Religious Diversity and Social Policy: An Australian Dilemma

By Bouma, Gary | Australian Journal of Social Issues, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Religious Diversity and Social Policy: An Australian Dilemma

Bouma, Gary, Australian Journal of Social Issues


Not only have religions not disappeared, they are back with energy and renewed determination to realise their images of the ideal society (Thomas 2005). Far from being held in private the contestation among religions and between them, as well as with those who hold secularist views, is playing out in highly public debates about humans rights, the provision of social services, equal marriage rights, the design of education and a host of other issues. At the same time, governments seeking to promote inclusion in order to lessen social conflict and reduce the threat of terror can be seen to be making religions the object of social policy. All of this is made more complex by the claims of religious groups to freedom of religion and belief as a legitimate ground to be exempted from anti-discrimination legislation, while also receiving government funds for the provision of social, educational and health services. This article first presents a framework for considering religion and social policy issues, drawing on recent research conducted among religious groups and comparative work in other countries. The article then describes the increasing religious diversity within Australia to demonstrate the importance of being alert to the specificities of the social and cultural context for discussion of social policy and religion. Finally specific issues raised by the research regarding how the demands for freedom of religion and belief intersect with the formation and implementation of social policy are reported.

The role of religion in social policy formulation and implementation has been under-examined by social scientists. A review of the literature revealed one edited book (Nesbit 2001) and fewer than a dozen articles, none of which were systematic treatments of the topic. One social policy text (Baldock et al. 2011: 79) was found to have a one-page section on the topic focusing on religious issues in health and education policy, whilst another (Karger & Kindle 2006) presents a history of churches and social welfare in the United States. Given the prominence of religious voices in policy debates and the move to channel high proportions of health, welfare and education funding through faith-based organisations, it is appropriate to set out a framework for the analysis of the ways religions interact with social policy and then describe the socio-demographic context of religion and social policy debates in Australia. This framework grows out of decades of involvement in and research examining the role of religion in policy discussions.

A framework for the analysis of religions and social policy

The several ways religions relate to social policy can be distinguished and it clarifies discussion to keep them separate in analyses. Each relationship is framed within its own discourse. Being cleat" about which of these relationships is being considered helps to focus discussions about religions and social policy. Religions can be the object of policy, the source of policy, the critics of social policy and the implementers of policy. Each will be considered in turn, with examples provided.

Religions as objects of social policy

Religions become the objects of social policy; many societies have rules about which religions are permitted to be practised or seek to regulate religion in other ways (Richardson 2004; Beckford et al. 2005; Bouma et al. 2010; Pew 2012). For example, China permits 10 religions, counting Protestants and Catholics as separate religions because they use different words for God. Some societies try to ban particular religions. France has tried to limit the practice of Scientology and Russia seeks to limit Jehovah's Witnesses (Beckford 1985). China represses the Falun Gong. Australia by comparison has no laws limiting the practice of religion; following a High Court decision in the early 1980s Australia has a very inclusive definition of religion which is used to include rather than exclude religious groups.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Religious Diversity and Social Policy: An Australian Dilemma


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?