Dr Gerard Hall says we now live in a ‘postmodern world’ where ‘no single religion, system or ideology’ can ‘convincingly claim the one voice of truth’. Australia has been long dominated by the Christian faith with the 1911 census reporting 96% of Australians subscribing to any denomination of Christianity. This large percentage of Christians can be attributed to the White Australia policy. However, the 2011 census revealed a decrease of Christians with only 61% aligning themselves with the faith, half of the overseas-born population also reporting a Christian denomination. Non-Christians affiliations and those reporting ‘no religion’ have increased radically since the last census. The number of people reporting 'No Religion' increased from 15% of the population in 2001 to 22% in 2011. This is most prevalent among younger Australians with 28% of people aged 15-34 reporting they had no religious affiliation.
There are over 59 religious traditions present in Australia today. Globalisation has influenced the growth of eastern religions and new age fads in Australian society. Migration has led to an increase in the number of religious adherents in non-Christian faiths such as Buddhism, Sikhism, Taoism and Hinduism. Hinduism has grown exponentially since 1911 at 189%, followed by Islam at 69%, and Buddhism at 48%. Atheism or citizens who have no revealed any religious affiliation has risen due to scientific advancement, rise of secularism, immigration and births. Along with this there is renewed interest in and awareness of Indigenous spirituality.
Due to the ‘pluralistic, multicultural, multi-religious society’ of Australia, multi-faith dialogue is important for the cohesion and harmony of Australian society. Sometimes tensions between religious traditions or against a particular religion result in violence or discrimination. To illustrate this point, ignorant and prejudiced media portrayals of Muslims have encouraged anti-Islamic attitudes and stereotypes despite the peaceful religious teachings of the Koran.
Dr Ameer Ali (President of Australian Federation of Islamic Councils) recognised that interfaith dialogue was essential to ‘understand each other’. Similarly, Archbishop George Pell believes that interfaith dialogue must be established to maintain currently peaceful relationships before potential hostilities have a chance to escalate. In 1964, Pope Paul VI recognised the need for interfaith communication, stating that; "We do not wish to turn a blind eye to the spiritual and moral values of the various non-Christian religions, for we desire to join with them in promoting and defending common ideals in the spheres of religious liberty, human brotherhood, education, culture, social welfare, and civic order. Dialogue is possible in all these great projects, which are our concern as much as theirs and we will not fail to offer opportunities for discussion in the event of such an offer being favourably received in genuine, mutual respect. We readily accept the principle of stressing what we all have in common rather than what divides us. This provides a good and fruitful basis for our dialogue, and we are prepared to engage upon it with a will."
Multi-faith dialogue assists in keeping peace and social unity in society, especially with organisations such as the NSW Council of Christians and Jews who recognise their common heritage in order to promote understanding and combat anti-Semitism. They...