Religion and politics Australian cases and responses

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The 2004-2007 parliamentary term was marked by increasing visibility of groups such as the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL). Religious bodies undertook direct campaigning, for example the Exclusive Brethren.

The Objectives of the workshop will be:

  1. To invigorate research into religion and Australian politics by fostering connections between scholars from various disciplinary perspectives and with relevant public intellectuals, community activists and journalists.
  2. To identify new themes for further research around such areas as the prominence of religion during the 2004-2007 parliamentary term; new interfaith initiatives; green faith movements; religion-based human rights work.

Social scientific study of the ongoing relationship between religion and Australian politics is undergoing a renaissance. Landmark studies include Warhurst and Manning’s work on the Family First Party (2005), Warhurst’s analysis of religion and politics in the Howard decade (2007) and on the church and public debate (2004), Maddox’s work on parliamentarians’ beliefs (2001) and on the rise of the religious right (2005), and the various collections on faith and public life produced by the Australian Theological Forum since 2001. Meanwhile, emerging scholars such as Holly Randell-Moon and community activists like Jonathan Nicholls are developing new angles on religion-politics connections in Australia.

The 2004-2007 parliamentary term was marked by increasing visibility of groups such as the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL). Religious bodies undertook direct campaigning, for example the Exclusive Brethren. More general church activities included issuing position statements on issues like funding of church schools prior to the 2004 election and criticism of the federal government’s emergency plan for the Northern Territory in 2007. Both major party leaders approached the 2007 election as confessed Christians. Religion became an increasingly important aspect of Liberal Party factionalism, especially in NSW.

The main themes of the workshop will be:

Churches as political actors

Australian churches have long been engaged in political debate and activism, both in support of the status quo and as critics of government policy. How does such activity differ from that of other interest groups? What different forms does it take? What issues of representation does it raise? What are the implications for religion-state relations?

Is there a Christian vote?

The election of Family First Senator Steve Fielding in 2004 brought renewed focus to the question of how religious affiliation affects voting. What, if any, impact do statements by church leaders have on voters’ decisions? What, if any, significance does religious affiliation have for voting intention? What significance should we attach to the ‘Catholicisation of the Liberal Party’? More generally, how have denominational allegiances given way to stronger political connections between like-minded members of diverse denominations?

Parachurch movements and religious lobbying

Many of the most direct political interventions in recent years have come from privately-funded parachurch and non-denominational organisations such as the Australian Christian Lobby, the National Fathering Foundation, Australian Families Association, National Alliance of Christian Leaders, Parliamentary Prayer Network and Saltshakers and events such as the National Marriage Forum, Sexual Integrity Forum, Christian Heritage Forum, National Day of Thanksgiving and National Prayer Breakfast. What does this increasing prominence of non-church-aligned Christian lobby groups tell us about the changing place of Christianity in Australian society, and about the changing nature of faith-based political activity?

Outsiders in a ‘Christian Nation’?

In the face of repeated assertions of Australia’s ‘Christian heritage’ and ‘Christian values’, non-Christian religious communities continue to articulate their own members’ needs. Beyond that, they also make strategic interventions in Australian politics concerning wider issues, as when Jewish organisations have drawn forceful comparisons between their own members’ experiences of genocide and the treatment of Indigenous Australians. How does the rhetorical resacralisation of secular Australia position non-Christian communities? Can interfaith dialogue contribute to a more inclusive national story?

‘Non-Constitutional Pluralism’?

Australia typically fares well in comparative studies of religion-state relations (eg Monsma and Soper 1997). Veit Bader applauds Australia’s ‘non-constitutional pluralism’ (NCP) over other models of religion-state relationship, such as strict constitutional separation (France’s laïcité), ‘non-establishment with private pluralism’ (USA), or establishment, because NCP best accommodates religious diversity and prevents ‘religious fundamentalism in politics’ (2003: 272). Does the rise of fundamentalist politics, increasing assertions of a ‘Christian nation’ to the extent of a religion component in the citizenship test, and religiously-inflected tension indicate NCP’s limitations? Do we need a revised approach to constitutional protection of religious freedom in Australia?

References
  • Bader, V. (2003) ‘Religious Diversity and Democratic Institutional Pluralism’ Political Theory 31(2) 265-294
  • Monsma, S. V., and C. Soper (1997) The Challenge of Pluralism: Church and State in Five Democracies Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield
  • Maddox, M. (2001) For God and Country: Religious Dynamics in Australian Federal Politics Canberra: Department of the Parliamentary Library
  • Maddox, M. (2005) God Under Howard: The Rise of the Religious Right in Australian Politics Sydney: Allen & Unwin
  • Warhurst, J. (2004) The Church and Public Debate: Reflections on Speaking Out in an Election Year Sydney: Australian Catholic Social Justice Council
  • Warhurst, J. (2007) ‘Religion and Politics in the Howard Decade’ Aust. J. Political Science 42(1) 19-32
  • Warhurst, J. and H. Manning (2005) ‘The Old and New Politics of Religion’ in Mortgage Nation: the 2004 Australian Election, eds, M. Simms and J. Warhurst, API Network and Curtin University of Technology, 263-270

Event Schedule

Contact Information

Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia

    ABN: 59 957 839 703
  • Location: 26 Balmain Crescent, Acton, ACT 2601
  • Postal: GPO Box 1956, Canberra, ACT 2601
  • +61 .2 62491788
  • +61 .2 62474335
  • secretariat@assa.edu.au

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