Marion Maddox is Professor and Australian Research Council Future Fellow in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Macquarie University, Sydney. She holds PhDs in Theology (Flinders, 1992) and Political Philosophy (UNSW, 2000) and has held several distinguished fellowships, including the Australian Parliamentary Fellowship (1999-2000), where she wrote her first book, For God and Country: Religious Dynamics in Australian Federal Politics. She writes widely on religion and politics, including God Under Howard: The Rise of the Religious Right in Australian Politics (Allen & Unwin 2005), which the Times Literary Supplement called ‘impressive’ and ‘an exemplary case study of the interaction between religion and politics in Australia today’, and Taking God to School: The End of Australia’s Egalitarian Education (Allen & Unwin, 2014), which former education minister Peter Garrett called ‘essential reading’. She is married to author Michael Symons.
Transforming Australian Christianity: From Private to Public
On the usual numbers, Christianity is getting less important in Australian culture. Fewer people identify as Christians than at any time since Federation; church attendance has plummeted from its mid-twentieth-century peaks. So far, pretty much what secularisation theories predicted.
But there are other numbers: while the population has been getting less Christian, its public services have been becoming more so. In 2016, more than half of social services are delivered by private organisations under contract, and most of these are church-related. And more than a third of students (and rising) attend private schools, nearly all of them Christian. Meanwhile, in public schools, welfare services are contracted out to chaplaincy organisations, also almost exclusively Christian.
Sociologists, philosophers and theologians have offered a range of categories to explain various manifestations of religion in societies that had seemed to have seen its departure: re-enchantment, post-secularism, the return of the sacred … such terms frequently imply a retreat from, or transcending of the secular.
I propose that the sacralisation of Australia’s public services reflect, instead, a new phase in the neoliberal state’s instrumentalisation of religion. Australian Christianity is indeed being transformed in the process.