Synopsis for Book Project: Education for Faith and Belief – Religious Instruction, Religious Education, and Christian Education in Queensland 1875-2020

March 1, 2021
‘EDUCATION FOR FAITH AND BELIEF’: RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION, RELIGIOUS EDUCATION, AND CHRISTIAN EDUCATION IN QUEENSLAND 1875-2020 In order to investigate, with any intelligence, the history of religious instruction, religious education, and Christian education in Queensland, between the years 1875-2020 (what was taught under the state as ‘education for faith and belief’), it necessary to understand the practical […]


In order to investigate, with any intelligence, the history of religious instruction, religious education, and Christian education in Queensland, between the years 1875-2020 (what was taught under the state as ‘education for faith and belief’), it necessary to understand the practical applications of different concepts. The educational structure in this work is an analysis of the Nolan-Buch’s Table ‘Education for Faith & Belief’ (see Appendix 1, at the end of the document). Quite simply, it is an argument is that, in the sphere of ‘religion’ and Christian belief, the typology in the education (broadly understood) covers six distinct sets of activities: religious instruction, evangelism, Sunday school, Youth movement events, religious education, and studies in religion. There are three philosophical schools of thought in the sphere of ‘religion’ and Christian belief, which generated the academic studies of religion as higher education, and which then translates as ‘religious education’ (broadly speaking, at this point). Furthermore, the philosophic thinking had streamed in 30 theological directions. It is necessary, to understand the history, to hold the process together across tertiary, secondary, and primary levels of education. Although the uneducated populist thinker will object, the dynamic is significantly top-down; however, the process does also have a feedback loop where local influences feedback the global discourse with local character added.


The top-down process is dominant for the very reason it is ‘historically given’, even as it is not epistemological ‘given’ (Sellars). The concept of ‘religion’ is contentiously given, and so with the three schools of academic studies, a fourth one has been emerging in the last twenty years which argues that the category of ‘religion’ is falsely understood or misconceived (Fitzgerald 2000, and 2007 a, b). Timothy Fitzgerald argues that historically, prior to modernity, ‘religion’ and ‘Christian Truth’ are concurrently understood fully. Although modernity had come to a different semantics (a vague private sphere), the users of the category will often infer (perhaps unknowingly) a privilege to Christian Truth or simply reflect such belief. Fitzgerald’s thesis, supported by many other scholars of similar arguments (McCutcheon 1997, 2019), makes the case for this history more urgent. The three main academic schools translate into the other schooling as 1) the basic idea and practise in unchurched Christian ‘dogma’; 2) churched instruction into schools; and 3) the education known as ‘religion’. At this point, it will be clear that the history has been a matter of contentious theories and schemas, and, importantly, that the three approaches in education or instruction (‘propaganda’ in the legitimating meaning of the old Catholic Church) are never tight compartments; concepts overlap in practice. The skepticism that the state mechanisms has not taught anything more than education or propaganda for the Christian faith and belief will be returned to at the end, and considers what could be an alternative for the space of belief and doubt in a large scope.


Academic Schools in Studies of Religion and Philosophy of Religion


The three main academic schools are:


  1. That which centred on a general theory of religion developed by Rudolph Otto (1869 – 1937) and then later by Paul Tillich (1886 – 1965). The school had universal thought towards ‘religion’ and it is what began the larger enterprise of the academic studies of (or in) religion. The distinction between ‘academic studies’ and education broadly is made below.


  1. That which centred on phenomenon, in opposition to a general theory. It was known as phenomenology of religion and developed by Mircea Eliade (1907 – 1986) but the concepts applied were generated from the leading phenomenologists and existentialists, and in particular, Edmund Husserl (1859 – 1938) and Martin Heidegger (1889 – 1976). In this regard, Paul Tillich’s ‘ultimate concern’ becomes phenomenological. This is a movement in the academic studies that predominated in the mid-twentieth century. It, nevertheless, coexisted with the education of the general theory, and arguably would not have existed without it.


  1. That which centred on cultural pluralism. This is particularly the British school of Ninian Smart (1927 – 2001; Lancaster University) and John Hull (1935 – 2015; Birmingham University) in the academic studies, but a fair number of American and British philosophers of religion have been particularly important in the education: Huston Smith (Why Religion Matters, 2001) and Don Cupitt (After God: The Future of Religion, 1997) are significant. The school of ‘religious’ thinking came late; in the last few decades of the twentieth century and is now predominant in the early 21st The school conjoins the phenomenological concern as cultural pluralism and the deeper skepticism of the fourth school emerges from the work of Fitzgerald and McCutcheon which focuses on the conceptual challenges of cultural pluralism.


All together the scholars across the academic studies are known as ‘religionists’. Before looking closely at the three main schools, religionists need to be distinguished with ‘religious educators’. There is a separate academic field of education which is also concerned with the academic studies of religion, but concerned with marrying these theories and concepts of religion to those of educational studies. In this regard, a few more scholars also have to be examined in relation to the Queensland history. John Dewey (1859 – 1952) was a very well-known broad educator whose views on ‘religion’ were very influential among American educators of religion. Dewey’s general theory was A Common Faith (1934), a humanistic study of religion originally delivered as the Dwight H. Terry Lectureship at Yale University.  Influencing Dewey and other educators on religion was William James (1842 – 1910). James’ ‘The Will to Believe’, a lecture first published in 1896 is seminal.  It brought ideas of Personal Idealism (George Holmes Howison 1834 – 1916) and of Personalism (F. C. S. Schiller 1864 – 1937) into the arrangement of American Pragmatism. Other major influences in the American Religious Education movement were Eric Erikson (1902 – 1994) for his work in the psychology of religion, and Charles Hartshorne (1897 – 2000) for his work in process philosophy. The institutions and persons in the American Religious Education movement will be considered further on.


The Theological Directions from Studies of Religion and Wider Consideration of the Philosophy of Religion


The philosophic thinking has streamed in 30 theological directions and taken aboard wider consideration of contemporary philosophy of religion than what has generally been recognised in academic theological discourse in relation to the curriculum, but nevertheless has representation in 20th century education for belief and doubt, including formal programs of religious education or Christian education. Seeing how philosophical thinking streams and overlaps into the diverse theological directions, which are represented in educational programs, better provides the wide range of the educational discourse. Ranging from the earliest shift in Christian thought, following from the conventional to the less popular or less known programs, the schools of thought can range from the German Neo-Orthodox Stream to the Anglo-American Atheist-Deist Stream. At this point of the research, the focus is the scoping of Protestant Thought, bearing in mind that innovations in Catholic thought and the continuing non-innovation from the Orthodox tradition will also need to be considered. Furthermore, there are often officially-unstated influences between the three Christian broad traditions. For this reason, Catholic ‘theologians’ who are influential in Queensland, a state where Catholic thought overlapped into the thinking of broad ‘Protestant’ institutions, have to be noted. The following might not be a comprehensive listing of the theological or atheological streams, but the list is extensive and includes all major players who informed religious/Christian education:


  1. German Neo-Orthodox Stream

Karl Barth

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Jürgen Moltmann

Catholic ‘Theologian’ Tradition
Karl Rahner Nouvelle théologie; Transcendental Thomism
Romano Guardini  
Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)  


  1. European Reformed ‘Neo-Orthodox’ Stream

Emil Brunner

Catholic ‘Theologian’ Tradition
Edward Schillebeeckx Dominican


  1. German ‘Neo-Orthodox-Process’ Stream

Wolfhart Pannenberg


  1. German Existentialist ‘Neo-Orthodox’ Stream

Rudolf Bultmann

Catholic ‘Theologian’ Tradition
Jacques Maritain Existential Thomism


  1. American Neo-Orthodox-Realist Stream

Reinhold Niebuhr

  1. Richard Niebuhr
Catholic ‘Theologian’ Tradition
Bernard Lonergan Transcendental Thomism
Avery Dulles  


  1. Broad-Church Anglican Stream

Keith Ward

Rowan Williams

John McIntyre

Henry Chadwick

Owen Chadwick


  1. Anglican ‘Orthodox’ Stream

Richard Swinburne

John Milbank


  1. British Religious Pluralist Stream

John Hick (United Reformed, Quaker)

Ninian Smart

John Hull


Catholic ‘Theologian’ Tradition
Gavin D’Costa Studied under John Hick
Gerard Loughlin Mirroring God’s World: A Critique of John Hick’s Speculative Theology (1987)


  1. Canadian-American Religious Pluralist Stream

Wilfred Cantwell Smith

Huston Smith

Catholic ‘Theologian’ Tradition
Hans Küng Global Ethic
David Tracy  


  1. Anglo-American Existentialist Stream

Paul Tillich

John Macquarrie


  1. Anglo-America Process Stream

Paul Weiss

Charles Hartshorne

Robert Cummings Neville

John B. Cobb


  1. British Mainstream Neo-Evangelical Stream

John Stott


  1. American Mainstream (overlap in centrist’s Free and Reformed streams) Neo-Evangelical Stream

Carl F. H. Henry

Alvin Plantinga

Norman Geisler

Richard Mouw

William Lane Craig

J.P. Moreland

Geoffrey W. Bromiley

  1. A. Carson


  1. Scottish Calvinist-Reformed Stream

Donald Macpherson Baillie

William Barclay


  1. American ‘Neo-Liberal’/Universalist Stream

Langdon Gilkey

John Shelby Spong

Catholic ‘Theologian’ Tradition
Hans Küng Rejection of Papal Infallibility; Global Ethic
John Courtney Murray Religious Liberty; Dignitatis Humanae


  1. American Calvinist-Reformed Stream

Donald G. Bloesch

Gordon Clark

Nicholas Wolterstorff

  1. C. Sproul


  1. Anglo-American Radical Neo-Evangelical Stream

Ron Sider

John Howard Yoder




  1. Anglo-American Christian Ethics-Communitarian Stream

Stanley Hauerwas

Catholic ‘Theologian’ Tradition
Alasdair MacIntyre Augustinian Thomism
G. E. M. Anscombe Analytical Thomism
Charles Taylor  
Jean Vanier  


  1. British-South African (white)-American Pentecostal-Charismatic Stream

David du Plessis

Donald Gee

John Wimber

Catholic ‘Theologian’ Tradition
William Storey Duquesne University, Pittsburgh
Ralph Keifer Duquesne University, Pittsburgh
Leo Joseph Suenens International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Office
Pierre Goursat Emmanuel Community
Martine Lafitte-Catta, Emmanuel Community


  1. British Conservative Evangelical (‘fundamentalist’) Stream
  2. I. Packer


  1. American Neo-Calvinist (‘dominance’) Stream

Cornelius Van Til

Gary North

  1. J. Rushdoony

Francis Schaeffer



  1. American Conservative Evangelical (‘fundamentalist’) Stream

Carl McIntire

John Murray


  1. Latin-Palestinian-American-African-German Liberation Stream (mainly Catholic in origins) Steam

Martin Luther King Jr.

Naim Ateek

Miguel A. De La Torre

Rubin Phillip

Robert McAfee Brown

George V. Pixley

Dorothee Sölle

Catholic ‘Theologian’ Tradition
Hélder Câmara  
Gustavo Gutiérrez  



  1. Sub-Continent ‘Indian’ Influence of Christo-Hindu (Gandhi) and Western Counter-Culture (Christian Anarchism) Stream

Mahatma Gandhi

Dave Andrews

Catholic ‘Theologian’ Tradition
Bede Griffiths Benedictine
Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Movement
Peter Maurin Catholic Worker Movement




  1. Indigenous Influence of Anthropological / Anti-Anthropological Stream

David Unaipon (Aboriginal Australian)

Douglas Nicholls (Aboriginal Australian)

John Harris (Aboriginal Australian)

Whakahuihui Vercoe (Māori church)

  1. Scott Momaday (Native American Church)
Catholic ‘Theologian’ Tradition
René Girard Fundamental Anthropology
Samuel Ruiz indigenous populations of Chiapas.


