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Shedding light on Christian Australia's bleak prognosis

Peter Kirkwood |  08 October 2010

Gary Bouma is one of most respected observers of religion in this country. He is a sociologist and has worked in research and academia at the highest level. So he brings prodigious skills and a wealth of experience to the task.

His prognosis for institutional Christianity is particularly bleak. It's a story of aging congregations and rapid decline. He predicts that, by 2021, less than 50 per cent of Australians will call themselves Christian. (Continues below)

Bouma spoke to Eureka Street TV at the Centenary Conference of the Melbourne College of Divinity held at Trinity College, Melbourne in July 2010. The overall theme of the conference was the future of religion in Australian society. He talks about the factors that have shaped religion in Australia, the decline of all Christian denominations, and the future of belief and spirituality in this country.

Bouma had unlikely beginnings for this role as commentator on religion in Australia. He was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1942, and is a citizen of both Australia and the US. He undertook all his academic training in theology and sociology at various universities in America, and only came to Australia in his late 30s.

Since arriving here, he has worked mainly at Monash University in Melbourne, and is now Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Monash's School of Political and Social Inquiry.

Bouma's deep and abiding interest in religion is not just an academic exercise. He is an Anglican priest, and is actively involved in a variety of religious organisations, particularly in the field of inter-religious dialogue.

In 2005 he was appointed as UNESCO Chair of Inter-religious and Intercultural Relations for the Asia-Pacific region. And he was Chair of the local Board of Management of the Parliament of the World's Religions held in Melbourne in December 2009.

Bouma has written scores of articles and book chapters, and over 20 books. A few of the latest are Democracy in Islam (2007), authored with Sayed Khatab , and Australian Soul: Religion and Spirituality in the 21st Century (2006), which won first prize for Christian theology publications awarded by the Australasian Theological Forum. 

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Peter KirkwoodPeter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant with a Master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity.