Melbourne was founded in 1837 on the southeast of Australia. Nowadays, the city comprises nearly four million residents. Initially, the majority of the population was of Anglican origins; however, in the present-day situation, ‘Australia’s population is largely composed of immigrants and their descendants, who have heavily outnumbered the indigenous population’ (Bradshaw 2013). After the Second World War, there was a period of prosperity, rapid economic development, and industrialization that attracted a large number of migrants from many countries. First of all, the migrants from the northern Europe have entered the country. Then, the former citizens of Greece, Italy, Middle East, and Asia have joined them (Boumankhar 2011).
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The religious heterogeneity always was a distinct feature of Melbourne. The first residents were primarily Anglicans, but nowadays Catholic Christians constitute the dominant group. According to statistic data, ethnically diverse representatives of Melbourne’s population identify themselves as Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Baptists, and Jews.
Despite the intense diversity and the constant religious shifts throughout the 20th century, the level of ‘inter-religious harmony’ in Melbourne remains relatively high (Bouma 2015). There are multiple socio-cultural factors that induce the creation of the peaceful environment in the society and that are conditioned by the historical events in the country. Throughout the history, Melbourne’s officials attempted to manage religious diversity and resolve the conflicts between the diverse groups.
For example, in the religious experience of the city of the 19th century, there were tensions between Catholics and Protestants which were imported to the continent by Irish and British, who felt hostility towards each other. However, the government resolved the problem by adopting legislation forbidding the organized violence (Pakulski 2014).
There is a large number of social organizations and institutions that promote the social and religious harmony in Melbourne as well: educational systems, social services, and legal system (Bugg 2012). For example, multiculturalism is one of the most significant policies adopted by the Australian government. The main purpose of the policy is in the provision of assistance for the immigrants for a better integration into a local culture (Melleuish 2010).
Multiculturalism supports the cultural and social diversification, promotes equality regardless the differences in the ethnic background, religion, and race. Reinforcement of the policy by the official organizations raises the public awareness about the importance of the acceptance of diversity. Therefore, it is possible to say that multiculturalism is the official Australian ideology.
Religious Diversification in Urban Context
Melbourne is a highly urbanized city. The socio-cultural factors can be effectively applied in the context of the population distribution or location. The governmental management of religious diversity implies the processes and activities that take place in particular space. For example, the spatial arrangement of the populace residence influences various social and cultural processes such as social interrelations (Knott 2009).
As it was already mentioned, Melbourne is an extremely diverse city; nevertheless, the segregation takes place only to a small extent. For example, the Hinduism density can be observed in the western suburbs of Melbourne and partially in the north and east; Buddhism is mainly located near Dandenong and Casey while Judaism is mainly concentrated in the south-eastern suburbs of the city (Davern et al. 2015). Nonetheless, the sacred sites of different religions can be found in many urban areas. Therefore, the cultural segregation in Melbourne is of relative character (Johnston, Poulsen & Forrest 2007).
The urban landscape in Melbourne is the place where diversities meet and interact. Many representatives of the clergy, priests, and the researchers in the field of religion recognize that the issues of cultural and religious diversity must be efficiently addressed not only on the national scale but in the localized spiritual sites as well (Hall 2011). By complying with the multiculturalism ideology, people of different religious and cultural traditions in Melbourne begin to be engaged in the ‘interfaith dialogue’. In this way, the religious services in churches and temples may be conducted in different languages and may be addressed diverse ethnic groups.
In this way, the religious institutions contribute to the creation and promotion of harmonic and peaceful social environment. The norms introduced by the religious officials are accepted by the public, and the specific style of the spiritual practices is formed in Melbourne’s religious landscape. The diversity thus is regarded as a norm, and it is possible to say that diversity is commonly welcomed.
According to Hall (2011), the promotion of the religious tolerance historically was initiated by Australian Anglicans. In the Anglo-Celtic culture, the concepts of humanity and tolerance were among the highest values (Douglas & Lovat 2011). Both ethnic and religious frictions are regarded as worthless, and the calm attitude towards religions is promoted. The modes of the religious interrelations, interfaith dialogues, and multiculturalism policies facilitate the sound relations between the members of diverse groups and, overall, it affects the multiple social processes within the urban area positively.
As the analysis of the previous literature indicates, the high level of the religious diversification in the societies may lead to the emergence of conflicts and tensions (Kong 2010; Brace, Bailey & Harvey 2006; Syed & Kramar 2009; Bouma 2012). However, the appropriate strategies and practices involved in the management of the religious diversity as well as consideration of spatial and location concepts, on the contrary, provoke the harmony in the social interrelations (Collins 2013; Hall 2011). In the example of Melbourne’s religious landscape, it can be observed that the overall harmonious management of religious diversity within the urban context is possible. Adoption of the policies and regulations aimed at the increase of tolerance may lead to the decline in the rate of inter-religious and intercultural conflicts.
In the face of the religious diversity expansion, the methods which the governments and the official organizations implement to address the provoked issues are of increasing interest for the research. For centuries, the religious and cultural diversity was considered as a problem, and the policy-makers usually attempted to resolve it through segregation and division of groups with distinct demographic backgrounds. However, the multiple studies identify the significance of religion as a secular value, and its important role in politics was emphasized (Knott 2009; Collins-Kreiner 2008).
The given research has identified that the consideration of religions in terms of its space and location helps to understand the risk factors causing the conflict situations emergence in the ethnically diverse societies. It also was shown how the social institutions, services, and organizations can use the geographic concepts in religion (sacred sites, temples, churches, etc.) to improve the social environment and promote the value of tolerance. In the case of Melbourne, the urban areas play a significant role in the management of religious diversity. Through the investigation of Melbourne’s religious landscape, it was shown that in addressing the diversity issues the urban, socio-cultural, and politic aspects are interrelated, and the exclusion of one of them from the management practices reduces the chance for the efficiency of diversity regulation.
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