Migration to Australia over the past two hundred years, and particularly since 1945, has created the religious profile of Australian society. White settlement of Australia comprised migrants and convicts who were mainly Protestants and Catholics, with a small number of Jews. The post-second World War period brought greater religious diversity to Australian society. When Australia’s immigration policy was expanded to take in war refugees from East Europe and migrant labour to assist in post-war reconstruction, religious representations of Christian Orthodoxy and Judaism increased. In recent years, statistics indicate that accompanying the increase in migration from Asia and the Middle East is a corresponding increase in the representation of non-Christian religions in our society. (Cahill et al. 2004)
Nevertheless, while the increase in non-Christian religious affiliation can be viewed as primarily consequence of Australia’s mass post-war immigration program, there is evidence that the rate of young Australian born people are joining the New Age religious groups fostering earth and nature based spiritualities. (Bouma 1997)
This essay documents the rise of religious diversity and religious resurgence
in Australia through migration processes. It then explores the emerging context for interreligious relations, Including competition and conflict. Finally, it addresses the concept of current roles of religious groups in producing and challenging social cohesion, particularly in a post-industrial context.
Migrants and Religion
Religion has two important dimensions the personal and the social, which have a significant impact on patterns of social interactions by migrants. Religion has a central place in establishing and supporting morality, and ordering the form and nature of much of migrants’ social behaviour. At the same time, religious affiliation is a very important element of individual identity. As a social institution, religion plays a major role in creating a just and orderly society.
Religious affiliation is also an indicator of group membership. Emphasis on the social function of religion in the case of migrant groups is to be expected. Religious affiliation can serve as a counter to feelings of alienation and marginality with ethnic religious institutions consolidating ethnic loyalties and perpetuating cultural traditions. Benyei, Laszlo (An integration study of migrants in Australia)
The diversification of religion in Australia
The role of religion in reflecting the diversity of Australia society has been much discussed. The changes which have arisen from the increasing number of immigrants from backgrounds other than those white Europeans has resulted in the change from almost wholly Christian country to one great ethnic and religious mix. (Beer et al. 1991)
Four forms of differentiation have radically transformed Australia’s religious life. There are more religious groups in Australia than ever before, but each one is much less homogeneous than it was before because migration and conversion have placed religions that previously dealt with each other only in stereotypes into direct relationship, and global communication technologies have brought the widest diversity of religious teaching and practice to every corner of the world.
First, demographic changes in Australia’s religious diversity 1947–2001 are
The basic drivers of religious change in Australia (Bouma 2002, 2006; Cahill et al. 2004). The proportion of Australians identifying with a Christian denomination has fallen from 88 per cent to 68 per cent; Catholics have grown significantly, while Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists and Uniting have halved, and Muslims and Buddhists have grown vigorously. (Source: ABS 2006 census)
Second, there has been an increase in small Christian groups and spiritualities. The 27.9 per cent growth rate in ‘Other Christian’ groups includes the Mega-Churches and other non-denominational, often Pentecostal and usually evangelical congregations. The decline of those indicating that they have no religion, the rise of pagan and earth groups and the growth of those writing in something that is classified as ‘inadequately described’ indicate the growth of identification with spiritualities (Bouma 2006: 61). With these changes, religious and spiritual life has slipped from the control of once hegemonic religious organisations. As a result, religion and spirituality are now freely available in myriad forms requiring much less commitment and taking often very differently organised forms.
Third, there has been a decline of national or regional organisational religious structures to pattern religious belief and practice. Separate congregational organisations with limited networks and no collective organ of responsibility are replacing once strong and vertically integrated Christian denominations. Of course, religious groups like Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and others have long lived without the kinds of organisational structures that have characterised Christianity.
This increased diversity has resulted in changes to the relationship between
Religious organisations and the State. Many religious groups have moved further from direct association with government, while at the same time religious welfare organisations have become largely dependent on state funding as the state has chosen to channel funds through ‘faith-based’ organisations.
Fourth, there has been significant internal diversification of religious groups
Such that religious diversity is often found to be at least as great within religious groups as between them. For example, the internal diversity of Anglicans is stretch to breaking point by current debates. The Charismatic movement has cut across denominational lines, as has liberalism, social concerns, and evangelicalism.
It is no longer possible to speak of the Anglican, or Uniting, or Catholic, or
Muslim point of view. Diversity within and between religious groups has greatly reduced the capacity of these older structures to deliver social cohesion. While increased diversity does not by itself threaten social cohesion, the differences between religious groups are real and can become sources of conflict. The consequence of the diversification of religious groups has been to render them much more difficult to manage to promote social cohesion through healthy interreligious relations.
Moreover, it has again become clear that not all expressions of religion are moderate, innocuous or, for that matter, even safe. Some forms of religious expression found as minority perspectives within some religious groups can be consider socially toxic since they threaten social cohesion by impairing the ability of different groups to live together in peace and mutual respect. It is naive to ignore the possible harm some expressions of the religious life can have.
Religious life in the 21st century has taken on a renewed life that was unexpected and that many fears threaten social cohesion in some societies. Greater religious diversity in many societies has increased the salience of religious identity. There have also been increases in participation and the involvement of religion in politics.
