Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (College of Education)

Schools and Centres


First Supervisor

Gerard O'Shea

Second Supervisor

Daniel Madigan

Third Supervisor

Boris Handal


How should Catholic Religious Education look in the twenty-first century? Today’s challenges are many, including diverse student faith backgrounds and levels of teachers’ religious knowledge, understanding and commitment. There are differing curriculum structures, time and space constraints, challenges in accessing suitable resources, and the authentic use of proven pedagogical practice.

This study was a journey that explored these challenges. It followed a path opened by Maria Montessori, trodden in turn by Sofia Cavalletti and, more recently, developed by Gerard O’Shea into a way for teaching religious education in Catholic schools. This was a design-based research study that adapted, trialled and refined O’Shea’s work, under the name of the Scripture and Liturgy Teaching Approach (the SALT Approach). The journey, following a design-based research structure, was completed in stages. The landscape was first scanned through the review of literature and then preparations were made, with the building of the first prototype. Then the road was trodden for one year, accompanied by teachers and twenty-six Year Two students. During that time, the road was refined and restructured. Following the journey, there was a time of reflection, when conclusions were drawn in preparation for the next stage.

The lenses used on the journey brought valuable confirmations and discoveries: that children, given the opportunity, are drawn to the spiritual and can respond with sensitivity; that teachers can become co-learners alongside the child, as they, themselves, are drawn towards a more personal relationship with God, as well as becoming aware of key pedagogical strategies that will draw out children’s contributions, reflect respect for the child, and develop trust in the child’s ability to learn through making choices; that accountability demands can be met, even if they run contrary to the holistic approach at the core of the SALT Approach; and that the approach can be successful within a diversely populated school, bringing a fresh response to the call for a new evangelisation.

The results confirmed that the SALT Approach that can offer a paradigm for religious education, involving a move away from the restrictive demands on school and teacher accountability and towards the recognition of religious education’s own iv valid academic approach, fostering the spirituality, faith and response of both students and teachers. The study points towards further research and the possibility of building a network of academics and educators, working closely together to develop the SALT Approach within a variety of educational climates both within Australia and beyond.

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