  1. East ‘Asian’ Influence of Confucian-Buddhist-Tao-Shinto Stream

Watchman Nee

  1. S. Song

Simon Chan (AOG)

Kwok Pui-lan (Asian feminist theology)

Chung Hyun Kyung (Asian feminist theology)

Catholic ‘Theologian’ Tradition
Thomas Merton Trappist
Bernadette Roberts Carmelite
Aloysius Pieris Sri Lankan Jesuit


  1. Anglo-American African Black Revolutionary- Africana Stream

Cornel West

James H. Cone

Albert Cleage

Barney Pityana

Allan Boesak

Zephania Kameeta

  1. Anglo-American Quietism-New Thought-Unitarian-Universalist (Christian) Stream

Parker Palmer (Quaker)

  1. Elton Trueblood (Quaker)

Rufus Jones (Quaker)

Richard Foster (Quaker)

Emil Fuchs (Quaker)

Ernest Holmes (Christian New Thought)

Johnnie Colemon (Christian New Thought)

James Luther Adams (Unitarian-Universalist)

Webster Kitchell (Unitarian-Universalist)

Catholic ‘Theologian’ Tradition
Henri Nouwen Catholic Quietism
Jean-Luc Marion Postmodern Phenomenology


  1. Anglo-American Feminist Stream

Marcella Althaus-Reid

Phyllis Trible

Catholic ‘Theologian’ Tradition
Mary Daly  


  1. Anglo-American ‘Death of God’-Secular Theology Stream

Harvey Cox

Don Cupitt

Paul van Buren




  1. Anglo-American Atheist-Deist Stream

Antony Flew

Brand Blanshard


The General Theory School

The modern general theory of religion begins in Otto’s universalisation of the ‘Holy’ – the belief that all world religions express and interpret the same Christian ‘Holy God’/ holiness, achieved differently through distinctively shaped cultural filters. From this schema comes the task of religionists to develop models to explain diverse religious beliefs and practices. A central theme is an assumed division between ‘insiders’ and outsiders’ (McCutcheon). The premise is that only those acquainted with the inner life of a particular set of religious belief, experience, or practice are able to articulate that particular model of religion. It is a contentious point on a number of levels. Globally, it suggests that the historical category of religion in western thought is not applicable to non-western cultures, as argued by McCutcheon. Rather than seeing ‘foreign’ cultural practices as simply ‘insider and outside’, both Fitzgerald and McCutcheon created a more articulated political binary of the colonialized and colonizers. Locally, there is fragmentation in the possibility of reducing an organisational inside to one person. Furthermore, the insider-outsider binary is existentially suspect, given the fluid nature of being inside and outside over the course of a person’s life.


The General Theory School begins as a universal understanding of the Christian faith from those who were largely European religionists who shared Christian thought in a slow pluralistic turn. Jesus Christ was said to have died and redeemed the whole of humanity, and each ‘religion’ is a pathway of salvation which leads to ‘God’ as conceived by Christians. The General Theory provided a pluralist perception of a Christian exclusive belief. Placed on a spectrum of belief, from rigid (hard) confessionalism to a vague (soft) universalism, the General Theory allowed religionists and educators to combine a thorough understanding of ‘faith’ across cultures and personal soft confessionalism. The challenge to the General Theory is in the possibility for education. Knowledge of religion, in the General Theory, inferred an ‘essence’. However, the essence was assumed to be informed by Christian beliefs which cannot be known in other cultural contexts.


The Phenomenological School

The General Theory had to be modified in the very least. The Phenomenologists, and later Existentialists, rejected the over-theorising from logicism or rationalism. Whereas those who worked in general theory tended to place primary on reason and logical connections, the Phenomenological School emphasised the ‘pure’ experience. They were influenced by Absolute Idealism of F. H. Bradley (1846 – 1924) and Josiah Royce (1855 – 1916). The Phenomenologists took the original ideas of G.W.F. Hegel (1770 – 1831) which was the groundwork for the modern concept of Spirit (or Absolute). However, they stripped off the metaphysics and replaced it with James’ radical empiricism – an assumed sufficiency of the subject’s observation of its subjectivity. The idea of ‘being’ became ‘essential’ (pun) in the development of the school. What was an epistemological enterprise in the General Theory School now became studies in ontology.


Heidegger is an important historical figure for the contemporary ontological debates, centring on the arguments of his Being and Time (1927). His approach was known as Existential phenomenology, which distinguishes Heidegger’s philosophy from the established modern phenomenology of Husserl. Husserl’s approach is known as phenomenological reduction, an act of suspending judgment about the natural world to instead focus on analysis of experience. Husserl is singularly concerned about intentionality, what is no more than a person’s claim for intentionality and how mental representation occurs. All of these ideas and concepts feed into the academic study of ‘religion’. Furthermore, Henri Bergson (1859 – 1941), with his ideas of processes of immediate experience and intuition (coming together in a universal Élan vital, the process of creative evolution) was also very significant; significant in a great part because it bridged with the General Theory and the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (1861 – 1947) where mathematics, logic, and physics played an important role for both Whitehead and Bergson. Within the Phenomenological School, then, there became a tension between the traditional method of Husserl, where education bracketed away any truth matters, and the inescapable universal theorisation which had to be epistemological justified. Eliade’s great use of mythology in what was called ‘History of Religion’ field (more abstract anthropology than what can be called ‘history’) abandoned any argument for the subject’s valid belief. Paul Tillich’s idea of ‘ultimate concern’, following Heidegger’s idea of Dasein (being there, presence, human being) provided a general theory to phenomenology. Ultimately, there was a universal truth in religion, according to Tillich’s liberal religion.


