A World of Diversity: The role of religion in society
A Student Textbook for Religion and Society Unit 1
Second Edition

Marie Bagh, Joe Capuana and Kath Engebretson

$55 inc. GST
308 pages, 240x174mm, softcover

ISBN 9781921333-767

Available September 2016.

Written to meet the specific needs of the revised Study Design to be implemented in schools in 2017


Marie Bagh is available for consultation and professional development. Contact Marie on 0422 625 752 or email marie.bagh@yahoo.com.

The Book
A World of Diversity: The role of religion in society guides students to complete the revised (2017–2021) Victorian Certificate of Education study of Religion and Society Unit 1. Its teaching and learning sequence is developed around the areas of study and outcomes of the unit, with a focus on three key knowledge areas: common aspects that give expression to religious and spiritual experiences; ideas and philosophies of prehistoric and ancient religious traditions; and Australia as a multi-religious nation.

Students are introduced to the content proposed in the study design. They are provided with a wide range of learning activities and assessment tasks through which they may engage critically with this content, and demonstrate key knowledge and skills in the outcomes. As the title suggests, it is intended to introduce students to the diverse world of religions, past and present, and the role religions have played in the development of society. Students will encounter evidence of religions found in archeological remains, and study religions of prehistory revealing the earliest forms of human spirituality. There is an extensive study of religions of the ancient world, including Greece and Rome, and a thorough examination of the religious expression of the Asian religions (Hinduism and Buddhism) and the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). In addition, the religions that have made Australia a multi-religious nation since the middle of the twentieth century have also been given in-depth attention.

A World of Diversity: The role of religion in society will enable students to successfully complete Religion and Society Unit 1. Students will grow in their understanding of the nature and purpose of religions and develop an appreciation and knowledge of the diversity of religions in their schools, neighbourhoods and our diverse world. The assessment tasks in the book are linked explicitly to each of the three areas of study and outcomes so that students may demonstrate their mastery of the unit outcomes.

Overview of Chapters
Area of Study 1: The nature and purpose of religion
Chapter 1: Spirituality and Religion
The chapter introduces students to some definitions, experiences and expressions of spirituality. It explores spiritual and religious poetry and song, including the works of William Blake and Jalal al-Din Rumi. The chapter also presents theories explaining how and why religions arose. It briefly introduces the five main world religions and outlines the importance of studying religions.

This chapter's contents:

  • What is spirituality?
  • Experiences of spirituality
  • Expressing spirituality through religions
  • How can we explain religions?
  • The five major world religions
  • Why study religions?
  • References

Chapter 2: Are religions good or bad for the world?
The chapter challenges the popular slogan that “Religion leads to violence”. It reviews the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and the Islamic term ‘jihad’ to examine this claim. The problem of religious fanaticism is also discussed. There are presentations of a variety of religious groups caring for the vulnerable and marginalized. There is a profile of a religious group that works to combat racism, and to assist government agencies to deal with problems associated with youth drug and alcohol abuse.

This chapter's contents:

  • Does religion lead to violence?
  • What were the Crusades?
  • What was the Spanish Inquisition?
  • Jihad
  • The problem of religious fanaticism
  • The golden rule: the command to care for others
  • Religious groups and care for the vulnerable and marginalised
  • Dr Sakena Yacoobi
  • Teaching the poor: Presentation Sisters in Pakistan
  • The St Vincent de Paul Society
  • Contributing to the life of the community in Victoria:The Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV)
  • References

Chapter 3: Overview of the world religions
The chapter is an overview of some of the “classical” world religions, including minor and major religions that originated in the Middle East, East Asia and India. There is an outline of the distribution of religions in the world, primary source analysis opportunities, research and art tasks, and a comprehensive time-line of religions. The purpose of this chapter is to introduce students to at least eight world religions, and to prepare them to apply the aspects of religions in activities in subsequent chapters.

