Alumni Profile • Gary Bouma '63
Promoting peace amid religious diversity

Gary BoumaThe 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 in England.”

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 Research Association.

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, he added.

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 additional studies.

“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.”