Emeritus Professor Desmond Cahill – Chair of Religions for Peace Australia – writes on the closure of Griffith University’s Centre for Interfaith Dialogue and Culture. This talk was delivered on the evening of the Closing Ceremony (Thursday 17 December, 2020 at 6pm) by Religions for Peace Queensland representative Ron Black, of the Baha’i Community.
This message is from Des Cahill, Emeritus Professor of Intercultural Studies, RMIT University in Melbourne; he is also Chair of Religions for Peace Australia and Deputy Moderator of Religions for Peace Asia which has its headquarters in Tokyo.
Today is a sad day for Australia’s interfaith movement which is committed to inter-religious dialogue, joint inter-religious action, inter-religious harmony and social cohesion at all levels of Australian society. Religions for Peace Australia is Australia’s most important community-based interfaith organisation with branches, affiliates and committed people in every State and Territory. Our links into Queensland have been through Griffith University’s Centre for Interfaith Dialogue and Culture. It has been a very rich and productive link, and the Centre has brought Australian and global attention to Griffith University.
We are here to celebrate its achievements. Religions for Peace Australia is happy to join such a celebration, sad though we are.
The Centre, with its links across the world, has been a source of knowledge and action in the pursuit of its multifaith mission. It has highlighted how, as social research has demonstrated, faith communities, on balance notwithstanding the negativities and the extremism, add to a nation’s social capital and social wealth; faith communities that are led by leaders in the spirit of religious moderation contribute to social cohesion, not least in a multicultural country such as Australia.
And it has been on display during the pandemic with the spiritual nourishment they have provided and welfare organisations of Australia’s faith communities with the Sikh community and their langar tradition of feeding the poor and the work of the St. Vincent de Paul conferences with their work with international students amongst others.
Today to be authentically religious necessarily implies being inter-religious. Faith commitment necessarily means positive inter-faith engagement. Hence, the closing of the Centre for Interfaith Dialogue and Culture is a severe loss to Australia, to Asia and to the world.
In recent times Dr. Brian Adams has been at its helm. He has been its heart and soul and he has provided wonderful and farsighted leadership based on his personal and professional experience, obviously in the U.S. but from many other parts of the world, including Tanzania, Mali and other West African countries.
But his greatest achievement which brought great honour and global standing to Griffith University has been his founding of the G20 Interfaith Summit alongside the G20 Summits of the leaders of the world’s 20 leading economies. The first one was on the Gold Coast in 2014 alongside the G20 meeting in Brisbane. That annual tradition continues today and that has not been without its challenges along the way. This is Australia’s greatest gift to the global interfaith movement, and Griffith’s Centre was the key player led by Brian.
We in Religions for Peace Australia have always felt supported by Brian. His departure and the closing of the Centre is a major loss for Australia. We fully appreciate the financial difficulties that are facing Australian universities, not least my own at RMIT University, as a result of the pandemic and the hollowing out of the international student market.
The Centre is truly a victim of the pandemic. We thank Griffith University for having graciously funded the Centre; nonetheless the University are the losers in making this sad decision in closing the only such academic centre in Australia. And we mourn its loss with Brian and all those who worked with and supported the Centre.
About the Centre for Interfaith & Cultural Dialogue
Respect through understanding: The work of the Centre for Interfaith & Cultural Dialogue (ICD) is to foster respect for one another through deepening our understanding of one another. The more we understand one another’s religious, cultural and philosophical perspectives, values and traditions, the better our ability to work together to strengthen our communities and overcome the challenges facing the world.
These challenges come in many forms: social, economic, and environmental. To meet them, we need to reach across divisive differences and find ways to work together. In many parts of the world, pressing concerns are between faith or cultural communities. Yet in other areas, divisive social differences are between secular and religious institutions and perspectives.
Program Structure: Our work falls into four program areas:
1. Religion and conflict resolution
This area investigates the role religious teachings can play in resolving intra- and interreligious conflicts and includes conflict resolution training from a faith-based perspective.
2. Secular-religious dialogue and peace building
This theme takes advantage of the unique setting of the ICD on a public university campus to become a leading partner in facilitating dialogue between secular and faith institutions. This area is particularly important for strengthening engagement with government, police, businesses and community service providers.
3. Political and economic contributions of faith adherence
This area provides the space for scholarly discussions and studies on the public role of religious adherence in Australia and around the world.
4. Interfaith dialogue and cross-cultural collaboration training
This area is a development of the ICD to become a leader in delivering practical skills development to community organisations, faith leaders and businesses.
The Centre for Interfaith & Cultural Dialogue has its roots back to 2002, with the establishment of the Griffith University Multi-Faith Centre. It was opened on the Nathan Campus through generous donations from various individuals and faith communities. It was envisioned as a venue where people from diverse faith, religious and spirituality traditions can deepen their understanding of their own faith and actively participate in interfaith dialogue, education and action. The change in name indicates a renewed commitment to meeting the challenges facing the world today by broadening our engagement to include secular and cultural partners, communities and philosophies. In this way, the Centre for Interfaith & Cultural Dialogue seeks to weave understanding, education, research and advocacy in interfaith and cultural dialogue towards a culture of peace in local, national and global contexts. We join with the efforts of many organisations and millions of people worldwide committed to building a world based on principles of peace, compassion, active nonviolence, justice, human rights, intercultural respect, sustainability and spirituality.