The Cultural Pluralist School

The World Religion movement could be the other identity of the Cultural Pluralist School. The concept of cultural pluralism as religion has its development in the larger movement. Although the concept of world religion goes back to the nineteenth century, with the clearest organisation in the Parliament of the World’s Religions (1893, 2018), the educational development is recent.  Ninian Smart (1927 – 2001), with other scholars, formed the Shap Working Party on World Religions in Education in 1969. There was a concerned that the phenomenology of religion had taken over the field and had placed an emphasis on description rather than critical analysis. The alternative was to see ‘theology’ as being central to a given ‘religion’, and the emphasis for belief reflected the socio-political agendas of 1960s Britain. Smart was very much the driving force. In 1967 he established the first department of religious studies in the United Kingdom at the new University of Lancaster. Smart had come to the enterprise from the department of theology at the University of Birmingham. The enterprise was a better, more philosophical, formation to what had been, in the theology discipline, comparative studies in ‘religion’. Smart was the first J.F. Rowny Professor in the Comparative Study of Religions at University of California, Santa Barbara. Smart’s textbook, The World’s Religions (1989), achieved this by giving the category a sevenfold scheme of study:

  • Doctrinal
  • Mythological
  • Ethical
  • Ritual
  • Experiential
  • Institutional
  • Material

It was helpful for the field, but it became apparent that the schema defined the perspective which could be taken but it still did not touch the problem of the categorisation. The approach took liberal Western Protestantism as its baseline and interpreted these different ‘religious’ traditions through the framework of liberal Protestant norms and values. As a result, the utility of the World Religions Paradigm had experienced a sustained and rigorous critique from many scholars of religion. In 1978 Jonathan Z. Smith called it a ‘dubious category’. Two other criticisms followed. The paradigm is rooted in the discourses of modernity, including the disproportionate power relations present in modern society. The paradigm is ultimately an uncritical and sui generis model of ‘religion’.


The work of Australian-born John Hull (1935 – 2015) at Smart’s old department at the University of Birmingham weathered the criticism better than Smart since it was clear that Christian education was his outcome rather than Smart’s philosophical enterprise. Hull mixed the concepts of ‘religious’ education and ‘Christian’ education. At Birmingham, he was Emeritus Professor of Religious Education, the editor of the Journal of Religious Education for 25 years, and co-founded the International Seminar on Religious Education and Values, of which he was General Secretary for 32 years. He was also Honorary Professor of Practical Theology at the Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education, and he wrote theology; the author of Hellenistic Magic and the Synoptic Tradition (1974) and Mission-Shaped Church: A Theological Response (2006). Hermeneutics, the idea and experience of missions, and anthropology, from all across Christian traditions in the modern era, created a pluralistic understanding within Christian doctrine. Richard Plantinga (1999) demonstrated this in a collection of classic and contemporary readings. That greater understanding in pluralism came from those philosophers and theologians mentioned in this document.  The contribution also significantly included John Hick (1973, 1980, 1985, and 1995 a, b), Hans Küng (1986), and Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1978, 1981).


Pluralism, Liberal Religion, and Civil Religion

Liberal religion is the key to understanding the Cultural Pluralist School. American liberal religion ties together much of the philosophical sources identified above from the movements of German and British romantics and idealists. The central figure is Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882). In Emerson is the marriage of German Transcendentalism (and much of the Phenomenology of Religion field) and British Liberalism (and much in the Empirical studies of religion) in Emerson’s version of American rugged individualism. Although in passing, it should be noted that the story is backgrounded by the work of Unitarians and Deists, among others. From different threads of the intellectual fabric – moderate Dutch Calvinists, dissenting Jewish thinkers, and English theorists – concepts of toleration and diversity had overcome the view of religion as orthodoxy. Increasingly, religion became a private or cultural sphere where the peace of the state was paramount. Ideas of ‘English Civil Religion’ were critical in this process (Fitzgerald).


The settlement of civil religion work religiously (in terms of ‘Christian Truth’) in three directions:


  1. The intellectual streams of the Scientific Revolution and European Enlightenment generated different schools of thought in British empiricist umbrella which impacted greatly on Christian theologies, whereby greater ‘religious’ accommodation was possible in education: Hume’s experiential skepticism, Reid’s common sense realism, Berkeley’s idealism, Bacon’s and Locke’s deistic philosophy of science, and utilitarianism from Bentham, John Mill, and J.S. Mill.


  1. The intellectual streams that are the roots of British and American evangelicalism were the reaction to the above. British evangelism began as the Puritan dissatisfaction with the original ‘English Civil Religion’ of the Stuarts, finding it to be Anglo-Catholic tyranny. The Puritan solution was a soft form of theocracy in a separatist colonialization; that is, the first permanent European colonialization of North America. The New England settlement can be contrast with the other original American thirteen colonies; particularly, Catholic Maryland, and Baptist Rode Island, and Quaker Pennsylvania. In these other colonies different perspectives played out in the Lockean concept of tolerance. In the American revolutionary era, a division split the Protestant religion. On the establishment side can be found the broad-church evangelicalism in the Church of England and the Episcopalian Church. On the dissenting side there was what became the American Revivalist tradition (Buch) and the formation of fundamentalism (Marsden). What the Protestant revivalists and fundamentalists wanted for three centuries was a Puritan re-settlement on civil religion. The conflict over Christian Truth (religion) was more complicated than that duality between liberals and conservatives. In fact, factions of the Protestant belief broke out in a three-way contest: Conservative Evangelicals, Liberal Protestants, and Anglo-Catholics. The smaller groupings of liberal evangelicals have often fallen into the cracks of the history. It was the Presbyterians who brought the two-way contest to the fore, with the Schism of Princeton College (‘Old School–New School Controversy of 1837’) and Great Schism in the Church of Scotland (‘Disruption of 1843’).


  1. The intellectual streams that are the roots of liberal religion, which is the heterodox history of the Unitarian-Universalist movement over five centuries. Its beginning in the United States goes to another schism in Protestant religion. It started with James Freeman (1759–1835) at King’s Chapel in Boston (1782) that finally led to the division at Harvard Divinity College over the matter of the appointment of Hollis Professor of Divinity. College Overseer Jedidiah Morse demanded that orthodox men be elected after the position had been held by liberals David Tappan and Joseph Willard. Unitarian Henry Ware was elected in 1805 to the Chair, which meant that Morse and his orthodox party left and founded the Andover Theological Seminary. Harvard became the major centre for liberal religion (a combination of Dutch Calvinist Arminianism and Unitarianism, with the addition of a slowly emerging Universalism). In the early nineteenth century Unitarian belief became New England orthodoxy, and Emerson’s Transcendentalism was the revolt against Unitarian dogma.


