The building bridges through interfaith dialogue in schools programme : an investigation into the effectiveness of a model of interfaith education

Timothy Ross McCowan, Australian Catholic University

Abstract

This thesis investigated the effectiveness of the ""Building Bridges through Interfaith Dialogue in Schools Programme"" in promoting intercultural and interreligious understanding, faith, empathy, trust, respect and co-operation between students from different faith, cultural and social backgrounds. This experiential education programme involves students in years ten and eleven and teachers from different schools and backgrounds to meet and dialogue, question and explore each other's lives and faiths over six sessions in a year. The researcher used a survey questionnaire and guided interviews with 84 students, 16 teachers, 15 facilitators of the small groups and four regional co-ordinators alongside the general capabilities of the new Australian curriculum and various measures of empathy and intercultural understanding to make this assessment. Results revealed a majority of participants had grown significantly in trust, respect and interreligious understanding of the other and their faith tradition through direct engagement with a peer of a different faith background. The small group dialogues and informal conversations over a meal proved to have greatest impact on participants' learning. The research also found that experiential interfaith education of this nature developed critical and creative thinking skills, challenged inaccurate stereotypes, increased awareness of one's own values and faith commitments, improved self-confidence and the social capability to work successfully in religiously and culturally diverse teams. In promoting four of the general capabilities of the Australian curriculum, the research confirmed that experiential interfaith education such as the Building Bridges Programme offers an excellent model for educating new generations of Australians in religion, faith and culture, for them to become competent global citizens and leaders in the twenty-first century.