Academic journal article Nebula

"But Do We Get Our Money's Worth?" the Usefulness of Religion to the Nation Building Process in Australia and East Germany

Academic journal article Nebula

"But Do We Get Our Money's Worth?" the Usefulness of Religion to the Nation Building Process in Australia and East Germany

Article excerpt

Both the German Democratic Republic and the Commonwealth of Australia have had a curious fixation on the nation building process. In order to convince both their own citizens, but also other nations, both the GDR and Australia had to rely on preexisting symbols and narratives which on first glance seem surprising. However, what is most curious is that both nations used sport and religion in similar ways to build the nation. While this paper concentrates on religion, it is sport which provides the framework in considering the usefulness of religion to the nation building process.

This link between sport and religion, and the nation is a familiar story to many diasporic Irish Catholic families, particularly in the nations formed out of the British colonization process. I remember an old Irish Catholic priest in my suburban Australian childhood, Fr Greg Butler, exploring many times during sermons how faith and sport were interlocking metaphors, out of which grew a certain kind of unity between peoples. To me the idea of the nation was intimately linked to sport, and there was a special resonance whenever 'one of us' was doing well.

This feeling underscored the dilemma that although Catholics were a minority group in Australia, they constituted a universal imagined community--borrowing Benedict Anderson's phrase--based on shared rituals, beliefs, signs, words and images. The Catholic view of the world in Australia then encapsulated the belief that not only could there be a secular nation-state, but other communities of belief coexisted with, but also reached beyond, these national boundaries and allegiances. I was lucky to grow up in a time and place when allegiance or loyalty was rarely in question. I could dream of playing football for Australia, while also not having to consider that being Catholic would get in the way of this. But I knew that this feeling was a rare experience in both Australian and broader world history, particularly when my father's family all came form Northern Ireland.

In a curious coincidence Australia's first match at the World Cup (Soccer) Finals in 1974 was against East Germany (GDR). I remember as a 7 year old the excitement of reaching the finals for the first time, yet, now it seems incongruous that these two nations should meet in what was an auspicious occasion for both nations. For the GDR reaching the World Cup Finals also signified a certain recognition of the nation as legitimate. Yet, the more I look into this match searching for similarities, the more I find. For example, the GDR model of institutes devoted to rigorous training to ensure national glory, was replicated in many countries, including Australia. So while sport was the first element in common, what also stood out was the role that religion played in the nation building process in each country. Yet, as I will argue, it is better expressed that religion was 'used' in both the GDR and Australia as an instrument in building the nation.

While I am focusing on the building of a 'nation', for both countries, what was also at stake was the viability of the 'state'. The establishment of a functional state based on a national entity where none had previously existed, was a challenge for both a decolonized Australia bound into the British Empire in 1901 and the creation of East Germany under the auspices of the Soviet Union/Warsaw Pact in 1949. So, while my arguments may traverse both concepts my intention is to focus on the nation, rather than on the state.

This paper then considers not just that religion is useful, but asks the question whether it has delivered on this usefulness. In the case of the GDR, perhaps it was of less value than in the Australian context. My departure point is this concept of usefulness; by this I mean the extent to which religion played a role in the ongoing creation of the nation. I am not arguing that religion is either case was a determining factor, and it is clear that if the nation cannot exist for other reasons, then religion is not going to help. …

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