Australian Soul: Religion and Spirituality in the Twenty-first Century by Gary Bouma

(Cambridge University Press; Melbourne, 2006)

“‘A whisper in the mind and a shy hope in the heart’ is a phrase used by Manning Clark to describe… a key characteristic of the ANZAC psyche or spirit… ‘A shy hope in the heart’ aptly expresses the nature of Australian religion and spirituality.” (p2)

Gary Bouma reviews qualitative and quantitative material to construct a sociological picture of Australian religion and spirituality which are accompanied by some observations and reflections.  He identifies several changes in Australian culture which have marginalised religion in it’s institutional forms, which to some extent has suited institutional Christianity by freeing it from the bonds of nominalism and an inherited negative associations with English colonial rule.

“The origins of post-1788 Australia have set the pattern for a distinctive Australian religion and spirituality:  low to moderate levels of participation in organised forms of religion and spirituality, individual responsibility, distrust of organisations – especially those associated with the Crown – and the expectation tht formal religion will be organised by professionals for ordinary people while they must tend to their own spirituality.” (p.45)

The move to the margins has enabled some elements of traditional Christianity to take up more critical positions against the State and others to ignore the State and develop their own self-contained, religious-social world.  Bouma sees some signs of religious rejuvenation within this.   However, the decline of ‘British protestantism’ has given way to an eclectic and anti-institutional approach to spirituality.

“The future of religion may be upbeat, but that of a particular religious organisation that may once have been central to a society but is now missing the trend may well be less rosy.” (p.205)

The cultural shifts which Bouma identifies as having most impact on the role of religion in Australia are:

  • a move from a preference for rationality to experience (moving into a post-secular culture)
  • end of Empire and Colonisation as elements of Australian identity
  • hyper-consumer culture
  • multi-culturalism and thereby multi-faith
  • reinvention of family life

He identifies three key drivers in the evolution of religion in Australia’s future:

  • the need for “hope, and meaning grounded in a connection with that which is more than passing, partial and broken.” (p.205)
  • increasing diversity
  • faith based education producing “a cohort of religiously articulate young people who have a much more developed sense of their spirituality than previous generations.” (p.206)

3 thoughts on “Australian Soul: Religion and Spirituality in the Twenty-first Century by Gary Bouma

    • Here you go Marcus:
      “The ANZAC legend is an Australian example of a society rekindling hope. the continuing appeal of ANZAC is hope, mateship and self-giving in the face of pointless sacrifice and suffering, the ultimate declarationof hope in the face of hopelessness. The ANZAC legend is also associated with sacred places – shrines of remembrance – and rituals… The critical feature… is to see ANZAC as a set of meanings is to miss the fact that it is primarily a set of activities – rituals: dawn services, the blare of the bugle, getting together with mates, arguing about the meaning, marching or not marching. The very activity of engaging in these events promotes hope, gets a person going and provides something to look forward to. The meaning is not primary either in being central to the event or in being an outcome.
      “The relationship between ritual meaning and hope is complex. A ritual can do no more than get a person moving, provide a form of actions that reconstitute a group, or bring together people who would otherwise stand apart. The action has the effect of moving into at last the present and often the near future.” (p.24)

    • If you wanted to chase down Manning Clarke’s quote, Bouma is citing from Thornhill, John 1992. Making Australia: Exploring Our National Conversation. Newtown, NSW: Millennium.

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