The relationship between "the religious" and "the secular": The case of Australian Catholics


Daw, Joan Margaret. (2008). The relationship between "the religious" and "the secular": The case of Australian Catholics [Thesis].
AuthorsDaw, Joan Margaret
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

This thesis seeks to examine the relationship between the religious and the secular as it pertains to Australian Catholics. The main line of enquiry takes the form of investigating the proposition that sociological approaches to religion that are based on the assumption of secular-religious dualism cannot adequately account for the way practising Australian Catholics live and hold their faith. The central theoretical concern of the thesis relates to the sociological construction of the religious and the secular as derived from a 'this world-other world' dichotomy. The classical sociological argument that rationalism underpins the binary distinction between 'this world' and the 'other world' is challenged in terms of its applicability to Catholicism. Any assumption that a religious sensibility precludes rationality is also challenged. The thesis adopts the perspective of symbolic rationality which is regarded as inclusive of instrumental rationality. From this perspective, there is exploration of the extent to which the Catholic incarnational symbol system can accommodate both this-worldly and other-worldly tendencies. More specifically, there is examination of the proposition that a sacramental sensibility can be associated with the co-existence of apparent opposites - faith / reason, grace / nature, transcendence / immanence. The thesis propositions are tested by analysis of data from the 1996 Catholic Church Life Survey and the 2001 National Church Life Survey. The findings indicate that, for Australian Catholics, orthodoxy of belief is compatible with a sense of paradox and contextuality. Australian Catholics are found to have a tendency to engage humanity in both its 'grace' and its 'sin'. There is no evidence to support any hypothesis of mutual exclusiveness between Catholic religious commitment and openness to the wider 'secular' society.;Indeed, it is found that Catholic openness to the 'secular' appears to be associated with openness to the 'Other' - a central element of the 'Catholic ethic'. Catholicism is presented as an organic religion that has the capacity to engage the multiplicities of the socio-cultural environment. Moreover, it is argued that the organic nature of Catholic engagement in secular society can be inclusive of engagement at the structural level of society. Overall, it is argued that many practising Australian Catholics have the ability to hold apparent opposites together and that the classical sociological construction of the religious and the secular in terms of dichotomy does not fit the reality of their lived faith. The thesis concludes that, in the case of Australian Catholics, there is an overarching organic relationship between the religious and the secular that can be inclusive of instrumental relationships on the institutional level.

PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Research GroupSchool of Arts
Final version
Publication dates01 Jan 2008
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