Protestant America largely defined the thinking on ‘civil religion’ through the divisions described above. The conservative and republican division built the American mythology of a nation ‘Under God’ which had firm orthodox beliefs in philosophy, theology, and ethics. This mythology had considerable cultural hold due to the frontier thesis which combined with orthodox views to form ‘Americanism’. The liberal and democratic division also built an American mythology of a nation. Its form of civil religion was progressivist in that it was pleased to move into heterodoxy to achieve a more tolerant society, although the practice did not always fit the thinking, particularly as libertarianism reduced the social value. Conservative religion (‘Christian Truth’) has always resisted the pluralistic cultural shifts away from orthodoxy, although, again, the practice did not always follow the established thinking. In time, outside of the Americanism of reactionary evangelicals and fundamentalist, United States has become the primary example of a culturally pluralistic society. It became possible because the idea of religion had to be pluralistic among liberal Protestants, moderate or liberal evangelicals, reforming conservatives, and Christian radicals (Protestant and Catholic). Catholic America is part of this story, but largely by throwing the view of Protestant America into relief.


Referring to the radical tradition of Christian belief, one must turn to both Protestant and Catholic Britain. Although Protestant American that largely developed the thinking of pluralistic civil religion, it is Christian and Post-Christian Britain which gave civil religion its political vision. On the conservative side, it was Edmund Burke (1759–1835) who built the political vision of civil religion in a conventional perspective, with prime value in the private rights of the individual and family. In response to Burke came the political vision of civil religion in a radical perspective. There was the American Thomas Paine (1737–1809), but it is the British radical tradition which largely shaped the narrative on civil society and civil religion. It began earlier with the Radical Whigs: John Milton, John Locke, James Harrington, and Algernon Sydney. It continued in the nineteenth century with the Chartists, such as William Price (1800–1893) and William Lovett (1800–1877). From the Chartists came the Utopian Socialists (Robert Owen, 1771–1858) and the early labour movement, exemplified by the London Working Men’s Association. The socialism of William Morris (1834–1896) had done the most to give the radical view of civil religion a theological ground; in his Anglo-Catholic medievalism with its valuing on simplicity and a rejection of industrial society. In this radical mixture, the early Karl Marx (1818–1883) brought Hegel’s Zeit (Spirit) into the concept before he judged it as the illusory happiness of the people. However, it was not Marxism that shaped the political vision, as it was the Fabian Society with its most prominent members in the twentieth century:  George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Annie Besant, Graham Wallas, Charles Marson, Sydney Olivier, Oliver Lodge, Ramsay MacDonald, Emmeline Pankhurst, and with at the core of the Society, Sidney and Beatrice Webb.


From the British radical tradition came a more pluralistic perspective in civil religion, not beholden to a homogeneous view as seen in the traditional concept of British heritage. However, it cannot be as clear cut as that. Assimilation policies crossed the political boundaries; nevertheless, in the late nineteenth century, the debate emerged between the new imperialists for empire and the liberals-radical compact for a ‘commonwealth’ of nations. Fitzgerald argues that it is the seventeenth century concept of commonwealth which is at the centre of English Civil Religion. The idea is originally the common wealth of the body politic, with the monarch as the head. The concept is rooted in the reformational settlement that the monarch was the head of the state church and thus determines the meaning of religion (‘Christian Truth’). The constitutional history of Commonwealth countries has been a slow evolution to the breakdown of the reformational settlement; despite the outward appearance in the aesthetics of heritage. It is a change that came from within Protestant and Catholic religion, but not without the continual hard resistance from privileged traditionalists. The breakdown of homogeneous state power to define religion is the important factor in the pluralistic understanding of the concept. The modern challenge is that the breakdown has also led to the fragmentations in the semantics, such as to raise several questions as to what is being educated in the term, ‘religion’.

The Religious Education Movement

The early antecedence in religious education originated first with the World Religions Parliament (1885), and along with the development of the psychology of religion (particularly from William James), and the Edinburgh Missionary Conference (1911). There were also conservative interests which sought to promote biblical education, as seen in the Bible League movement. Bishop Webber and Canon Garland developed the Bible League and the Bible in Schools movement in Queensland. In 1893 the Victorian Council for Christian Education (VCCE) had been formed to provide biblical literacy education among the urban poor. During the twentieth century the VCCE, as the national institution, shifted from a biblical literacy model to the model of development psychology. The change was the relationship of Australian (Queensland) organisations in the ‘international’ religious education movement, which centred on American institutions and theorists.


In 1903 the Religious Education Association was formed. It was founded by William Rainey Harper (1856 – 1906) who was the first president of the University of Chicago. Harper, an accomplished semiticist, and Baptist clergyman, brought together the Council of Seventy, a learned society of biblical scholars, which became the founding core of the movement. The keynote speaker at its first convention was John Dewey, which meant that the movement took on an enquiry-oriented perspective. In 1906 the Association began to publish the journal Religious Education under the editorship of Henry Cope. In its early years the Association was organized into several groups: Council of religious education, Universities and colleges, Theological seminaries, Churches and pastors, Sunday schools, Secondary public schools, Elementary public schools, Private schools, Teacher-training, Christian associations, Young people’s societies, the Home, Libraries, the Press, Correspondence instructions, Summer assemblies, Religious art, and Music. It meant that religious education would be fully rounded with the focal point in Christian institutional activities; with an expansion to Jewish institutions from 1953. The work of Arthur Hertzberg (1921 – 2006) at Columbia University was significant in creating a Christian-Jewish dialogue in the movement. In 1975 the Association held a major national colloquy on civil religion informed from Robert Bellah, Vine DeLoria, Jr., and Michael Novak.


The University of Chicago continued to be important to international religious education, and here we can note the centre of liberal religion scholarship, Meadville Lombard Theological School, the Unitarian Universalist seminary which produced the Journal of Liberal Religion from the early twentieth-first century. However, the movement was mostly generated by the religious education combined course between Union Theological Seminary and Columbia Teachers College, in New York City. At Union Theological Seminary, George Albert Coe (1862 – 1951) was the pioneer in religious education, using developmental psychology to develop children’s faith in graded Sunday School lessons. His seminal A Social Theory of Religious Education (1917) fused liberal theology, psychology and sociology into one comprehensive and integrated whole. It was an alternative to John Dewey’s more humanistic Democracy and Education (1916). Coe’s family background was in the ethos of Methodist revivalism of New York’s burnt-over district. That Finneyian (Charles Grandison Finney) influence carried over into the modern education program, but Coe brought to it his theistic evolutionism and the influence of Borden Parker Bowne’s idealist personalism. Coe’s teaching career at three institutions developed the meaning of religious education in psychology and pedagogy: Northwestern University (1892-1909) in Evanston, Illinois, with Union Theological Seminary (1909-1922) and Teachers College, Columbia University (1922-1927).