Far from disappearing as predicted (Davis 1949: 509–45), religion in the late
20th and early 21st centuries has re-emerged as a substantial force in human
social life. The resurgence of both religious practice and involvement in political life has been documented (Berger 1999; Bouma 2002, 2006; Martin 2005; Thomas 2005). While evidence of resurgence is found in Australia, where the secular press has been doubling the coverage of religious issues and politicians openly declare the religious bases of their policies. The fact that Europe appears to be an exceptional case, persisting in its own particular form of secularity, has been discussed (Davie 2002; Martin 2005). Resurgence can be detected not only among Christian and Muslim groups but also among Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs and the array of spiritualities (Almond et al. 2003; Bouma 2006) and, within Christianity, The mega-church phenomenon (Chavez 2005; Connell 2005).
Religious resurgence takes similar forms: increased intensity of commitment,
increased salience of religious identity, the rise of puritanical extremes (Antoun 2001; Almond et al.2003; Porter 2006) and are turn to using political engagement to apply faith, whether by establishing Shariah Law in newly Muslim majority countries like Malaysia, by promoting the teaching of Creation Science in the United States, or by condemning particular patterns of sexuality (Bates 2004).
The re-entry of religious values into political debates often brings into conflict the liberal and conservative sections of religious groups, as seen among Anglicans but also within Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism (Almond et al. 2003). Religious resurgence is most evident among more emotive and charismatic forms of spirituality and worship, particularly in the West where it forms part of the reaction against rational and propositional forms of Christianity (Bouma 2006).
Religious resurgence causes societies to rethink the roles of religion in their
social, cultural and political life. As they do this, the idea of what constitutes
secularity is reconsidered (Fenn 2001; Martin 2005) and the philosophical foundations of secular society re-examined (Stark 2003; Milbank 2006).
Fenn argues that secular societies are not irreligious as much as societies where the religious and spiritual are no longer under the control of religious organisations such as churches. Since the notion that religion is withering away is no longer tenable, the management of religious diversity becomes more critical.
Increased religious competition and conflict
As a result of post war migration, Australia has become a religiously plural and multicultural society, the increased religious diversity and religious resurgence will result of an increase in religious competition (Finke & Stark 1998; Finke et al. 1996; Thomas 2005). Although Finke and Stark focus on the impact of competition on religious life, the nexus between religious plurality, competition and religious vitality is complex. Certainly, in Australia, plurality has led to an increase in vitality and competition. Although often confused with each other, competition is different from conflict and clarifying the difference is crucial (Bouma 2006). Religious competitors recognise the legitimate existence of each other and the right of the market to choose. In competing, religious groups often learn more about their own positions and their own approach to their faith, thus increasing the commitment of members and the salience of their faith. Religious conflict, in contrast, does not proceed on this assumption, but one group seeks to overcome, or eliminate the other to extinction.
With increased diversity, increases in competition could be expected though whether this competition will shift to conflict depends on how religious difference is managed.
Key examples of conflicts occurring within religious groups include the clash
amongst Muslims over degree of strictness, political involvement, and appropriate forms of political order and theology (Hefner 2001; Bilgrami 2003). Conflicts between Shi’a and Sunni Muslims are largely over theological and ritual differences, but take on political dimensions when territory is share and questions of access to power emerge as in Iraq.
Further examples are provided by internal wrangling in Christian denominations over the election of openly gay Anglican bishops, gay and lesbian marriage, abortion and church (Bates 2004;Wallis 2005; Porter 2006), And the emergence of the conservative evangelical Christian denial of belief in one and the same God for Jews, Christians and Muslims (Cimino 2005).
In Australia, religious competition is largely within religious groups as they
seek to attract adherents and commitment. Conflict includes religious vilification where one group incites hatred of or violence towards another.
There have also been Australian cases of the use of law to limit rights to practise or build places of worship (Cahill et al. 2004: 75), harassment (HREOC 2004), but not the denial of the right of religious groups to exist.
Social cohesion in post-industrial societies
Religious diversity was a characteristic of the First Fleet and the society
that has emerged in Australia. Australia has also been cohesive enough to
be a successful society quite capable of producing, reproducing and responding creatively to change.
Australia is not, and never has been, held together by similarity, or a single set of values. It is not a mechanically solidary society. Rather, interdependence has required each group and individual to make place for the other, to tolerate and even assist the other, because without the other, neither self nor society would survive. This foundational social fact qualifies and inspires the rhetoric about social cohesion.
Australia is a congeries of groups, organisations and persons held together by interdependence. We simply need each other and so we put up with each other’s diversities, including religious diversities. We have also developed the social habit of tolerance and have supported social organisations that foster healthy religious beliefs.
Australia is shifting from being an industrial society to a post-industrial society where consumption and service rather than production are central to the economy and to social and cultural life. The implications for religious life and social cohesion are only just becoming apparent.
The role of religion is no longer to produce honest people in their dealings and cooperative with the system, but now to produce consumers. In addition, religion becomes something a person consumes through participation, identification and the purchase of identity supporting and declaring goods (Miller 2005).
In this changed economic context, religions and spiritualities become consumer items available in a wide range of packaging and requiring different levels of investment to consume. They may neither unite nor divide, but simply represent a passing expression rather than a deep commitment to a group with a history, culture and set of relations with other groups.
It is clear that one of the significant impacts of immigration is the increase in religious diversity. Religion, to some extent, is use as an indication of the geography of certain migrant populations. Australia-born children of some immigrant groups are continuing associations with their parents’ religious adherence.
While recent immigration has been the prime factor in changing religious diversity in Australia, immigration waves occurring some generations ago have also contributed to spatial distribution and religious affiliation.
With the rise of religious diversity through the migrant process, religious identity has taken on renewed significance and the consumption or display of religious markers have again become part of identities that differentiate people. Religious identity is replacing class and joining ethnicity and lifestyle as salient demarcating identities.