Date of Submission



The nature of Religious Education in Catholic secondary schools has generated significant interest since the Second Vatican Council. A number of theoretical approaches to classroom Religious Education have been used in Catholic secondary schools in New Zealand since the mid 1960s (Crawford & Rossiter, 1985; Groome, 1980; van Caster, 1965). The debate regarding the most suitable approach for classroom Religious Education at this level has largely settled on a Subject-Oriented approach (Larkin, 2006). In New Zealand there has been a considerable investment of resources in the development of curricula and textbooks (Finlay, 2000). However there has been little research about teacher beliefs concerning the purpose of the subject. This thesis reports research into teachers' beliefs about the purpose of classroom Religious Education in Catholic secondary schools in New Zealand. The literature was reviewed to identify the range of purposes in the normative Church documents and in the writings of theorists. In addition it examined a number of issues that could have some bearing on teachers' understanding of purposes. A survey that collected both quantitative and qualitative data was distributed to 37 of the 49 Catholic secondary schools in New Zealand that agreed to participate and resulted in 173 responses. This study found that teachers worked out of a Subject-Oriented approach to the teaching of Religious Education that was consistent with the Understanding Faith curriculum. Teachers perceived Religious Education as a complex subject with multiple purposes. The primary purpose was to teach knowledge and understanding of the Catholic faith tradition. The subject also had subsidiary aspirational purposes of faith formation and personal development. The importance of appropriate qualifications and formation of teachers was identified as a challenge facing Religious Education in Catholic secondary schools in New Zealand.;There was a high degree of consensus among respondents related to the purpose of classroom Religious Education. This research contributes to the discourse concerning the purpose of Religious Education. It has implications for theoretical aspects of Religious Education, classroom practice and planning, school based curriculum planning, teacher professional development and curriculum policy.


School of Religious Education

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


402 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Faculty of Education