La trobe Centre for Dialogue leads push for regional interfaith network
Five city councils and seven State and community organisations in Melbourne's northern suburbs are working with La Trobe University's Bundoora-based Centre for Dialogue to develop a regional inter-faith and inter-cultural community network.
Expected to be the first regionally-developed network of its kind in Australia, it will bring community leaders, educators, professionals, cultural leaders and community workers from the five municipalities together to develop a community-led response to current and future social and cultural issues.
More than 90 leaders from these groups and others in Banyule, Darebin, Hume, Moreland and Whittlesea, across all faiths and cultures, met at Moreland Civic Centre last month in the first of a planned series of community consultations, to define current and potentially future concerns across their communities.
They discussed issues of social justice, problems confronting newly-arrived migrants, rifts within and between faiths, and the challenges and opportunities for reconciliation and healing through good policy development, greater community advocacy, and breaking down of barriers between communities of faith and the secular community.
Beyond identifying potential responses and solutions through interfaith education and dialogue, participants also identified a community push for dealing with wider issues such as domestic abuse and environmental challenges, and a strong desire for any northern region network that eventually evolves to remain rooted in and accountable to the local community.
These concerns will inform a community-wide survey of population samples across the five participating municipalities in June 2008, under the stewardship of each municipal council and La Trobe University's Centre for Dialogue.
This innovative, three-year project aims to engage the communities themselves in identifying their common social concerns, and to find inter-cultural, inter-faith and community-led, sustainable solutions through well-managed dialogue.
The survey — to be distributed across Banyule, Darebin, Hume, Moreland and Whittlesea by the relevant councils — will sample the opinions of the general public and communities of faith, seeking essential input to facilitate the construction of the network, and to ensure its grounding in each local community.
Designed to measure the level of community knowledge of interfaith activity, the survey will seek to define the level of understanding and involvement and the mood of the community in interfaith and intercultural issues, and how much community support there is for the regional network. Questions will also seek to define how best to encourage greater interfaith/intercultural dialogue and cooperation, and what critical issues the wider community currently faces.
The survey will be followed in July and August 2008 by a series of intensive focus groups, with each of the five municipalities hosting two groups, each involving up to fifteen people. From this research it is expected to develop a best practice model for a regional interfaith network by the end of the year.
As the only one of its kind in Australia, it is hoped the northern suburbs model will become the prototype regional interfaith and intercultural network for other communities to adopt.
The Director of the La Trobe Centre for Dialogue, Professor Joseph Camilleri, said he hoped members of the public would welcome the opportunity to have a voice in this exciting venture.
"Interfaith dialogue is a process designed to bring together people of different religious persuasions and traditions to promote mutual trust and more effective forms of co-operation," Professor Camilleri said. "Although it has an obvious religious focus, is also closely connected with cultural diversity, and in this sense the dialogue is both inter-religious and inter-cultural."
He said the project would build on marvellous work already underway in each of the five municipalities, to which many groups and individuals had contributed.
"It will foster practical co-operation between people of different religious, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and so strengthen our capacity and our confidence to meet the challenges of the future."
As a La Trobe Centre for Dialogue initiative, the project acknowledges the ever-increasing diversity of cultures and faiths in Australia and aims to move beyond the polarization of communities which has occurred in the wake of current international tensions.
It involves active collaboration between the La Trobe Centre for Dialogue, the five adjacent municipalities and seven partner organisations — the Australian Multicultural Foundation, the Uniting Church, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, the Islamic Council of Victoria, the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria, the Buddhist Council of Victoria and the Victorian Council of Churches.
Dr. Michális S. Michael
Project Coordinator, Centre for Dialogue,
La Trobe University
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