As part of the schismatic nature of Protestant America, the religious education movement developed into a conservative-liberal binary. In the early 1940s a major debate broke out at Union Theological Seminary between Lewis Sherrill (1892-1957), representing Southern United States conservatism, and Sheldon Smith (1893–1987), representing Northern United States liberalism, on the question of whether religious education could be Christian. Sherrill was a Presbyterian minister who developed a theory of Christian education that focused on the development of Christian selfhood; Sherrill’s family background in Calvinism is paramount to the schema. His foundational work was at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary before moving to Union. Sherrill also worked for, and became the President of, the American Association of Theological Schools (AATS). The AATS debate came when Harrison Elliott explained liberal theology in Can Religious Education Be Christian (1940) and Shelton Smith provided a neo-orthodox view in Faith and Nurture (1941). Sherrill’s response was The Rise of Christian Education (1944). Sherrill made use of psychology to help interpret and communicate Christian beliefs, as had been established in work of Coe, but the idea of education became more pragmatic for Christian institutions. Indeed, Sherrill’s position at Union was as the Skinner and McAlpin Professor of Practical Theology. Such an approach meant that the idea of education became apologetic.  Sherrill’s later books, The Struggle of the Soul (1951) and The Gift of Power (1955), were thought to be original contributions to resolving the long-standing conflict between psychology and theology. Smith’s trajectory in education was at the other end of the spectrum in Protestant belief. He was a United Church of Christ minister, a graduate of Yale University, and taught at Yale, Columbia, and Duke Divinity School. Smith founded the North Carolina Council of Churches, and was a key figure in the movements for racial relations, civil rights, and social justice. In contrast to Sherrill’s redemptive psychology, Smith brought to education a Christian sociology which was very much influenced by New Deal socialism and political realism of brothers H. Richard Niebuhr (1894–1962; Yale Divinity School) and Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971; Union Theological Seminary).


Under Sherrill’s influence, the Southern conservatives divided the idea of ‘religious education’ out from the Christian education which they sought to develop in American biblicialist and revivalist framing. The Southern Baptist Convention became the major force of this direction. The centrepiece was Southern Baptist’s All-Age Sunday School (AASS) model, a global evangelical export on the back of the work from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Australian Baptists quickly developed the AASS model, which by the mid-1970s was making use of cheap popular religious paperbacks as study group materials. The contents and lessons were more apologetics than education. A less apologetic and a more moderate conservative shift came with the work of Ellis Nelson (1916-2011). Nelson was a Texan with family background in the Lutheran churches (Missouri Synod) and the Westminster Presbyterian Church, the heartlands of American fundamentalism. Ellis’s formal theological education was at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and he was trained in religious education theory at the Universities of Chicago and Yale. This was followed with his Union-Columbia doctoral program where he focused on religious education’s role in and relationship with socialization. He became influenced by the French social theorist, Emile Durkheim. In this thinking the relationship of religious education to moral development and social character was critical (Nelson, 1983).


Nelson also became the Skinner and McAlpin Professor of Practical Theology at Union, but he took that pragmatics into a better educational direction than Sherrill. Nelson saw Christian life lived out in and through the congregation, which he defined as a learning committee, a social context in which roles are learned and lived. It reads as a Christian version of community education.  From Union, Nelson moved to Louisville (Kentucky) Presbyterian Theological Seminary where he served as President and Professor of Christian Education until 1981. He also held other teaching positions, importantly at Ormond College, University of Melbourne (1990). Nelson was also a research fellow at Oxford’s Christ Church College (1972). The scholarship was evolving on the conservative side, and it meant that the centre of gravity shifted away from the Southern Baptist Convention where its fundamentalism kept critical thought at bay. In the early 1970s, and from the Fuller Theological Seminary controversy, was established the neo-evangelical model of Christian education; particularly influenced by Fuller’s World Missions philosophy, established by Donald McGavran, and the Church Growth movement from the work of Peter Wagner (Marsden). Here, with the influence of Nelson, the ethics of the American revivalist tradition (e.g. anti-slavery) came to predominate and the biblicalism adopted a kinder form (as opposed to the ‘fire and brimstone’ preaching). The agenda of a more empathetic Christian anthropology and social justice shaped the education.  By the early 1980s the global evangelical world had split with the rise of the American Christian New Right. The evangelical left was represented in the popular culture by Jim Wallis (1948 – present) and the Washington D.C. based Sojourners movement. The evangelical ultra-right was represented by Pat Robertson (1930 – present) and his Christian Broadcasting Network based in Virginia Beach, Virginia. This is the political dynamic which inescapably played out in Christian education programs.


Under Smith’s influence, northern Christian institutions, particularly the Methodist Church and United Church of Christ, adopted the neo-orthodox model. However, the neo-orthodox model had the greater challenge in implementation. Since the conservative model was pragmatic, as in the congregation’s practical theology, the worldview had a greater hold in the institutions. Across both models, Sunday School superintendents preferred and often delivered programs of didactic church teaching. This brought conflict with ministers trained in neo-orthodoxy, and who would judge such programs as educationally inadequate. From the 1950s the neo-orthodox development of Christian Education was informed by wider educational theories, beyond the Protestant America mythology. The theoretical schemas came from very different philosophical sources – Peter Berger (1929 – 2017) with inclusive humanistic sociology of religion, situational ethics of Joseph Fletcher (1905 – 1991), and Paulo Freire (1921 – 1997) with critical theory and Marxist class analysis. The work of Joseph Fletcher, who had been an Episcopal theologian before becoming a humanist ethicist, had been picked up by the Victorian Methodist, Presbyterian, and Church of Christ churches. The work of Peter Berger was popular in the 1970s in the Christian sociology movement based in Adelaide. The work of Paulo Freire was formative among evangelical and Catholic left communities in Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne.


