Source: The Australian, Wednesday, 17 April, 1996, p.4

Religion studies
fail to end bias

By education writer CAROLYN JONES 
   FORMAL religious courses 
failed to improve secondary 
school students' tolerance of 
ethnic groups, landmark 
Australian research shows. 
   The Australian Catholic Uni- 
versity study of nearly 2000 
Year 11 and 12 students found 
that the more students learned 
about religions other than their 
own, the more they appeared 
likely to refer to those who 
practised such religions in 
negative terms. 
   The survey, which focused 
on students enrolled in the 
NSW Studies of Religion 
subject, examined the effects of 
the formal study of religion on 
student attitudes by comparing 
their views at the beginning 
and end of the course. 
   While the students admitted 
the formal study of religion 
gave them a greater 
understanding of different 
religions they became more 
prejudiced against Muslims, 
Asians, Aborigines and 
   The academic who compiled 
the study, Associate Professor 
Pat Malone, head of the 
Australian Catholic 
University's religious 
education department, will 
present the findings at the 
National Catholic Education 
Commission's conference in 
Canberra this month. 
   Professor Malone said the 
research posed a challenge to 
religious educators because it 
showed there was more to 
religious education than just 
reading facts out of a textbook. 
   "Students who had done less 
formal study of the major 
religious traditions other than 
Christianity did not show as 
great an increase in prejudice 
against these traditions," she 
said yesterday. 
   Professor Malone said while 
it was not possible to isolate 
other influences such as 
normal adolescent development 
attitudes from parents and 
friends, and personal 
experience, the formal study of 
religion seemed to increase the 
level of prejudice. 
   "There are many factors 
involved in the process of 
developing prejudice and 
although ignorance is a 
contributing factor, simply 
learning about a religion is not 
sufficient to change attitudes." 
Professor Malone said 
religious educators had to 
offer different learning 
experiences that would help 
students to appreciate other 
religious perspectives. 
   The study involved students 
from 22 religious affiliated 
secondary schools throughout 
NSW. They included Catholic, 
Anglican, Christian 
community and Jewish 
   Students were asked to 
respond to a range of questions 
and tasks that included ticking 
the people they would not like 
to have as a neighbour from a 
list of 19 categories that 
included Aborigines, Muslims, 
homosexuals, the elderly, 
criminals and Buddhists. 
   Students displayed a higher 
level of prejudice against 
Aborigines even though 
Aboriginal spirituality formed 
a core part of the course.

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