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«RELIGION, SPIRITUALITY AND THE REFUGEE EXPERIENCE A thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for a Doctor of Philosophy Susan Ennis Master ...»

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A thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for a Doctor of


Susan Ennis

Master of Education

School of Global Studies, Social Science and Planning

RMIT University Melbourne, Australia

May 2011


I certify that except where due acknowledgement has been made, the work is that of the

author alone; the work has not been submitted previously, in whole or in part, to qualify for any other academic award; the content of the thesis is the result of work which has been carried out since the official commencement data of the approved research program;

and, any editorial work, paid or unpaid, carried out by a third party is acknowledged.

Susan P. Ennis Date


Many people have influenced and supported the researcher on the journey that culminated in this PhD. The first influence was my father who believed in education for women and had compassion for the Jewish refugees he met while working in his textile company in Melbourne. Second, Alan Matheson and Phil and Barbara Andrews challenged a church youth group in 1973 to go and live with the ‘poor’ and not just help from a distance. Without this challenge I would have never begun this journey. It was in the early 1970s in Richmond (where I still live) that I first met refugees in my voluntary community work, and later taught their children. The third influence includes the many people of different faiths I met or worked with overseas. The fourth influence was meeting the many refugees and, in particular, ethnic support workers while teaching in the immigration department’s program in various parts of Melbourne. Of particular influence was my professional involvement with the immigration department’s transit accommodation for refugees in the west of Melbourne. The fifth influence was the Religious Society of Friends, its Meeting for Learning committee and its supporters; in particular, Frances Thorsen. Without her assistance this thesis would not have commenced.

The actual thesis would not have been written without the support of various good friends and others; in particular, Nikki Marshall, Barbara Rautman, Youle Bottomely, Catherine Heywood, Tony McDonald, Janet Penny, Yusuf Omar, Donna and Bill Jaggs, Jenny and David Green, Ismail and Sonia Gulec, Barbara and Phillip Andrews, Mohammed Kemal, Rowe Morrow, Joan Forman, Judy Abbott, Barbara Rogalla, James Hurley, Janet Duke, Dale Hess, Angie Were and the Nheu Family and many others, including my family. In addition, I would like to thank my Northern Suburbs Quaker Meeting who gave support and the Australian Quaker’s Thanksgiving Fundwhich gave a donation for translations and interpreters.

For his academic support I would like to thank my supervisor Professor Des Cahill, who so patiently assisted in draft after draft and the added difficulties in each. I had not done research before and I am not a natural writer. I would also like to thank the library staff at RMIT, Judith Maxwell at the RMIT Learning Skills Unit, and Barbara Andrews for typing the transcripts – a difficult task. With regard to editing I acknowledge the kind assistance of Rodney Curnow, Helen Kilpatrick, Barbara Andrews, Madeleine Byrne, Todd Bennett, Judy Abbott, Lindus Masterman and Eddie Caruso for their comments regarding for example, logic, proof-reading and formatting at various stages. As well, I would like to thank Keith Simkin at La Trobe University who supported me throughout my masters.

Most importantly, I would like to sincerely thank all the refugees, interpreters, cultural consultants, refugee support professionals, religious leaders and academics who because of confidentiality cannot be named, but who so generously gave their time and sometimes told painful stories with honesty from the pilot phase onwards. In addition, although not purposefully intended, the researcher wishes to acknowledge that for some interviewees the research analysis may be painful.

In conclusion, the guiding principle in this research has been:

–  –  –




List of tables

List of figures





1.1 Religion, Spirituality and Refugees: A Teacher’s Observations

1.2.1 The Overlooked Dimension of Religion

1.3 Research Question and Study Objectives

1.4 Background Context

1.4.1 United Nations High Commission, its Refugee Regime and Religion............... 26 1.4.2 Current World Refugee Situation

