Conferences, 4Rs 2008

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'I'm not religious but' .... A secular feminist's response to interfaith dialogue in Australia
Barbara Bloch

Last modified: 2008-08-30


I take as my underlying premise for this talk, the increase in religious visibility in the public sphere, evidenced in part by government-funded projects related to religious activities, such as interfaith dialogue, which one could characterise as emanating from the moderate face of religions. I discuss the place of interfaith dialogue as a rising phenomenon within and between multicultural communities. My critique of this growing trend is both personal and political. Personal because I am committed to a secular view of society and how to solve its many problems, and political because interfaith dialogue initiatives are contributing to the collapse of multicultural discourse into religious discourse, whereby 'culture' and 'religion' are conflated into a privatised zone rooted in tolerance and faith-based values. This private and personal sphere does not encourage a framework for 'looking at broader structural issues of equity, power, representation and systemic change, including questions of how institutions should respond to the challenges of diversity and difference' (Ho 2006: 8).

I will address these questions: What challenges does the apparent prevalence of interfaith activities pose to secular, social-justice oriented feminist activists and those involved in secular multicultural politics? What are the limitations of interfaith activities? Why do they have a particular appeal for women, as well as for governments? What can we learn from the ethicist, Margaret Somerville's notion of the 'secular sacred', in relation to how we accept, respect and negotiate difference in multicultural societies like Australia?

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