The emergence of the PATHWAYS Coalition corresponds to a watershed in the realm of dialogue between different worldviews. Such dialogue has emerged through the ecumenical movement of the early twentieth century, through cooperation between Jews and Christians after World War II, and through conversations with Islam after the disaster of ‘Nine Eleven’. The PATHWAYS Coalition represents a common concern in the realm of public education. On the one hand, we seek an alternative to a system that tends to privilege one faith, Christianity. On the other, we consider that all students should have education about Beliefs, Religions and Ethics (BREE) that covers major religions and enlightenment worldviews.
The PATHWAYS Coalition offers the voices of Abrahamic and Asian faiths alongside Humanist, Rationalist and Atheist voices. It deliberately includes the voices of Indigenous spirituality and of sustainability activism, both of which are significant for young people in contemporary Australia. Schools may nominate their preferred combination of three voices. The PATHWAYS program is one way schools can demonstrate and encourage the general capabilities identified in the new Australian curriculum: Intercultural Understanding, Ethical Understanding, Critical and Creative Thinking, and Personal and Social Capabilities.
Key leaders in interfaith co-operation in Australia advocated the inclusion of Humanist and Rationalist voices alongside Faith in contributing to public policy. Cooperation between Faith and Freethought groups emerged in October 2010 with a submission to the Victorian Multicultural Commission regarding Citizenship in a Multicultural Victoria. The submission was signed by adherents of both faith and freethought worldviews and by several leading academics.
In 2014, the Humanist Society of Victoria and kindred freethought societies joined in a new educational venture with faith groups in Melbourne, under the name PATHWAYS Coalition for Diversity Education. There are now 11 faith and freethought groups that have given formal support to PATHWAYS:
- Humanist Society of Victoria
- Rationalist Society of Australia
- Victorian Skeptics
- Progressive Atheists
- Council for Christians and Jews
- Freethought Student Alliance
- Living Faiths Commission
- Religions for Peace
- Second Strike
- Commission for Mission
- United Religions Initiative
The Rationalist Society of Australia has shown a key commitment to the PATHWAYS program. Stephen Stuart, representing the Humanist Society of Victoria, is a key member of the PATHWAYS management team.
The PATHWAYS Coalition formally established as a charity under the name of Pathways for Diversity Education Inc. The purpose of this charity is to advance education and promote mutual respect in Australia by:
- conducting educational presentations about religions, ethics and non-religious worldviews in secondary schools and other settings that exemplify and stimulate the exploration of personal values, worldviews and life commitments
- nourishing through these presentations the general capabilities set out in the national curriculum, including intercultural understanding, ethical understanding and personal and social competence
- recruiting and training as presenters lively and articulate young adults from diverse faith and freethought traditions, who can demonstrate mutual respect in dialogue across differences of ethnicity, culture and worldview
- engaging in dialogue and cooperation with representatives of faith and freethought associations to promote inter-belief understanding and social cohesion
- demonstrating to governments the value of engaging and supporting the young adult volunteers making these educational presentations in advancing mutual respect, tolerance and social cohesion in Australia.
The 11 supporting groups in the PATHWAYS Coalition share a mutual commitment to provide speakers for presentations to year-ten students, each of whom will represent their individual worldview and tell the story of their journey and engagement. Each supporting group is committed to a protocol whereby presenters show mutual respect and present information about their own worldview without argumentation. Presenters then answer any questions about beliefs, philosophies and ethics, with a respectful attitude towards different beliefs. The program was incorporated in the State of Victoria in July 2015.
The PATHWAYS program launch was especially aimed at government schools. Arrangements for presentations are made by personal approaches to school principals and senior teachers, in order to ensure understanding of the program and to adapt it to each local school. Now, throughout Greater Melbourne, there are 24 municipalities with Interfaith groups covering all faiths, and there are 7 in regional Victoria.
At the Humanist Society of Victoria’s Sunday meeting in Hawthorn on May 11, 2014, two members of the PATHWAYS Coalition for Diversity Education demonstrated the PATHWAYS presentation designed for Year 10 students. The presentation opened with personal stories from a Christian viewpoint by Paul Tonson, coordinator of the PATHWAYS Coalition, and from a Humanist perspective by Sam Mason-Smith, a member of the Humanist Society of Victoria committee. In response, the Humanist Society of Victoria audience was invited to simulate a Year 10 class by asking questions to the presenters.
The inaugural Annual General Meeting, held on 18 October at the Uniting Church Synod, Melbourne, reviewed the eight presentations made before incorporation and the ten during the year to 30 June 2016. A welcome feature of the meeting, chaired by the President, Dr Meredith Doig, was the address by the Victorian Multicultural Commissioner, Helen Kapalos. Ms Kapalos noted the emerging dynamic of interbelief and expressed strong support for the PathWays project in the interest of social cohesion. She observed that freethought world-views were now included alongside religious education in England and Canada. PathWays anticipated to some extent the movement’s ambition now realized in the ‘worldviews’ component of the official 2017 Victorian education curriculum.
For further information, visit the PathWays for Diversity Education web site or contact the PathWays administrator, Dr Paul Tonson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Expressions of interest are welcome from potential presenters with any worldview and from teachers who wish to draw students into respectful dialogue across differences of belief.