1.4.3 The Host County Australia: Refugee Categories

1.4.4 Refugees in Australia

1.4.5 Australia’s Religious Context

1.5 Key Definitions

1.5.1 Operational Definition of a Refugee and the Refugee Experience

1.5.2 Operational Definition of Settlement

1.5.3 Various Approaches towards Religion and Spirituality

1.6 Overview of the Structure of the Thesis




2.1 Religion, Its Dimensions and Frameworks

2.2 Suffering in Religious Perspective

2.2.1 Suffering in Islam

2.2.2 Suffering and the Christian

2.3 Religion, Religious Rituals, Religious Experience and Coping

2.3.1 Religious Rituals and Coping

2.3.2 Religious Experiences and Mysticism

2.4. Conversion, Shifting Religiosity and Attitudes to ‘Others’

2.4.1 Religious Conversion

2.4.2 Non-Christian Conversion, Deconversion and Apostasy

2.4.3 Fundamentalism and Shifts to Fundamentalism

2.4.4 Fundamentalism and Prejudice

2.4.5 Patterns in Religious Attitudes to the ‘Other’

2.5 Refugee Flight and Acculturation Theories

2.5.1 Acculturation Theories

2.5.2 Patterns in Asylum Situations and Acculturation Theory

2.6 Refugees and their Religiosity in Transit Countries

2.6.1 Religious Activities in Transit

2.6.2 Conversion and Denominational Switching

2.6.3 Religious Interaction and Welfare in Asylum

2.7 Refugee Religiosity in the Host Country

2.7.1 Welfare, Religious Leaders and Settlement

2.7.2 Refugees’ Religiosity in Host Countries

2.8 Popular Religiosity, Trauma and Religion in Host Countries

2.8.1 Trauma and Religion

2.9. Intra/Interfaith Relations in Host Countries

2.9.1 Typologies of Australian Buddhists, Muslims and Christians

2.10 Conclusion



3.1 Theoretical Perspectives and Paradigms of the Research Study

3.1.1 The Researcher as a Tool

3.2 Selection of Participant Groups and their Community Backgrounds

3.2.1 Method of Participant Selection and their Backgrounds

3.2.2 Participants: Refugee Support Personnel

3.2.3 Participants: Religious Leader

3.3 Ethical Considerations Prior to Interviewing

3.3.1 The Use of Interpreters

3.3.2 Informed Consent

3.3.3 Plain Language Statement

3.4 Methods

3.4.1 Interviews and Interview Schedule

3.4.2 Data Collection

3.5 Interview Procedures for Participant Groups

3.6 Grounded Theory Coding and Analysis

3.7 Trustworthiness and Verification in Cross-Cultural Contexts

3.8 Ethical and Methodological Issues Arising from the Research

3.8.1 Refugees

3.8.2 Managing the Intensity of the Research

3.8.3 Religious Leaders, Refugee Support Personnel and Cultural Consultants....... 137 3.8.4 Issues Arising from the Use of Interpreters or other Interpretation Aides....... 138 CHAPTER FOUR


4.1 Somalia

4.1.1 Religious and Cultural Background

4.1.2 Colonial Influence on Somali Refugees

4.1.3 Socialism in Somalia and the Counter-reaction

4.1.4 Somali Refugees and Their Flight

4.2 Ethiopia

4.2.1 Ethiopia: Religious and Cultural Background

4.2.2 Islam and Animism in Ethiopia

4.2.3 Missionaries in Ethiopia

4.2.4 Socialist Rule and Refugee Religiosity

4.2.5 Christian Inter-Denomination Hostility and Cordial Interfaith Relations........ 161 4.2.6 Culture and Religion

4.2.7 Rise in Religiosity in Ethiopia

4.2.8 Religion and the Refugee Flight

4.3 Sudan

4.3.1 Multi-religious Context of the Sudan

4.3.2 Muslim Religiosity Shifts

4.3.3 Education, Colonial Rule and Conversion

4.3.4 Inter-religious Relationships in Sudan

4.3.5 Interaction between Culture and Religion

4.3.6 The Resurgence of Religion and Intra-faith Shifts

4.3.7 Religion and the Refugees’ Flight

4.4 Iraq

4.4.1 The Historical and Religious Contexts of Iraq

4.4.2 Shi’ite Interview Subjects

4.4.3 Iraqi Christians

4.4.4 Kurds and Turkomans and their Religious Traditions

4.4.5 Minorities’ Histories and Ba’athist History

4.4.6 Shifts, Differences and Tension between Sunni and Shi’ite Views.................. 191 4.4.7 Culture and Religion in Iraq

