Okay, welcome to my very first episode and interview. I am really excited that today the discussion will be with Denis Dragovic, a fellow at the University of Melbourne on the role of religion in post-conflict state building. No doubt, religion has certainly played a major role in the history of human violence. The Protestant Reformation, Spanish inquisition, the Crusades, the Lebanese civil war, the Arab-Israeli conflict, Northern Ireland, I mean, even the most peaceful religion, Buddhism, has somehow produced a radical nationalist group who are killing the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar.
Many people, ordinary and academics alike, believe that religion is the variable that prompts fanatical othering and is the major contributor to fear, hate and killing. This assumption that there is an intrinsic quality or relationship between religion and violence seems to also be contradicted by the fact that religion contributes to positive outcomes, advocating for social justice, mental health, community welfare, and helping the most vulnerable in society.
It is easy to hastily generalise and say religion – or even some specific religions, the current climate focusing mostly on Islam – causes violence and so, for many, the solution is to simply eradicate religion. Fascism and Communism, notorious for some of the most brutal mass killings were anti-religious, so is it religion that’s the problem, or is it ideology and notions of power and fear that prompts people to violence?
I remember when I was a graduate student, I was fascinated with the question on whether Islam could comply with democratic values, since, any uniformity between religion and politics, where governments are dominated by religious authorities, undermines the political process and places minorities in particular at risk. If one religion dominates government, it limits a homogenous social landscape that jeopardises human rights while contradicting the democratic view that religion and state should remain separate. A lack of diversity and the absence of any separation of powers between the judicial, executive and legislative branches of government, only strengthens the risk of violence.
In the discussion, Denis shows to me a very different perspective. How, if religion is the cause of conflict, can religion be used to rebuild a country? This is, according to Denis, a mistake and he shows the importance of focusing on the facts when thinking the grey areas in social and political thought – especially where religion is involved. Denis has direct experience, unlike someone like Bernard Lewis who seems to write a great deal and indeed influence US foreign policy when the man never stepped foot in the Middle East. Starting as an engineer before working in international humanitarian aid and development in various parts of the world including the Middle East and Asia, he has also provided consultancy services to the United Nations and NGOs in Iraq, Jordan, Armenia, Indonesia among others.
He transitioned over to academia and built an academic career as a scholar in the field of religion and society. He holds a PhD in political theology from the University of St Andrews, where he studied the role of religious institutions in post-conflict statebuilding and a Masters of Foreign Service from Georgetown University. He is currently a Senior Member in the Migration and Refugee Division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal where he holds responsibilities for hearing appeals by asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected by the Australian government.
You can learn more about DR DENIS DRAGOVIC by visiting his website and his work is available: