It is disappointing that both Labor and Liberal leaders are spruiking policy that taps into negative community feelings toward 'the other' when it comes to asylum seekers and a 'smaller-growing Australia'. This reinforces fear and creates division.
In Monday's Australian, respected commentator, Paul Kelly, criticised it as 'a dismal and disreputable stand driven by polling'. And in an opinion piece in The Sydney Morning Herald on 19 July, Tim Costello argued that 'an election fought on such an issue is likely to tear at the very fabric of Australia's egalitarian psyche and take us back to the very worst of the race debate that fostered the rise of Pauline Hanson and One Nation'.
Francis D'Sa, who features in this interview, offers an alternative vision embracing multiculturalism and religious pluralism, which are global realities today and will become increasingly so in the future. (Continues below)
D'Sa knows this reality well. He is a Jesuit priest and theologian from Pune in India, part of a Christian minority in a country whose majority is Hindu, but which also has large numbers of Muslims, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists. He has become well known as a specialist in inter-religious dialogue, speaking and writing extensively on the appropriate theology that will promote understanding and good relations between different cultures and faiths.
D'Sa spoke to Eureka Street TV at a conference at the Australian Catholic University in Brisbane called 'Dreaming a New Earth: Indigenous Spiritualities and the Vision of Raimon Panikkar', and the interview is sponsored by the University's Asia-Pacific Centre for Inter-Religious Dialogue.
D'Sa is one of the leading scholars worldwide on the theology of Raimon Panikkar, who is a pioneer in promoting inter-religious dialogue. Panikkar, now 92 and only recently retired, was born in northern Spain of a Spanish Catholic mother and Indian Hindu father. After ordination as a Catholic priest, he was one of the first Western academics to go to India to study Eastern religions.
Panikkar has three doctorates, speaks a dozen languages, and is a prolific author, having written some 40 books, including a number of seminal works. On returning to Europe after many years absence, when asked about his faith pilgrimage, Panikkar answered with his now famous and often quoted reply, 'I left as a Christian, I found myself a Hindu, and I return a Buddhist, without having ceased to be a Christian.'
As well as being a student of Panikkar, D'Sa has also collaborated with him, most recently on the Spirit of Religion project. Over three years scholars from all the major faiths met for a week every six months to discuss problems and issues from the perspective of their respective religion.
D'Sa also has impressive academic credentials and experience. For many years he was Professor of Theology and Indian Religions at the Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth Pontifical School in Pune. From 2003 to 2008 he was Professor of Missiology and Dialogue of Religions at the University of Würzburg in Germany, and has lectured at a number of universities in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Portugal.
In 2007 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Frankfurt for his work in intercultural and interreligious dialogue. He is now Director of the Institute for the Study of Religion in Pune.
He has written and edited a number of acclaimed books in English and German, including The Dharma of Jesus, Theology of Liberation: an Indian Biblical Perspective, and several word indices of Sanskrit religious texts including the Bhagavad Gita.
Peter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant who worked for 23 years in the Religion and Ethics Unit of ABC TV. He has a Master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity.