Engaging with the church to fight DV

New research in Australia aims to gain insights into how religious beliefs and practices can unintentionally contribute to domestic violence.

A new Australian Research Council Linkage Project grant, in partnership with the Lutheran Church of Australia, will generate new knowledge about how organised religion and members of church organisations might use spiritual abuse as a form of domestic violence (DV).

Chief investigators Flinders University Social Work Professor Sarah Wendt and Professor Wendy Mayer, Associate Dean (Research) at the Australian Lutheran College at Melbourne’s University of Divinity, will explore how religious beliefs and practices can be used by men to perpetuate domestic violence.

“The project will generate new knowledge about the central features of spiritual traditions, beliefs and practices that perpetuate different forms of abuse within domestic violence, serving as a platform to develop more effective policies and practice inside and outside religious settings to prevent DV,” says Professor Wendt, who is director of the Social Work Innovation Research Living Space (SWIRLS) at Flinders University.

“Domestic violence is a societal problem that requires a societal response; hence solving this problem should not be left up to individual women and social workers. Working in partnership with the Lutheran Church is significant in this regard,” Professor Wendt says.

Professor Mayer, also head of the Australian Academy of the Humanities religion section, says the qualitative design of the project will not only delve into how religious beliefs inform DV but also help churches to identify, analyse, and then respond to spiritual abuse as a form of DV.

“Spiritual abuse is a term of reference that is emerging within the field of domestic violence, meaning the denial or misuse of religious beliefs or practices to justify domestic violence,” says Professor Mayer, who also is Dean of Research Strategy at the University of Divinity.

“The coming together of academics in social work and scholars of religion in partnership with a church to specifically research and understand how men engage with, and use religious teachings to justify DV, is a first in Australia.”

The two-year ARC Linkage project (LP190100269) will receive funding of $109,090 matched by the participating organisations.

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