Date of Award

2014

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Education

Faculty

Education and Arts

First Advisor

Associate Professor Jan Gray

Second Advisor

Associate Professor Glenda Campbell-Evans

Third Advisor

Professor Terry de Jong

Abstract

In the past 20 years the number of religious schools present within Australia’s educational marketplace has grown prolifically. In response, concerns have been raised and it has been asserted that the lack of religious diversity within these schools may impede development of the competencies young Australians need in order to engage relationally in pluralistic social settings. Social capital theorists refer to the act of engaging relationally in the midst of social diversity as bridging and the relational networks that form as being a source of bridging social capital.

This study sought to understand how the educative environment of religious schools influenced development of the ability to bridge. Three schools from Australia’s Christian school sector participated in this multiple case study. The data collection methods used included semistructured individual interviews with graduates, their parent(s) and an employer or a colleague from the workplace of each graduate. The data derived from these interviews (50 in total) provided insights into the post-school social worlds of the graduates and the influences that had shaped their social and civic development. In addition to these triangulated data, one focus group interview was conducted with educators at each of the participating schools.

Careful analysis of the data found that formation of the attributes needed to bridge did not appear to be significantly influenced by the degree of religious diversity present within the student body of the graduates’ schools, but had been shaped by other aspects of their school environment and features associated with their broader social-ecologies. In addition to elucidating this phenomenon, this study also provides insights into a network of Christian schools that have rarely been the subject of educational research and yet are prominent within Australia’s education sector. It also contributes to the rigorous and at times contentious discourse around two issues that confront educational leaders and theorists: 1) The role of schools in the formation of social and civic values; and 2) The tensions associated with the expression of religious freedom in a liberal democracy and the presence of religious schools in the educational marketplace.

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