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Australia is inherently a multicultural nation with a strong multi-faith community. Recent census indicates the rapid diversification of Australia’s population.

Australians are becoming less religious and more religiously diverse (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS], 2017; 2022). The proportion of population with a Christian affiliation decreased from 61.1% (2011) to 52.1% (2016) to 43.9% (2021), while the proportion of Australians affiliated with non-Christian religions increased from 7.2% (2011) to 8.2% (2016) to 10% (2021). Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism were the main contributors to this increase. These trends reflect changes in the countries of origin of recent migrants, where these religions are more predominant. The proportion reporting to have no religion also increased from 23.1% (2011) to 30.1% (2016) to 38.9% in 2021 (ABS, 2022). Hence, Australia can be described as a country with a blend of Christianity, other faiths, and secularism.

An Australian Values Survey found that more than half (57%) of the Australians surveyed report that they believe in God (Social Research Centre, 2018). The percentage of Australians who consider God ‘not at all important’ in their life is increasing from 14% in 1981 to 35% in 2018. Attendance at weekly religious activities correlated strongly with participants’ agreement in the belief that ‘something beyond us’ exists (National Church Life Survey Research Partnership, 2010). Hence, public discourse on religion in Australia can be particularly sensitive due to the mix of spiritualist voices finding little unanimity with secularist and humanist voices. Respect is a crucial element for appreciating the strength of diversity present in a multicultural country like Australia (Australian Multicultural Foundation, 2004).

Preparing pre-service teachers to teach and enact tolerance is the key. Teachers undoubtedly play a vital role in educating students to be open minded, tolerant, and responsible future citizens. There is a need to emphasise topics of religious diversity in teacher education programs since teachers will certainly teach students who come from diverse religious backgrounds (Subedi, 2006).

This LIFT study focuses on tolerance as a key aspect of democratic citizenship. Tolerance, broadly defined, exists when people understand their differences with others and they do not use power to coercively intervene when they disapprove with others (Bretherton, 2004). It has been broadly expanded to include attitudes, stereotypes, and prejudices towards various minority groups that are often marginalised and/or discriminated against by the majority (Janmaat & Keating, 2019). The coexistence of tolerance, respect, and recognition allows for harmonious relationships to flourish in society, which can be indicated by active engagement and contributions from individuals.

The study aims to investigate pre-service teachers’ experiences and perceptions regarding religious tolerance and intolerance, as well as their initial motivations to teach religious tolerance in schools.