Accommodating the Faithful? Religion at the University of Sydney since 1850


  • Geoffrey Sherington


As a secular institution the University of Sydney has been constantly engaged from its foundation in accommodating religious bodies, organisations and movements. The first process of accommodation emerged from the decision of the colonial state to provide financial and other support for the establishment of denominational colleges. This had the effect of ensuring that all the major religious denominations were treated equally but it also led to serious divisions within those denominations, although the Catholic community in particular secured a college base that would meet the social aspirations as well as the religious commitments of Catholic youth. The second process of accommodation involved the creation of Christian student organisations which became the first student youth movements within the University, and nationally, being supported by a number of the Professors. But this ultimately led to a series of divisions within Protestant Christian youth as well as fierce contest between fundamental religious and non-religious students over the role of religion within the University. The final process involved the University from 1945 accepting the emerging multi-faith nature of Australia and engaging organised religion in forms of social welfare for the student body. By the early 21st century religion had a new multi-ethnic face, while ‘secularism’ seemed to be leading to the possibility of new privileges for all religions. Geoff Sherington has a Personal Chair in the History of Education.