21 March 2007

CFP: Conference - Negotiating the Sacred IV: Tolerance, Education and the Curriculum to be held 1-2 Sept 2007 (Deadline for abstracts: 1 June 2007)


Negotiating the Sacred IV: Tolerance, Education and the Curriculum. A two-day conference and edited collection

Education may be considered central to the development of a tolerant society.

A cross-disciplinary conference on the theme of Tolerance, Education and the Curriculum will be held on September 1-2, 2007, at the Research School of the Humanities, Australian National University. A publication associated with the conference, but not limited to papers presented at it, is also planned. Papers addressing the conference themes where the author cannot present are welcomed.

Submission dates:

Deadline for abstracts: 1 June 2007
Deadline for papers: 28 September 2007

Key note speakers:

Professor Susan Mendus, Political Philosophy, University of York, UK Associate Professor Philip Cam, Philosophy, University of New South Wales, President, Asia-Pacific Philosophy Education Network for Democracy.

Conference themes:

In Intolerance, the Ecoli of the Mind, Donald Akenson argues that the education system was one of the main institutional structures that maintained sectarian intolerance within Ireland. According to Akenson, the creation of a secular education system was one of the great social experiments designed to break down these social divisions. One of the elements was administrative, involving non-denominational, or mixed, schools, and the other involved a centralised curriculum that had been approved by major religious groups and promoted civic virtue. Is a secular, non-denominational education system the best means of breaking down intolerance? Does this involve the provision of an environment that is free from all religious symbolism and doctrine? Should state education systems centralise the curriculum? This may be considered a form of justified paternalism in relation to education, but may it be equally considered an imposition of a specific form of materialism?

What is the role of teaching history and comparative religions in promoting tolerance and liberal freedoms? Does the teaching of comparative religion lead to the idea that moral values are relative to culture and religion, and does relativism promote tolerance or undermine it? Is the point of comparative religion an exercise in providing students with a means of comparing and evaluating different value systems, and hence promoting individual choice and autonomy? Alternatively, is the point of teaching comparative religion to dispel prejudices that are the basis of intolerance?

Liberal toleration is not a form of relativism because it requires 'a ranking of ultimate values that supports the authority of peace, freedom, and public reasonableness' (Macedo, 1993: 625). According to Stephen Macedo, 'for a religious toleration and political co-operation to be stable, our shared values and aims must be more important than our disagreements' (626). Similarly, John Dewey considers the expression of common interests as a criterion for evaluating social life, and reliance upon recognition of mutual interests as a factor in social control (Cam,In-Suk Cha ed., 2000). Should the promotion of tolerance as a 'civic virtue' be a minimum requirement for public funding of religious schools? If tolerance is a virtue, can it be taught as a topic within the curriculum or does teaching it involve a kind of modelling or some other educational method for behaviour?

In 2004, France banned students from wearing headscarves and other markers of religious identity in public schools. According to the French authorities, this was justified on the grounds that state institutions should be secular. On one interpretation, freedom of religion and state tolerance merely requires that religious groups are not persecuted. On another interpretation, however, freedom of religion requires that the state provide exemptions for religious groups that enable religious observance (Bou-Habib, 2006). What is the difference between the state using religious symbols, and its citizens using them? Should state schools be rigorously secular? If so, should they provide opportunities for religious education and worship, or is this a private, parental responsibility? Does the failure to provide facilities for religious worship within public schools and universities create unreasonable barriers to equal access to education?

How responsive should schools be to pressure about the curriculum from religious and community groups? The issues that this question raises are highlighted by the debates over creationism within the school curriculum. In 1919, the World Christian Fundamentals Association was founded in the U.S.A. to oppose the teaching of evolution in public schools, and local schools and state boards of education were pressured to reject text books which included the theory. A ban on the teaching of evolutionism was considered in more than 20 state legislatures. It was not until 1968 when the U.S. Supreme Court found that state laws against evolutionism being taught were unconstitutional and that government powers could not be used to advance religious beliefs, that such bans were overturned. Since then, anti-evolutionists have sought for creationism to be taught along side evolutionary theory as an alternative scientific theory. There have also been calls for creationism to be taught in Australian schools. Should local schools be responsive to local pressure groups about what is included in the curriculum, and if so, should local groups be able to ban certain subjects from being taught?

Proposals for conference papers, including an abstract, and a short biographical description of the author should be submitted by 1 June 2007.

Papers of 5-6000 words should be submitted for the edited collection by 28 September. These should include an abstract, the paper, and a short biographical note.

All proposals and papers should be sent to Dr Elizabeth Burns Coleman. email: Elizabeth.Coleman@arts.monash.edu.au.

Conveners: Dr Elizabeth Burns Coleman, Faculty of Arts Postdoctoral Fellow, Monash University Dr Kevin White, Reader in Sociology, The Australian National University

This is the fourth conference in series on the theme 'Negotiating the Sacred'. Previous conferences have included: Blasphemy and Sacrilege in a Multicultural Society (2004); Blasphemy and Sacrilege in the Arts (2005); and Religion, Medicine and the Body (2006). An edited collection based on the first conference can be viewed at: