Promoting Inter-religious and Intercultural Dialogue in Victoria

La Trobe University, Melbourne



A one-year pilot research/educational project funded by the Reichstein Foundation, the Uniting Church of Australia (Victoria Synod) and La Trobe University.

The programme, conducted during 2003-2004, was designed to foster a deeper dialogue in Muslim-Christian relations in Victoria in the context of the disturbing developments of the last few years (i.e. September 11, Bali bombings, the “war on terror”, Iraq War). 

By examining in some depth the consequences of these ongoing events for Australia, the project aimed at enhancing mutual capacities for conflict prevention and peacebuilding. The project was run by a research/educational team led by Professor J.A. Camilleri and Dr M.S. Michael and included the UnitingChurch of Australia, International Christian Peace Movement, Pax Christi, academics from La Trobe, RMIT and Melbourne universities, the Islamic Council of Victoria and the Islamic Women’s Welfare Council of Victoria and East Timorese Student Association (VictoriaUniversity).

In output terms the project conducted four all-day inter-active workshops:

  • Initial Consultation on Christian and Muslim Dialogue (5July 2003);
  • First (General) Islamic-Christian Dialogue Workshop (11 October 2003);
  • Second (Middle Eastern) Christian-Muslim Dialogue Workshop (6 December 2003);
  • East Timorese-Indonesian  Dialogue Workshop (13 March 2004);

and three public forums in association with Readers’ Feast Bookstore as part of an ongoing collaboration with the School of Social Sciences:

  • ‘Alternatives to War’ with speakers Associate Professor Di Bretherton, Director of the International Conflict Resolution Centre, Melbourne University, Professor Joseph Camilleri Professor of International Relations, La Trobe University, and Rev Dr Peter Matheson, Principal of the Uniting Church Theological Hall (11 March 2003);
  • ‘Progressive Islam: Problems and Prospects’, in conversation with leading South African Muslim scholar Prof. Faried Esack (14 May 2003);
  • ‘Building Bridges between Islam and the West’, in conversation with leading American Islamic Scholar Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf (24 March 2004).

Amongst its long term outcomes, the pilot project has deepened understanding of the dialogue process among the target groups as well as to raise greater community and media awareness of the opportunities for inter-cultural dialogue in an Australian setting. A practical indication of this, borne out by the project’s 4th workshop, is the decision, of East Timorese and Indonesian students studying in Melbourne’s tertiary institutions to develop their relationship beyond the workshop through organising joint social, cultural and sporting activities.