Identifying Some Characteristics of Children’s Spirituality in Australian Catholic Primary Schools: A study within hermeneutic phenomenology

Details of Thesis

Title Identifying Some Characteristics of Children’s Spirituality in Australian Catholic Primary Schools: A study within hermeneutic phenomenology
Author Hyde, Brendan
Institution Australian Catholic University
Date 2005
Abstract This qualitative research study aimed to identify, through classroom observation and conversation, some characteristics of children’s spirituality in Australian Catholic primary schools. In the context of this study, spirituality was described as an essential human trait. While much of the recent literature in the field describes spirituality in terms of connectedness and relationality, in this study spirituality was described as a movement towards Ultimate Unity (de Souza, 2004a, 2004b), whereby at the deepest and widest levels of connectedness, an individual’s true Self may experience unity with Other. Spirituality was also described as the outward expression of such unity in terms of how one acts towards Other. Located within the constructionist epistemology, and in taking its philosophical stance from interpretivism, this qualitative study took its theoretical impetus from that stream of human science known as hermeneutic phenomenology. The videotaped life expressions of two groups of approximately six children in Year three (8-years-olds) and Year five (10-years-olds) in each of three Australian Catholic primary schools formed the texts that were reflected upon in order to gain insight into the spirituality of these children. The researcher met with each group on three occasions. Each group meeting, consisting of a semi-structured interview  (conversation) and an activity (observation) was structured around the three categories of spiritual sensitivity – awareness sensing, mystery sensing and value sensing – as proposed by Hay and Nye (1998). van Manen’s (1990) lifeworld existentials were drawn upon as guides to reflection upon the life expressions of these children. Hermeneutic phenomenological reflection upon the texts of this present study identified four characteristics of these children’s spirituality – the felt sense, integrating awareness, weaving the threads of meaning, and spiritual questing. As well, two factors which appeared to inhibit these children’s expression of their spirituality were also identified – material pursuit and trivialising. Each of the four characteristics identified reflected the descriptions of spirituality drawn upon throughout this study, particularly the notion of spirituality as a movement towards Ultimate Unity (de Souza, 2004a, 2004b). In some instances, these characteristics also revealed the emergence of the Collective Self, in which the individual Self of each child became unified with every other Self among the group of children. It was argued then, that a movement towards Ultimate Unity may entail the emergence of a Collective Self, in which, at the deepest and widest levels of connectedness, Self and Other become one and the same. The two inhibiting factors indicated that such a movement was thwarted in that these factors prevented the children from moving beyond their superficial self towards deeper levels of connectedness. As the result of this investigation, this present study proposed some recommendations for learning and teaching in the primary religious education classroom which may nurture spirituality. These include the creation of appropriate spaces for nurturing spirituality, allowing children time to engage in the present moment of their experience, the use of tactile experiences in religious education, and the need to begin with the children’s personally created frameworks of meaning. A learning model for addressing the spiritual, affective and cognitive dimensions of the curriculum has also been offered as a means by which to realise these recommendations for learning and teaching. As well, recommendations for the personal and professional learning of teachers and leaders in Catholic primary schools who seek to nurture the spirituality of their students have also been proposed in light of the characteristics of children’s spirituality that were identified. These include the formation and professional learning for teachers of religious education, and the possibility of revisioning the curriculum to explore where spiritual development might be addressed across the curriculum.
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