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Compassion goes global

 Rev Dr Noel Preston AM, who presented keynote paper at the 2012 Sea of Faith in Australia conference. Photo by Osker Lau

THE 21st century global village provided the theme to this year's Sea of Faith in Australia (SoFiA) 2012 conference, held on the Gold Coast in early September.

Imagining and awakening to the future and to the challenges of finding community in our multifaith world were threads running through the conference, which was attended by members of the SoFiA network from around Australia.

A movement rather than a church, SoFiA was founded in the United Kingdom in 1984 in response to philosopher and theologian Don Cupitt's book and television series, Sea of Faith, with the Australian network forming in Brisbane in 1998.

Taking its name from Matthew Arnold's poem Dover Beach, in which the poet compares the retreat of faith to the ebbing tide, the movement includes people from all faiths, including many from the Uniting Church, as well as welcoming those with no religious affiliation.

This year's conference featured keynote presentations from Adrian Pyle, Peter Kirkwood and Rev Dr Noel Preston AM, and a Q&A multifaith panel responding to "Adapting to the Global Village: Religious Pluralism, Human Rights and Social Cohesion".

Peter Kirkwood in his presention, "The Quiet Revolution: The Emergence of Interfaith Consciousness", drawing on his book of interviews with world-leading exponents of the interfaith movement, asked the audience about the watershed moments in their own faith journey that changed their own way of seeing things.

We all learn the basics of our own faith to begin with, but as we read more widely and encounter the experience of other people it can lead to a broadening of our outlook and a more inclusive theology, where ultimately we may see God in everybody.

Dr Steven Ogden, Principal of St Francis Theological College, Brisbane, and author of Love Upside Down: Life, Love and the Subversive Jesus, gave a talk titled "What's Normal: Foucault, Freedom and the Spirit" in which he took from Foucault's exploration of the history of madness the idea of the socially constructed "boxes" by which we include or exclude people.

Dr Ogden says that one of the most moving stories in the New Testament was that of the woman who was considered "unclean" because she haemorrhaged, but who was taken back into the community by Jesus, who healed her and called her "daughter".

Dr Preston introduced the screening of the TED prizewinning video of British former Catholic nun and writer Karen Armstrong discussing her Charter for Compassion.

He described it as a testament to the truth distilled from her years of exploring religion – that for all the differences among the world's religions and ethical traditions they each emphasise above all else compassion and the Golden Rule to treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves.

The Charter has been translated into 30 languages and has city, organisational and individual partners worldwide.

Next year's SoFiA conference, with the theme "Religion and Sex", will be held from 13 to 15 September 2013 in Toowoomba, Queensland. Visit www.sof-in-australia.org

A video interview and extracts from Adrian Pyle's address "Awakening Faith in an Alternative Future" produced by Peter Kirkwood from the Sea of Faith in Australia annual conference August 2012 may be viewed at: http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=33698

Photo : Rev Dr Noel Preston AM, who presented keynote paper at the 2012 Sea of Faith in Australia conference. Photo by Osker Lau