greatest threat to peace in the world is the mismanagement of religious
diversity, according to Gary Bouma ’63. Religion will be the key
to understanding the 21st century.
“That’s obvious with what we have going on in the world right
now,” he said.
“The situation in the Middle East won’t be resolved until
there is a religious solution. And groups like Al Qaeda, which are puritanical
Muslims with a religious agenda, will continue their efforts until stopped
by those Muslims who disagree with the aims of Al Qaeda, just like Cromwell
That’s why Bouma, deputy vice chancellor and professor of sociology
at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, works to promote interfaith
communication and respect.
Since coming to Monash in 1979, he has spent 25 years researching and
publishing widely in the areas of managing religious diversity, intercultural
communication and Australia’s religious life. He has also held top
posts with the World Conference of Religions for Peace and the Christian
He was recently recognized for his efforts by the Australian Intercultural
Society with the Peace Award for Interfaith Relations. The award is presented
to religious leaders and academics who are “active and fruitful
in their contributions to building a multicultural, harmonious Australia.”
Bouma is considered a key figure in Australian interfaith relations.
Australia, Bouma said, is the ideal place to study peace among religious
groups because it is one of the most religiously diverse nations in the
world. Moreover, the country has never had a civil war or major conflict
based on religion.
“The emergence of a multi-faith in Australia started after World
War II as a result of migration,” said Bouma. “Interfaith
relationships are positive here; for example, any kind of religious school
is funded with state money. Australia provides a model for the rest of
the world. Healthy interfaith relationships are those built on mutual
religious respect without giving up one’s central beliefs.”
These kinds of relationships require breaking down negative stereotypes
and building friendships that cross religious barriers and boundaries,
Bouma plans to continue his research in this area, particularly as it
pertains to the Asia Pacific region. He was recently awarded a United
Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Chair in Intercultural
Faith and Dialogue, which recognizes his prior research and will facilitate
“I believe myself called to this work,” he said. “I
feel called to bear witness to my faith and promote interfaith relations.
I had no idea this is what I would be doing; I’ve just been responsive
to the opportunities God has put in my way. Did I ever think I would end
up in Australia? Heavens, no.”