Space, religion and social relations workshop: an overview
3 June 2014
Rebecca CattoOn 30 May 2014 the International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding, University of South Australia in association with the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University (UK) held a research workshop titled ‘Space, religion and social relations’. Dr Rebecca Catto, Research Fellow at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, delivered the keynote speech. Dr Rebecca Catto is a sociologist specialising in religious–secular relations. Academics, researchers and PhD students from UniSA also discussed their research from an interdisciplinary perspective.
Dr Catto stated that, because we are faced with issues of diversity, structural inequalities, deprivation, climate change and security, we need to create space for dialogue in everyday multiculturalism, civil society and governance. There are particular issues in the UK context, such as the anti-immigration debate, white flight, the rise of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), and the increase in hate crimes. In these circumstances, moving through city spaces and engaging young people in dialogue is vital. Dr Catto observed that inter-faith dialogue and interactions among young people are meaningful, but young people are increasingly absent from religious institutions. She has also discussed this in a recently published article.
UniSA academics and researchers working on British issues commented that British policies have historical roots. Over the last 15 years there has been a shift away from multiculturalism and a lack of initiatives to engage isolated migrant communities. There have been housing issues and policies that have set up zones of exclusion, and after 9/11 the debate on asylum seekers has led to another level of exclusion. Some politicians and media target ethnic ghettos and blame immigrants for failing to integrate; they use the language of ‘Othering’ to imply that immigrants are the problem. They point out that social issues such as ‘honour’ crimes have cultural or religious connotations, and they overlook the role of class, gender and power dynamics behind such horrendous acts.
Other researchers at the workshop said that gender inequality is universal. For example, the topics of female foeticide in India and domestic violence in families in Australia (irrespective of religion and culture) need space for dialogue.
There was discussion about political contestation in public spaces. People of the same ethnic and religious background may not actively engage in dialogue and may shy away from talking about their differences. Another opinion was that some young people may prefer not to engage in any dialogue (let alone inter-faith) because they do not belong to the privileged class that has the luxury of dialogue.
However, the researchers discussed that the outreach initiatives of our centres are worthwhile. They enable researchers to interact with people at the grassroots level. For example, one participant spoke about the resilience of Afghan migrants and their engagement with wider society in rural South Australia.
Other discussions evolved around exercises to map the notion of theology in urban spaces; the shaping of Muslim ummah identity in the global space; and identifying moral panics in public spaces.
The workshop opened up spaces for future collaboration among UniSA researchers as well as Dr Rebecca Catto and her colleagues in the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University. More importantly, it has brought researchers from many disciplinary backgrounds together to address a common theme: how do we interact in urban and rural spaces to make a difference?
By Nahid Afrose Kabir