Navigating the Coalface: Religion, State, Pacific Communities and Family Violence in New Zealand
This thesis examines how the New Zealand state (e.g. government ministries and departments, government-funded social welfare NGOs, and the justice system) engages with religion as it addresses issues of family violence within Pacific Island communitiesin New Zealand. In so doing, I trace the contours of an amorphous New Zealand state secularism. Through an analysis of policy documents, I show that religion has been largely occluded instatefamily violence initiatives. However, through interviews with Pacific Islanders who work at the coalface between the state, Pacific communities,and family violence issues, I show that while they do encounter an implicit and pervasive ‘wall of separation’ between the secular and the religious, they have also found ways to navigate these boundaries through their own strategies. Such strategies are both inevitable and necessary. Because religion is interwoven with family violence in Pacific communitiesin nuanced ways, I argue that sidelining or ignoring religion reduces the effectiveness of state interventions. I show that secularism, expressed in relation to family violence in Pacific communities, has further marginalised those communities, and Pacific women especially. Instead, I propose a more pragmatic approach, one which seeks to address Pacific communities more fully on their own terms. If the New Zealand state wants to successfully engage Pacific communities on issues of family violence, and work toward solutions to these issues, it must also collaborate alongside Pacific churches and faith-based actors.