How Does the State Structure Secularization? Administrative Centralization and Religious Instruction in Australian and American Public Schools, ca. 1850-1950
ABSTRACT: Why does secularization proceed more rapidly in some otherwise similar modern countries
than in others? In this paper, I use a comparison of religious education in Australian and American public
schools from 1850 to 1950 to argue that the structure of the state plays a crucial role in determining
how far and how quickly secularization proceeds. State structure affects secularization by constraining
or facilitating two crucial secularizing processes: religious conflict and professionalization. In the United
States, a decentralized system of local school boards encouraged the growth of a vibrant professional
infrastructure and provided multiple access points for religious minorities to challenge pan-Protestant
religious exercises. By contrast, Australia’s highly centralized educational bureaucracies inhibited
educators’ attempts to professionalize, and reduced minorities’ ability to influence curricular decisions.
These administrative differences contributed to the persistence of religious instruction in Australian
public schools, and its slow decline in American schools, between 1850 and 1950.
Damon Mayrl (UC Berkeley)
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