The major turning point for the Religious Education Movement in Australia was the South Australian Gutekin [?] Report in 1974. It was a review of the old model of ‘Religious Instruction’ (R.I.) which had been worked into the parliamentary acts for state education across the country. The review resulted in a multi-faith approach as religious education, based on the world religion work of Ninian Smart. The Religious Education (R.E.) curriculum of South Australia was then placed in the state’s ‘Heath and Social Education’ program. Following the South Australian development, Premier Joh Bjelke -Petersen agreed to a Queensland review of Religious Instruction. A copy of the report was never released, and the Methodist Conference began to put pressure on the government to make the report public. The Methodist Church had led the field of Christian education in the state.  That development was built upon the history of the roles of the brothers Revs. Ivan and Cyril Alcorn, in developing a large and sophisticated Queensland Methodist Young People’s Department (YPD), and establishing the Methodist Training College and Bible School. As a compromised in the church-state debate, the Deputy Premier Lew Edwards agreed for the establishment of a R.E. team to produce an alternative approach to R.I. within the state department of Queensland Education (with regulatory power for curriculum standards in the private sector). The new approach would arise from the phenomenology of religion rather than the existing didactic church teaching in state schools.


In 1975 Rev. Dr. Ian Mavor and Gareth Read were appointed R.E. Coordinators, with the original R.E. team formed in the following year.  Mavor would serve as the State Inservice Co-ordinator for the ‘Religious Education Curriculum Project’ (RECP) team as it was formally known. The team had the brief to first develop a curriculum; secondly, run in-service training sessions; and thirdly, provide lesson planning for R.E. volunteers. Elizabeth Nolan had joined the team in 1976 to develop the curriculum, written in a round-robin. Two more appointments were made: Graetch Kelly, formerly Principal of Stuarthome, and Rev. Dr. John Munro from St Mark’s Study Centre [?]. From 1977 and 1983 [?], Nolan was provided a Queensland State Fellowship for three years (with a bond of four years) to study in the Union-Columbia joint program. As explained above, the program was a global centre for the teaching profession in Religious Education, and in these years of Nolan’s studies, the higher degree course had William Kennedy, Maxim Green, and Philip Phoenix on staff. In 1985 Mavor left the team to take up the appointment as Master of Kings College.  Erich xxxx and Judith xxxx finished off the R.E. curriculum in 1986, with Nolan producing the published curriculum manual. The curriculum was designed around the three cycle model:


[need to rework and add ‘Religious Education Fields of Enquiry Part A & Part B graphs]


From 1986 to 1988 Nolan worked as the Coordinator of Religious Education (R.E.) at the Bardon Professional Centre. In the watershed year of 1989 Nolan was the State Religious Coordinator, located in the state R.E. office at Chermside State Primary School, now the site of the Chermside Uniting Church. There were four consultants with appointments under the Director of Regions in the Brisbane North region. Nolan’s role was research and development (R&D) for the curriculum, which involved putting together a children’s book collection and research centre at Chermside. Nolan also developed lesson plans for Years 8-10 in the north Queensland region. The R.E. Resource centre at Chermside closed in 1992. During these years of the state education R.E. program, the phenomenal success of the Methodist-Uniting Church in youth and education work continued under Rev. Lewis (Lew) Born, Ivan Alcorn’s protégé. Alcorn was the YPD Director (1949-1970) and Born was his Assistant Director until the death of both Alcorn brothers in 1972, at which time Born took over reigns. Several important leaders in Christian education came out of the Uniting Church’s connections with Scarritt College, Tennessee, and other significant places of American Christian education training, including Rev. Dr. Clive Krohn, Sue Fairley, Jan Chalmers, and Rev. Dr. Chris Walker. Nolan also taught Pastoral Ministry at the Brisbane College of Theology, and she would go on to be the Deputy Executive Officer with the Council for Christian Education in Schools in Victoria.

[need to flesh out what was occurring in Christian Education for the Baptist, Churches of Christ, and Catholic organisations]

Apart from the local curriculum work in Queensland, the national Joint Board of Christian Education had produced the ‘Whole People of God’ program for the Sunday Schools, which comes out of the United Church of Canada and the United Church of Christ (USA). It worked on a Study Group model, and clearly was influenced by Nelson’s congregational-based practical theology.

Outside of the scope of the Religious Education Curriculum Project, the Queensland Education also introduced the Studies in Religion as a senior school subject. [more information needed].


The socio-political ethos of the 1990s significantly undermined the phenomenological-based R.E. program. Values education had also established itself during the 1970s, but had gain growing political support from both the Left and Right. On the Left, there was Noel Preston at Queensland University of Technology, and his work, Understanding Ethics, first published in 1996. There was also Prime Minister John Howard’s promotion of conservative values. It is then that a national politicisation of Christian Education organisation began in the same vein as the American conservative-liberal binary. In 1992 the shift came for Christian education when the Christian Reformed Church [?] became part of the Board of the Victorian Council for Christian Education in Schools, which put in power Peter Whitaker, a South African evangelical believer.  Representatives of Sydney Anglicans would also join the board. With rise of power-blocks in the organisation, the national Joint Board of Christian Education went under in 1996. In 2001 the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) [?] replaced its Sunday School program with the “Seasons of the Spirt” [more information needed].


With the general conservative push-back, the R.E. in the state system also folded. The Bettie government in Queensland changed R.E. back to the religious instruction model with that name [more information needed]. The Studies in Religion senior school subject also struggled to survive in the new regime of the National Curriculum [more information needed]. In the meantime the conservative political turn for Christian education in churches and Sunday schools became complete when John Carr of the Christian School Associations took over the VCCES. The UCA pulled out of the VCCES in 2010 [more information needed].



Archibald, H. A. (1975). George Albert Coe: Theorist for religious education in the twentieth century. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Illinois, Urbana -Champaign.

Coe, G. A. (1900). The spiritual life: Studies in the science of religion. New York: Eaton and Mains.

Coe, G. A. (April, 1904). The philosophy of the movement for religious education. The American Journal of Theology, 8, 225-239.