4.4.8 The Iraqi Constitution and Religious Education

4.4.9 Causes of Refugee Flight

4.4.10 Religion and the Refugee Flight

4.6 Conclusion



5.1 Patterns in Refugee Religious Experience

5.2 Flight: Their Religious Experience and Coping

5.3 Asylum: Refugees and Their Various Situations

5.3.1 Religious Communities and their Support in Places of Asylum

5.3.2 Asylum: Religious Experiences and Coping

5.4 The Refugee Religious Communities in Melbourne

5.4.1 Religion and Coping in Australia

5.5 Conclusion



6.1 Overview of Reported Use of Religious Rituals

6.1.1 Patterns and Contexts of Communal Rituals in Transit Places

6.1.2 Weekly and Yearly Religious Rituals in the Settlement Country

6.2 Prayer and the Refugee Experience

6.2.1 Prayer during times of War and Persecution

6.2.2 Prayers with Religious Leaders before Flight

6.2.3 Prayer during Flight

6.2.4 Prayers in Asylum

6.2.5 Prayer in Australia

6.3 Critical Life Stage Rituals in Asylum and Australia

6.4 Overarching Patterns in Religious Rituals in Both Asylum and Australia............... 235 6.4.1 The Protective Power of the Qur’an

6.4.2 Surat for Protection

6.4.3 Sufi Chanting

6.4.4 The Hajj and Visitations of the Saints or Tombs

6.4.5 Role of Christian Prayer and Bible Study in Transit and in Settlement........... 241

6.5 Other Religious Rituals and Settlement Assistance in Australia

6.5.1 Devotional and Protectional Rituals

6.5.2 Rituals to Assist Stress Reduction

6.5.3 Islamic ‘Massage’

6.6 Other Religious Objects/Artefacts and the Refugee Experience

6.7 Religio/Cultural Support Rituals

6.7.1 Shifts Away from Religio/Cultural Rituals

6.8 Concerns about Religious Rituals

6.9 Conclusion



7.1 Refugees: The Meaning of God, Religion, War

7.2 God and the Purpose of Life

7.3 Suffering and the Refugee Religious Framework

7.3.1 The Refugee Experience and Religious Testing

7.3.2 Judgement Day, the Afterlife and the Refugee Experience

7.4 Refugees’ Notions of the Devil and Evil

7.5 Refugees on Forgiveness, Afterlife and the Imminent End of the World................ 273

7.6 Suffering in Australia and Growth from Refugee Suffering

7.7 Refugees and Support Personnel: God and Physical and Mental Health................. 275

7.8 Conclusion



8.1 Home Religiosity Shifts

8.1.1 Refugees’ Religiosity and Adult Faith Development in the Home Context….. 284

8.2. Shifting and Increasing Religiosity in Asylum

8.2.1 Christian Switching

8.2.2 Muslim Shifts in Religiosity in Asylum

8.2.3 Muslim and Christian Increase in Religiosity in Refugee Camps

8.2.4 Shifts in Asylum and Fowler

8.3 Shifting Religiosity in Settlement

8.3.1 Major Shifts in Religiosity in Australia

8.3.2 Increased Religiosity in Australia

8.3.3 Trends in Switching across Refugee Communities

8.4 The Non-religious Refugee and Shifts

8.5 The Varying Influence of the Media and Technologies on Religiosity

8.6 Increased Religiosity – The View of Refugee Support Personnel

8.7 Conclusion



9.1 Refugees in Asylum: Their Interaction with Religious Groups

9.2 Australia as a Destination

9.2.1 Settlement in Australia

9.2.2 Settlement and Religiosity

9.3 Refugees in Multi-faith Australia

9.3.1 Christian and Muslim Intra-faith Contact

9.3.2 Attitudes to Different Religiosities and Asians

9.3.3 Reaction to Agnosticism and Western Freedoms

9.3.4 Experiences of Discrimination in Melbourne

9.4 Impact of Home Factors and Asylum Experiences upon Mixing in Australia......... 329 9.4.1 Transference of Misinformation and Religious Prejudice to Host Country..... 331

9.5 The Role of Religious Leaders in Settlement

9.5.1 Marriage Disputes and Religious Leaders

9.5.2 Religious Leaders on Ecumenical and Interfaith Relationships in Melbourne. 337

9.6 Refugee Professionals and their Knowledge of Religiosity and Settlement............. 340 9.6.1 Refugee Religiosity: Comments of Professional Support Personnel................ 341

9.7 Implications for Refugee Settlement Theory

9.8 Modifications to Kunz’ Refugee Flight Model


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