This chapter's contents:

  • Time-line of religions
  • Distribution of religions in the world
  • The Abrahamic religions
  • East Asian religions
  • Indian religions
  • References

Chapter 4: Being connected to a group: introducing the aspects of religions
Connecting to a group is one of the most important of human needs. The chapter provides opportunities for students to reflect on the influence of their primary and secondary groups. They are introduced to the aspects of group formation and maintenance that resemble the aspects of religions that sociologists claim are common to most religions. The chapter presents a definition of each of these aspects, and suggests learning activities for students to apply these aspects.

This chapter's contents:

  • Being connected to a group
  • Australian Football League as a culture and a secondary group
  • Being connected to a religious group
  • The aspects of religions
  • References

Chapter 5: Spiritual experience in the Asian Religions of Hinduism and Buddhism
The chapter uses the aspects of religion as a framework to outline examples of how the religions of Buddhism and Hinduism give expression to spiritual and religious experiences, and highlights the importance of the aspects for each tradition. Through a variety of learning activities students have an opportunity to consider how these experiences shape the religion and its identity.

This chapter's contents:

  • Hinduism
  • Buddhism
  • References

Chapter 6: Spiritual experience in Abrahamic Religions of Judaism
In a similar vein to the previous chapter, this chapter uses the aspects of religion as a framework to outline examples of how the Abrahamic religions give expression to spiritual and religious experiences.

This chapter's contents:

  • Judaism
  • Christianity
  • Islam
  • References

Chapter 7: Assessment Tasks for Outcome One
There are several optional assessment tasks to assist teachers to assess students’ application and analysis of key knowledge and skills in the outcome for Area of Study 1.

Area of Study 2: Religion through the ages
Chapter 8: Spiritual and Religious ideas in Prehistory
There are three early forms of religion from the pre-historic period, and each of these is linked with a particular ancient location - Göbekli Tepe, Stonehenge and Jericho. The chapter presents information about these locations, revealing early forms of ritual activity. The chapter also offers material about people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent whose origins can be traced back to prehistory.

This chapter's contents:

  • Interesting facts about the existence of religion and spirituality in prehistory
  • Australian Aboriginal people in prehistory
  • The spirituality and religion of Aboriginal people in prehistory
  • Religion from three prehistoric locations
  • References

Chapter 9: Religion in Ancient Egypt, Sumer, and Canaan
The key learnings from this chapter are drawn from the early civilizations of the ancient near east, the areas where the Semitic religions originated. The chapter explores the religions in ancient Egypt, Sumer and Canaan and their influence on the Abrahamic religions. As well as highlighting some aspects of the ancient peoples’ experience and expressions of spirituality, the chapter also includes biblical connections. In addition, it provides primary source material for students to interpret.

This chapter's contents:

  • Aspects of Egyptian religions
  • The religions of ancient Sumer
  • Canaanite religions
  • References

Chapter 10: Religion in ancient Greece and Rome
The chapter examines the religions of ancient Greece and Rome. It surveys the importance of religion in those societies through concepts such as polytheism, myths, places of worship, sacrifice, priesthood and festivals. The chapter further analyses how and why some of their key religious ideas became part of later religious traditions.

This chapter's contents:

  • The Ancient Era
  • Ancient Greece
  • Ancient Rome
  • Reflection
  • References

Chapter 11: Assessment Tasks for Outcome Two
There are several optional assessment tasks to assist teachers to assess students’ application and analysis of key knowledge and skills in the outcome for Area of Study 2.

Area of Study 3: Religion in Australia
Chapter 12: A multi-religious nation: major religious traditions in Australia, past and present
Australia is now one of the most multi-cultural and multi-religious nations in the world. The chapter begins with a summary of the Christianization of Indigenous Australians. This is followed by a study of Christianity in the first two centuries of European settlement, early Jewish migration, and religions other than Christianity in Australia. Data on the distribution of and adherence to major religious traditions in Australia and the influence on religious and non-religious trends on the Australian religious composition is also presented and discussed.

