Imagining Asian Australia: Constructions of ‘Asian Religion’ and Australian Federation

Australia’s conscious ‘engagement with Asia’ is usually traced to Prime Minister Paul Keating’s (1991-1996) reorientation of Australian diplomacy, defence and trade policy. This belated recognition of Australia’s geographical place in the world was, among other things, a repudiation of the Anglo-centric orientation that had dominated Australian policy for much of the preceding century, most infamously in the ‘White Australia Policy’, which, from 1901 until 1966, restricted immigration to members of certain European ethnic groups. Australia’s colonial identity might have made such attitudes seem long fixed. Nevertheless, before the federation of the separate Australian colonies in 1901 into a single Commonwealth, Australian intellectual and political life saw a substantial interest in Asian cultures and, especially, religions. Concentrating in particular on the colonies of Victoria and South Australia, this lecture explores how the ‘idea’ of ‘Asian religions’ provided a reference point for the religio-political framework of the emerging Commonwealth of Australia.
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