Conclusion

Sacrilege and blasphemy are contested concepts, dependent on the definition of the sacred. Within the social sciences, and as the papers in this volume illustrate, the Durkheim-James debate is based on the different constructions of the sacred. This may be either as an individual perception of an overwhelming sense of the existence of God, or as the product of society itself, manifest in beliefs of the existence of the sacred.

What is clear from the contributions to this volume is that religion will remain a central aspect of modern and modernising societies. Whether embedded in the laws of secular states such as Australia, or manifest in more private devotion in the states of south-east Asia, despite the predictions of many early sociologists of religion, it has not, and is not becoming less of a social, political and cultural force. Equally though the implicit assumption of these early works—that religious belief was by definition beyond negotiation and was by definition totalitarian -- has been shown not to be the case. Religious tolerance has been both expressed and practised. Between devout Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Christians there is scope for dialogue, reconciliation and negotiation.

At the same time, the complexity of this debate has to be understood within the paradox of Australian multiculturalism. This, while seeking to foster social cohesion, also promotes cultural uniqueness. Again, as this volume illustrates, contributors from a range of cultural and political backgrounds have demonstrated by their openness, their commitment to dialogue and their understanding of their faith as contributing to a harmonious society, that a space does exist. That negotiation is possible, and a culturally and religiously pluralistic society is a viable option. In short, while there will be no easy resolution of the negotiation of the sacred, nevertheless as the contributors to this volume demonstrate, it can be achieved and it must be constantly sought after.