This chapter's contents:

  • A multi-religious nation
  • Two groups of indigenous Australians
  • Aspects of Australian Indigenous religions
  • Indigenous people, the land and social organisation
  • The Christianisation of indigenous Australians
  • Christianity in the first two centuries of European settlement
  • The first Catholics in Australia
  • Early Jewish migration to Australia
  • Post war immigration
  • Religions other than Christianity in Australia
  • Small portraits of some interesting religious groups in Australia
  • References

Chapter 13: Life experience and religious identity of Australians
The chapter presents a number of case studies of people from a variety of religious traditions living in Australia. It shows how at various times in their lives they have been profoundly attached to their religion, frustrated and angered by their religion, or have even experienced discrimination because of their religious beliefs and practices. Some stories also discuss peoples’ engagement with and experience of the aspects of their religion. Through a variety of activities, the chapter provides many opportunities for students to interpret and develop sensitivity to the spiritual experiences of Australian people.

This chapter's contents:

  • Introduction
  • Case Study 1: “I tried to criticise Islam, but Islam is my identity”
  • Case Study 2: A spiritual realisation that changed the course of a faith journey
  • Case Study 3: A Hindu in Australia
  • Case Study 4: An Australian woman converts to Islam: Rachel Woodlock tells her story
  • Case Study 5: The first Australian woman to become a Rabbi – Rabbi Aviva Kipen tells her story
  • Case Study 6: Finding my true self through Hinduism: An Australian woman tells her story

Chapter 14: Conflict and tensions between religious traditions
The chapter deals with some tensions that can occur between members of a religious tradition over issues of authority, interpretation of beliefs and teachings, and the role of interfaith and ecumenical interaction in Australia.

This chapter's contents:

  • Conflict and tension in the early years of colonisation
  • Challenge to Anglican dominance
  • High Church revival in the Anglican Church
  • Religion and science
  • The Basis of Union – The Uniting Church of Australia
  • Inter-religious conflict and tension
  • References

Chapter 15: Assessment Tasks for Outcome Three
There are several optional assessment tasks to assist teachers to assess students’ application and analysis of key knowledge and skills in the outcome for Area of Study 3.

Appendix 1: Humanist name days: religious tradition still has a hold on many

Appendix 2: Facts about Ramadan and Lent

Appendix 3: Who is ‘us’ and ‘them’ in the war against radical Islam?

Appendix 4: May the Festival of Lights banish the Darkness of Racism

Appendix 5: Houses of the Holy

Appendix 6: Untouchable prejudice

Appendix 7: God does not make rubbish


The Authors
Marie Bagh (BA., GradDipEd., MPhil.) is an experienced teacher of Religious Education and has worked extensively on curriculum for the Religious Education programs in a Melbourne Catholic Secondary School. She has a keen interest in religious issues, interfaith dialogue, cultural diversity and social justice education. Much of Marie’s personal and professional writing explores the interactions between religion and cultures, and comparative religions. Her objective as a Religious Education teacher is to help young people enhance their personal, community and global relationships with the world. Marie teaches Religious Education, English, and Humanities at Marymede Catholic College, South Morang, Victoria.

Joe Capuana (BA. [Mus.], GradDipEd., BTheol. [Hons.]) is an experienced senior teacher of Religious Education at St Monica’s College, Epping, and has just completed his Doctoral thesis in Biblical Studies at the University of Divinity. He has a keen interest in biblical studies, religious issues and interfaith dialogue. His priority as a Religious Education teacher is to inspire students to be involved in religious discourse.

Kath Engebretson is an adjunct Associate Professor with Australian Catholic University. Her writings in Religious Education and Religious Studies are numerous. She has authored and co-authored textbooks to accompany Religion and Society and is also the author of textbooks within the Catholic To Know Worship and Love series. She continues to consult on religious education and religious studies issues.

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