, No. 4, Pages 7-9

Launch of ‘Life, Ethics and Faith in Australian Society: Facts and Figures’

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

The launch of Life, Ethics and Faith in Australian Society: Facts and Figures took place on Tuesday 20th May at 5.00 pm. John Lenders, MP, former treasurer of Victoria and currently the Labor leader in the Victorian Legislative Council gave an address on ‘The Role of Faith in Public Policy’. He formally launched the book, and  Philip Hughes, one of the authors of the book, and the senior research officer of the Christian Research Association gave a response.


Life, Ethics And Faith In Australian Society – NOW AVAILABLE

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Life, Ethics and Faith in Australian Society: Facts and Figures is NOW AVAILABLE.

To order your copy click here