The study of World Religions meanders throughout the curriculum and co-curricular programmes at MGS but its importance remains constant.
“We live in one of the most successful multicultural societies in the world,” says Rev’d Hans Christiansen, Senior Chaplain. “Religion is a key component of many cultures so, for us to better understand the people with whom we live, it is often helpful to understand their religious beliefs, structures and traditions. Sometimes you have to walk beside someone to appreciate who they are.”
Rev’d Christiansen also believes the intellectual experience of studying World Religions can be powerful. “You don’t have to be religious to study religion,” he explains. “Many religions are wonderful to explore because of their richness and complexity.”
So how does the study of World Religion rest within an Anglican School? “Anglican schools are pluralistic in nature,” explains Rev’d Malcolm Woolrich, Wadhurst Chaplain. “At Melbourne Grammar, we are open to everyone, welcoming people of many faiths (or none). Anglican culture presumes that we respect each other’s beliefs and welcome constructive and considerate dialogue.”
However, Rev’d Woolrich believes that, while we are pluralistic, we are not relativistic. “We do not accept that all beliefs should be given equal weight or credence,” he says. “We don’t spend much time on the Jedi religion when compared to Judaism, for example.”
However, there is naturally an emphasis on Christianity and the Anglican religion at Melbourne Grammar. “Indeed, it can be argued that a student should be securely grounded in the teachings of one belief system so that comparisons with another belief system are more easily and productively drawn,” says Rev’d Woolrich.
Exposure to World Religions begins with our youngest students through consideration of beliefs, rituals, and sacred stories, across religions, in age appropriate ways. Differences between forms of prayer, holy books and celebrations are part of this programme.
As they move into Upper Primary, there is a deeper dive into particular religions including Hinduism, Indigenous spirituality, Judaism, Buddhism and Islam, including links between these religions and Christianity. These studies provide a context for discussions about values, respect and tolerance.
“We have students from many different faiths attending the School,” explains Mr John Donaldson, Year 5 teacher. “Students are often quite proud of their heritage and can talk about aspects of their religion in a way that brings it to life for the class. This adds to the depth of discussion and also adds to their appreciation of diversity.”
As students move into Wadhurst, a more thematic approach occurs. For instance, when considering a topic such as ‘suffering’ in Philosophy and Religious Studies, students explore how various religions address this issue, enabling rich comparisons and, ultimately, helping them make greater sense of their own belief structure.
In Senior School, together with elements within the curriculum, there are two major programmes addressing our understanding of World Religions. In Year 10, students can choose to participate in a whole day multifaith excursion, where they visit different places of worship and interact with elders and other worshippers within that place. The Building Bridges programme (see opposite) is another core activity within the Senior School.
Year 5 student Hugh perhaps summed up the impact of these studies best when he says: “We are all different and believe different things but it’s amazing that we can all live together so well. I think it’s really good that we can do that.”