Empty space or sacred place? Place and belief in social work training


  • Greta Galloway
  • Pat Wilkinson
  • Gavin Bissell




space, Christianity, Aboriginal spirituality, cultural competence


This paper highlights common errors in social work students’ approaches to faith/spirituality and place whilst on field education placement. It briefly investigates the Christian conception of sacredness and space which often underpins such errors.

The issue is exemplified by contrasts between Aboriginal Australian conceptions of place and spirituality and the mutually exclusive conceptions of these spaces, held by many non-Aboriginal welfare practitioners in Australia. This paper suggests some ways in which social workers, including social work students, could engage with spirituality, inclusive of geo-socio-political materiality, in their work, where appropriate, with Indigenous, migrant, refugee or colonial settler populations.

The paper engages critically with literature on cultural competence in relation to issues of land, and the identity one gains from connection to land, and spirituality. This paper concludes by identifying key questions for placement students and educators seeking to respond appropriately when interfacing sacred spaces of the ‘other’.


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How to Cite

Galloway, G., Wilkinson, P., & Bissell, G. (2012). Empty space or sacred place? Place and belief in social work training. The Journal of Practice Teaching and Learning, 8(3), 28-47. https://doi.org/10.1921/jpts.v8i3.380