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The Buddhism in Australia Research Network was formed in 2013. It is a multidisciplinary network of leading and emerging scholars, higher degree research students and Buddhist community leaders with an interest in furthering the study of Buddhism in Australia.
Buddhism is Australia’s second largest religion, following Christianity. The 2011 Australian Census reported a relatively slight, yet significant, decline in Christianity from 63.23% in 2006 to 60.53% in 2011, and rise in Buddhism from 2.09% in 2006 to 2.43% in 2011. Islam also rose (from 1.70% in 2006 to 2.19% in 2011), as did Hinduism (0.74% in 2006 to 1.27% in 2011), Judaism (0.44% in 2006 to 0.45% in 2011), and Other Religious Groups (0.52% in 2006 to 0.74% in 2011). The relatively large number of Buddhists in Australia can be explained mostly as a result of migration from Asia and also due to conversion, given Buddhism’s popularity in so-called Western societies. Buddhist presence in Australia dates back at least as far as the 1850s Gold Rush period, yet despite this long history, relatively little research has been conducted on Buddhism in this country.
Studies of Buddhism in Australia, such as Paul Croucher’s (1989) A History of Buddhism in Australia and more recently Cristina Rocha and Michelle Barker’s (2011), Buddhism in Australia: Traditions in Change, demonstrate that Buddhists, and/or Buddhist philosophy and practices, have played a significant role in Australian society, particularly in settlement of newly arriving communities, the arts, in healing and wellbeing, in social activism and also in politics. Anna Halafoff, Ruth Fitzpatrick and Kim Lam (2012) have argued that while Buddhism in Australia is an emerging field of study more research needs to be conducted in order to investigate the changing nature of Buddhism in Australia and also the impact that Buddhism has had on Australian culture and life.
In February 2013, Anna Halafoff (Deakin University), Judith Snodgrass (University of Western Sydney), Mark Allon (University of Sydney) and Ruth Fitzpatrick (University of Western Sydney) decided to convene a series of Workshops, bringing scholars and community leaders together in each Australian state, to identify research priorities. This has led to the formation of Buddhism in Australia Research Network and to a series of Workshops held so far in Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, Perth and Hobart, in which a number of research topics and funding possibilities have been identified.
The BIA Research Network intends to convene additional Workshops in the remaining States in 2014, to continue to raise funds for research and to encourage higher degree researchers to study Buddhism in Australia.