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Ecotheology and VCE ‘religion and society’: a curriculum analysis

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posted on 17.02.2017, 02:17 authored by Grinter, Ian David
Responding to a ‘silence’ in the critical discourse of environmental education on the role of theology, this study is a Critical Discourse Analysis of the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) subject ‘Religion and Society’, offered to Year 11 and 12 secondary school students in the State of Victoria, Australia. This subject is analysed in terms of how it potentially constructs environmentally problematic assumptions, and its potential revision to foster greater contestation of such assumptions. An ecotheological conceptual framework was developed by distilling key concepts from a range of authors contributing to: an historical discourse concerning causes of the environmental crisis; the ecotheological discourse on links between theological understandings and nature, and; the critical discourse of environmental education. Over the past thirty years the critical discourse of environmental education facilitated an altered perspective in education on the earth’s ecological situation, from ‘environmental crisis’ to an ‘environmentally problematic human condition’. It identifies this condition as one where human identity is fragmented by the Scientific Paradigm. The ecotheological discourse characterises this condition as lack of self-love perpetuated by capitalist economic interests playing on deep archetypal forces within human identity. Environmentally problematic assumptions, then, are assumptions about self which are inherent in fragmented identity and lack of self-love. From an educational perspective, discipline and wisdom emerge as crucial concepts from the ecotheological discourse. When the critical discourse of environmental education is analysed in light of these, the notion of ‘disciplines of identity’ emerges – discipline of body, gender, culture, and narrative. New understandings of ‘interdisciplinarity’ emerge – conceptual relationships between these disciplines, and the work towards reconciliation between them, towards unifying identity. New understandings of ‘transdisciplinarity’ emerge – in this reconciliation the identity transcends its disciplines of body, gender, culture, and narrative. This reconciliation leads to intelligibility and accountability in individual identity and life narrative, which is transcended by resulting enhancing relationships with self, others, and nature. Self-knowledge, or wisdom, is necessarily developed in this process. Based on the application of the ecotheological framework, VCE ‘Religion and Society’ is found to construct environmentally problematic assumptions through the following interrelated characteristics: direct linkage to the bureaucratic selection process into the Victorian tertiary education system; likely emphasis on the economic imperative of maximising entry opportunities into this system, rather than on exploration of the ‘great questions of life’ for the sake of self-knowledge or wisdom; competitiveness, and emphasis on rational analysis rather than synthesis and creativity, in the exploration of the non-rational ‘great questions of life’. This study found that VCE ‘Religion and Society’ could be critically revised to foster greater contestation of environmentally problematic assumptions by: overtly facilitating student exploration of the ‘great questions of life’ in relation to their own identities and life narratives; emphasising and assessing depth of engagement, rather than ‘performance’, in this exploration; emphasising creative expression in relation to this exploration, and; structuring the curriculum around the disciplines of body, gender, culture, and narrative. More generally, this study contributes broader understandings to the critical discourse of environmental education, and to future transdisciplinary research efforts.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Phillip Payne

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Sport and Outdoor Recreation


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Education