Leonie Westenberg

Proposed Title

When she calls for help: Domestic violence in Cristian families, and the response of the church in the Australian context


Violence in relationships is a common experience for a significant number of Australian women. VicHealth notes that one of the underlying and contributing factors towards violence against women is their environment, citing 'faith-based institutions' such as churches as one such environment for many women. There is limited research available on domestic violence in the Christian church in Australia; this lack of data hinders primary prevention of violence against women in relationships. Indeed, international research shows that the language of religion is often used by women to explain abuse. Additionally, abused Christian women are more likely to remain in or return to unsafe relationships, citing religious beliefs to support such decisions. Despite these factors, churches may also have the ability to provide care and support for those suffering from domestic violence, and furnish a counter narrative that describes a theology of biblical equality. Focusing on churches in the local Australian context and using qualitative research, the thesis will examine how domestic violence may be supported by Christian language and belief, and suggest an 'alternate theology' concerning religious belief and language about concepts of gender roles, sacrifice, submission and suffering.

Why I chose Charles Sturt

I completed my Masters of Theology at Charles Sturt in 2016 and won the Dean's Award for Academic Excellence. This reflected the positive experience that I had in studying at Charles Sturt, with the added flexibility of the external distance study option. These factors influenced my decision to undertake my PhD at Charles Sturt.


  • Member of ACEN, collaborative education at the tertiary level
  • Paper presented on Domestic Violence in Christian Families at the conference on the Global Status of Women and Girls: Understanding, Defining and Preventing Violence, at Christopher Newport University, Virginia, USA. March, 2017.


  • 'When she calls for help: Domestic violence in Christian families'. Conference  paper. Global Status of Women and Girls: Understanding, Defining and Preventing Violence. Christopher Newport University, Virginia, USA, March, 2017.
  • 'Locating Experience in Time and Space: Young Adult Fiction and Spiritual Intelligence'. International Journal of Children's Spirituality. 7 Feb, 2017.
  • 'Incarnating the Feminine Genius in the Contemporary Catholic Church'. New Theology Review. Vol. 29, No.1. 2016.
  • 'An Episode of Sparrows: Marian Devotion in Literature'. Conference paper. Mariology Conference. Notre Dame University Australia, Sydney, Australia, March 2016.
  • 'Blessed are the Hunger Games: Katniss Everdeen lives the Beatitudes'. The Conversation, November 2015.
  • 'Thinking the Church Today: What are the implications of the Second Vatican Council, fifty years on, for women?'. Conference paper. Rethinking the Church Today, Society for the Study of Theology. University of Nottingham, UK, April 2015.
  • 'The paradox of work over the summer season'. The Conversation, December 2014-January 2015.
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