Details of Thesis

Title An investigation of the spirituality of children in Victorian state primary schools
Author Moriarty, M. Wyn
Institution Australian Catholic University
Date 2010
Abstract The aim of this research was to investigate aspects of the spirituality of children in Victorian state primary schools. The researcher’s experience as a teacher of Christian Religious Education (CRE) in Victorian state primary schools motivated her to investigate the spiritual experiences of contemporary children in this secular, and largely unexplored, context. The objective was to enhance the teaching of Christian Religious Education in these schools. The theoretical framework for this research was hermeneutic phenomenology, drawing on Gadamer’s (1975) “fusion of horizons”, and Ricoeur’s (1974, 1985) methods of textual interpretation and his concept of “narrative identity”. A review of the literature of recent research into children’s spirituality suggested to the researcher that children’s spirituality can be expressed in four dimensions: 1) consciousness and 2) relationships, 3) identity and 4) roadmap, with an integrating central concept of worldview. This conceptualization became the basis for the research method. The research method consisted of three semi-structured interviews, two group interviews and one with individual children. These interviews were conducted in three Victorian state schools, with a total of 24 children aged eight to ten years (grades three and four). The group interviews explored the children’s experiences relating to heightened consciousness (for example, awe and wonder) and their relationships with the Transcendent, other people and the natural world. The individual interviews explored the meaning-making dimensions of identity (self concept), and roadmap and worldview (values and aspirations). These interviews were video-taped, and transcribed. Profiles were prepared on each child based on Champagne’s (2003) spiritual modes of being. There were four major findings of the research. Firstly, the children demonstrated their capacity to “reach out” with a heightened consciousness to explore their understanding of, and relationship with the natural world, the Transcendent, and other people (Hay & Nye, 2006). Secondly, the children demonstrated innate spiritual resources within themselves (Hart, 2003). The different environments in which the children were living seemed to have an impact of the development of their values, and their “sense of meaning and connectedness” (Hyde, 2008). For most of the children the social context was non religious. This meant that the children used contemporary resources other than religion to express meaning and values. Finally, the children’s sense of identity seemed to grow out of all these factors, as they tried to construct a meaningful “story” of their lives (Ricoeur, 1985). These findings led the researcher to revise the initial conceptualization of children’s spirituality to a more dynamic construction culminating in a sense of self identity and meaning. Based on this study the researcher recommends that the teaching of CRE in state schools attempts to enhance this sense of self-identity by providing the children with Biblical language and stories as vehicles for expressing their innate spiritual awareness through their own story. This may also encourage a meaningful relationship with Other. Furthermore, introduction to Christian values can both enhance the positive and critique the negative values of the society in which these children are developing their sense of self-worth and connectedness.
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