Secularism as proto-multiculturalism : the case of Australia
Title: Secularism as proto-multiculturalism : the case of Australia
Author: LEVEY, Geoffrey Brahm
Series/Number: EUI RSCAS; 2015/56; Global Governance Programme-179; Cultural Pluralism
Institutionally and culturally, Australia bridges Britain and the United States, the Old and New Worlds. Its federal parliamentary democracy borrowed aspects from both Westminster and Washington. Yet, Australia rejected both England’s established church and the US’s ‘high wall of separation’ between church and state. Australia is often compared with the US and Canada as one of the great immigrant democracies. Like Canada, it adopted multiculturalism as state policy in the 1970s. Yet, it more closely resembles many European countries and perhaps even Québec in the precedence it grants to the established (Anglo-Australian) majority culture. Australia thus combines Old and New World patterns and concerns, offering a unique vantage point on the governance of religious diversity in relation to secularism. We are accustomed to thinking that political secularism and multiculturalism – arguably, the two greatest liberal responses to religious and cultural diversity – press in opposite directions. Whereas secularism separates state and religion, multiculturalism involves the state affirmation of cultural identity. Australia presents a case where these two models genuinely complement and indeed begin to merge into each other. Indeed, I argue that Australian multiculturalism extended the approach to diversity already established by Australia’s version of secularism. However, secularism and multiculturalism in Australia face a common challenge from attempts to reassert national identity. Perhaps unexpectedly for the twenty-first century, religion has become the favored vehicle for this reassertion. The paper begins with some remarks on the constitutional context and the operative political culture. The second section discusses the place of religion in multicultural Australia. The third section canvasses how religion has been reasserted in recent years as a trope for reinforcing Anglo-Australian institutions and culture as the core of Australian national identity. The paper concludes by identifying some of the key challenges these dynamics pose for Australians.
Subject: Australia; Secularism; Multiculturalism; National identity; Principled pragmatism
Type of Access: openAccess