Coe, G. A. (January, 1908). The sources of the mystical revelation. Hibbert Journal, 359-372. Reprinted in Religious Education, 47, (March- April, 1952), 130-136.

Coe, G. A. (1917). A social theory of religious education. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Coe, G. A. (1943). What is religion doing to our consciences? New York: Chas. Scribner’s Sons.

Fitzgerald, Timothy (2007). Discourse on Civility and Barbarity: A Critical History of Religion and Related Categories, Oxford University Press.

Fitzgerald, Timothy (edited,2007). Religion and the Secular: Historical and Colonial Formations, Routledge.

Freire, P. (1970a). Cultural action and conscientization. (1970). Harvard Education Review 40, (3), 452-477.

Freire, P. (1970c). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Seabury Press.

Freire, P. (1972a). Conscientizing as a way of liberating. Washington, DC: LADOC II.

Freire, P. (1972b). A letter to a theology student. Catholic Mind 70, 1265.

Freire, P. (1973). Education for critical consciousness. New York: Seabury Press.

Freire, P. (1975a). Conscientization. Geneva: World Council of Churches.

Freire, P. (1976). Education, the practice of freedom. London: Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative.

Freire, P. (1984a). Education, liberation and the church. Religious Education, 79 (4), 524, 544-545.

Freire, P. (1984b). Know, practice and teach the gospels. Religious Education 79 (4), 547-548.

Freire, P. (1984c). Conscientization. Cross Currents 24 (1), 23.

Freire, P. (1985). The politics of education: Culture, power and liberation. South Hadley, Mass.: Bergin & Garvey.

Freire, P. (1994). Pedagogy of hope: Reliving pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Freire, P. (1998a). Pedagogy of freedom: Ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

Freire, P. (1998b). Politics and education. Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center Publications.

James, William. (1897). The will to believe and other essays in popular philosophy. New York: Longmans Green & Co. (pp. 295-327).

McCutcheon, Russell T (1997). Manufacturing Religion: The Discourse of Sui Generis Religion and the Politics of Nostalgia, Oxford University Press,;

McCutcheon, Russell T (2019). Fabricating Religion: Fanfare for the Common E.G., De Gruyter.

Nelson, C. E. (1973).(Ed.). Conscience: Theological and psychological perspectives. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

Nelson, C. E. (1983). Toward accountable selfhood, In M. Mayr (Ed.), Modern masters of religious education (pp. 160-173). Birmingham, AL: Religious Education Press.

Nelson, C. E. (1988).(Ed.) Congregations: Their power to form and transform. Louisville: John Knox Press.

Nelson, C. E. (1990). Christian education: Responsibility for moral decision making. Melbourne, Australia: Victorian Council of Christian Education.

Sherrill, L. J. (1929). Parochial schools in the old school Presbyterian church, 1846-1876 . Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Yale University.

Sherrill, L. J. (1932). Religious education in the small church . Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

Sherrill, L. J. (1933). The psychology of the Oxford group movement . Richmond: Presbyterian Committee of Publication.

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Sherrill, H. H., & Sherrill, L. J. (1943). Becoming a Christian: A manual for communicant classes . Richmond: John Knox Press.

Sherrill, L. J. (1944, 1953). The rise of Christian education . New York: MacMillan Company.

Sherrill, L. J. (1945, 1957, 1963). Guilt and redemption . Richmond: John Knox Press.

Sherrill, L. J. (1949). Lift up your eyes: A report to the churches on the religious education re-study . Richmond: John Knox Press.

Sherrill, L. J. (1951, 1953, 1961, 1963). The struggle of the soul . New York: MacMillan. (Published in English, Chinese and Japanese).

Smith, H. Shelton. (1941). Faith and Nurture. New York: Charles Scribners’ Sons.

Smith, H. Shelton. (1955). Changing conceptions of original sin: A study in American theology since 1750. New York: Charles Scribners’ Sons.

Smith, H. Shelton. (1972). In His image, but…racism in southern religion, 1780-1910. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.



Appendix 1. Nolan-Buch’s Table ‘Education for Faith & Belief’




(R.I.) in schools

Evangelism in church and community school Sunday School in churches Youth Movements (e.g. camps) in churches Religious


(R.E.) in schools

Studies in Religion in senior secondary & tertiary schools
Qld 1910-1974 Qld 1860?-


Qld 18??- Present Qld 19??-


Qld 1975-1992 Qld 195?- Present
C.E. informally C.E. informally C.E.


C.E. informally C.E. formally Not C.E. but formally on C.E.
Catechism & rote learning of scripture

(may also include Evangelism, see box)

New Methods of Didactic Church Teaching

Based in Moralism





Based on the principles of conviction and conversion

Assumed faith of baptised child and/or confirmed adult and/or convert, developed as faith & belief

Based on the principle of sanctification

Mixture of

Evangelism (see box)

Religious Instruction (see box)

Informal version of Sunday School (see box)

Based on culturally-appropriated learning (i.e. youth sub-cultures)

Religious Fields of Knowledge

Dynamic dialogical (see ‘R.E. Field of Enquiry’ graph’)

Developed from Studies in Religion (see box) and Education

Based on

1. Understanding concepts;

2. Knowing the facts;

3. Reflecting on the belief.

Antecedence in

Philosophical Theology


Church Union movement and Ecumenicalism

World Religion Engagement

Developed from

Psychology of Religion

Phenomenology of Religion

Sociology of Religion



Primary Models:

  1. Christian Education (C.E.): Education in Christian thought integrated into other models;
  2. Religious Instruction (R.I.): Instruction on being religious (understood from instructor’s tradition);
  3. Religious Education (R.I.): Education in religious thought (understood from educator’s tradition).



Dreamstime M 185564954

Dreamstime M 185564954

Image: Photo 185564954 © Yurii Kibalnik |


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Neville Buch (Pronounced Book) Ph.D. is a certified member of the Professional Historians Association (Queensland). Since 2010 he has operated a sole trade business in history consultancy. He was a Q ANZAC 100 Fellow 2014-2015 at the State Library of Queensland. Dr Buch was the PHA (Qld) e-Bulletin, the monthly state association’s electronic publication, and was a member of its Management Committee. He is the Managing Director of the Brisbane Southside History Network.
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