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Oneness in plurality: Significance of Religious Pluralism for ASEAN-Australia’s community capacity building

This op-ed is part of AASYP’s Digital Dialogues 2021, which is a programme that aims to provide a platform and forum for future leaders from across the region to contribute to the policymaking and diplomacy sphere by engaging in issues relating to Gender and Diversity, Green Recovery, and Emerging Economies.

Religious Pluralism initiates interaction between individuals, recognises areas of  profound and irreparable difference, and on regions of common ground. Diverse religious groups flourish, which indicate that leadership is robust, community  relationships are secure, and worshippers understand the core theological substance of their  respective traditions. People of many religions and ethnicities from the ASEAN nations have coexisted in relative peace and concord for hundreds of centuries. Most of the region’s modern states acknowledge this underlying notion of diversity and enshrined race equality and religious freedom as legal constitutional rights. On a separate note, Australia practices many different  religions across their country in which the 2016 Census indicates that 61 percent of the Australian population (14 million people) are associated with a religion or spiritual belief. Communities from these nations experience different conflicts, hence it is significant to focus on the development of humanitarian communication. 

The ASEAN-Australia partnership implements initiatives to increase and enhance the capacity of different communities. These regions conduct leadership  commitments, dialogue relations, and summits to accomplish the goals and objectives of the  ASEAN-Australia Strategic Partnership. It is significant to note that diversity within the  ASEAN and Australia regions can greatly affect individual relations. By addressing the  religious differences, people will interact and communicate with each other, and build an avenue to develop goals and strategies as a community.

Religious pluralism, in its broadest sense, is a reaction to the range of religious beliefs,  practices, and traditions that exist today and across history. Depending on circumstances or intended use, the concepts “pluralism” and “pluralist” can refer to anything from the mere fact of religious diversity to a specific philosophical or theological approach to such diversity, one that is primarily determined by humility related to the level of truth and importance of one’s own religion, including the goals of respectful dialogue and mutual awareness. 

Religious Pluralism exists not just across religious traditions, but also  within them. Several philosophers of religion expressly consider inter-religious and intra-religious differences as separate, whereas others contend that they should not be. 

Islam and Buddhism are extensively practiced on the mainland of Southeast Asia, but the maritime eastern side of ASEAN, particularly the Philippines, is mostly Roman Catholic. Hinduism and Christianity are also practised across the region.  ASEAN members speak a variety of languages, with each nation having its own official  language and a diverse range of dialects. However, English is the official business language of most ASEAN nations. 

Although several ASEAN nations have seen substantial economic progress in recent  years, many have increasingly serious human rights issues with regards to Religious Pluralism. Jonathan Fox, the Yehuda Avner Professor of Religion and Politics at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, conducted research that may be deemed controversial. His research is based on  the most extensive and comprehensive data set on religious prejudice yet assembled. 

The differentiation Fox makes regarding government-based and socially based religious discrimination is crucial to his thesis. Government religious discrimination, according to Fox, is defined as limitations imposed by governments or their agents on  religious activities or institutions of religious minorities that are not inflicted on the majority  faith. He defines social religious discrimination as actions committed against religious minorities by citizens of the country’s religious population who are not official  representatives.

Fox’s data for Australia also shows 27 forms of religious prejudice, depending on socioeconomic status. Discrimination in the workplace, vandalism of houses  of religion, harassment on public transportation, and open violence are examples of these.  Globally, the frequency of social discrimination grew by about  30% between 1990 and 2014. Outright violence, the most startling and yet most common  type of social prejudice, has unfortunately grown by more than 50%. Government-based religious discrimination is far more prevalent in modern Western democracies than in many  Asian, African, and Latin American equivalents. Nevertheless, there found no evidence of  government-based religious discrimination in several other nations, including the  Philippines, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. 

As observed, conversations about religious diversity do not lend themselves to  simple solutions. The concerns are numerous, the arguments are complicated, and the  solutions are diverse. However, it would be difficult to exaggerate the topic’s practical  importance. While certain philosophical questions have practical ramifications for how we perceive ourselves and behave others, none is more pressing now than the subject of  religious plurality. Religious convictions have certainly inspired impassioned conduct in the  past—behaviour that has had a profound impact on the lives of many people—and such  convictions continue to do so now. 

ASEAN and Australia’s focus on human rights has frequently been hampered by two  opposing interests: the Member States’ aim to incorporate as a union and their deeply ingrained reliance on independence and non-interference in one another’s matters. In an  increasingly integrated and linked community like ASEAN, it is critical that governments and  communities identify when the right to freedom of religion or belief is being exploited and  take action to safeguard people and institutions whose rights are being infringed. As part of  the youth and a member of the ASEAN and Australia regions, we must realise that the global  community of countries is built on the concept that everyone adheres to a rules-based global system that also incorporates the obligation to protect religious freedom and associated  human rights. 

ASEAN-Australia partnership implements initiatives to capacitate different  communities. These regions conduct leadership commitments, dialogue relations, and  summits to accomplish the goals and objectives of the ASEAN-Australia Strategic  Partnership. It is significant to note that diversity within the ASEAN and Australia regions  can greatly affect individual relations. By addressing the religious differences, people will  interact and communicate with each other, and build an avenue to develop goals and  strategies as a community.

This article was written by Victoria Camille, edited by Nabila Aisyah, and reviewed by the AASYP Publications Team.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this op-ed are solely those of the writer and in no way represent nor reflect the position of AASYP and members of the AASYP Publications Team. The AASYP Horizons Blog provides a platform for the free expression of opinions and intellectual discourse.

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