Australian Multiculturalism and the Problem of the Religious "Other"

By: Greg Mac Donald  

Whilst Australia is clearly a very successful multicultural society, ironically, a notable feature of its policy is the absence of inclusion as a governing principle. The policy merely provides a neutral space in which the religious "other" has the right to their beliefs and practices, whilst the religious majority has the obligation of tolerance. In an effort to compensate for this absence, well-intentioned state promoters of interfaith dialogue have generally focused on our religious commonalities, in an effort to highlight a "sameness." This is intended to reduce our fear of the "other" and thereby promote greater levels of social cohesion. However this paper will argue that it is ultimately a cosmopolitanist emphasis on our religious differences that will not only be more ideologically aligned with multiculturalist theory, but more importantly, elevate us to an inclusivity that transcends the passivity of mere tolerance.

Interfaith, Dialogue, Multiculturalism, Cosmopolitanism
Religious Commonalities and Differences
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Greg Mac Donald

PhD Student, Centre for Islamic Thought and Education, University of South Australia, Australia
South Australia, Australia

I developed an interest in interfaith dialogue during trips to the Middle East, where I saw first hand the results of systematic failure to dialogue with the other, and develop policies and strategies to promote inclusivity. I wondered to what extent Australia's multicultural policy and strategies can protect us from possible future conflict by shifting us beyond mere tolerance. My interest became focussed around the relationship between Muslim and Christian communities, given incidents like the Cronulla riots, church and mosque vandelism and rising xenophobia. Given the seeming lack of interest in Christian Muslim dialogue in my home city of Adelaide, I was motivated in doing a PhD to further explore the possibilites of developing greater inclusivity betwen these two communities. I am currently in the first year of this PhD.