Naomi Wolfe: Address at the launch of the Centre


I would like to begin by paying my respects to the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, on whose land we gather today. As an Aboriginal yanibul (visitor) it is my privilege to live and work on this country. I would like to acknowledge and pay my respects to other Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and First Nations peoples who may also be gathered here today, and in the spirit of friendship and reconciliation, I pay my respects to the non-Indigenous ancestry gathered here today. Our ancestral song lines are passed down to us, they dance within our veins, providing history and context to who we are as individuals and who we are as communities. We have a meeting place here, in our song lines, today.


Mark’s paper is timely. This Centre is timely. These are uncertain, fraught times for people who don’t fit within society’s views of “mainstream”; conventional or insert “national identity” here. These are unsettling times for many people particularly Indigenous peoples around the world. I sat in the early hours of this morning and reflected upon how society sees Indigenous peoples….if it sees us at all. I have been quietly listening to conversations around me. One of the benefits and downfalls of inheriting my mother’s characteristics is that I can sit somewhere and be privy to the most extraordinary conversations peppered with misinformation, prejudice and racism. I am disturbed at the backlash that has been growing and developing against those who don’t fit the mainstream including Indigenous peoples. I am saddened by the experiences of Indigenous peoples around the world and the shared experiences we have. The pain is tangible. I am also disturbed by the frustrations and the lack of space for non-Indigenous people to ask questions, to think about their place in this contested world & contested country, the space for real and gritty engagement.


Growing up I was unsure of who I was, where I fitted. I didn’t look the part, I didn’t suffer many of the injustices that many of my Aboriginal brothers and sisters did. Until I was 16 I didn’t really know exactly how everything in my family fitted in.  Like many of our mob, I was raised in the church but struggled for many years to find a home, a voice, a place. Always rules and regulations, always a ‘job to do’ in terms of educating people. A quiet sense of despair along with a strong sense of hope has punctuated my journey. The rigidity of many institutions, including churches and universities, causes much pain to Indigenous peoples and to others. It denies us a place within research, teaching, learning and living. It denies us the opportunity to give of ourselves, and for others to receive. George ‘Tink’ Tinker, an Osage scholar, writes as Indigenous peoples: “We have a different way of seeing the world and engaging in critical analysis of the world that is transformative and liberating.”[1]  This difference has not had a good reception in most places. But as Vicki Grieves, Warraimay historian attests: our difference, our spirituality is “crucial for applications in academic research and all areas of Aboriginal and Australian development.”[2] Cyndy Baskin, a Mi'kmaq social work professor writes that Indigenous “spirituality is the connection to all that is in existence. It comes from within and outside the self. It is meant to assist us as individuals, families and communities. Spirituality is also about resistance and it connects us to the work of social change.”[3]


I am convinced that more, now than ever before, dedicated space for voices of the marginalized within society, whether Indigenous or not, is needed. This should be more than merely a reactionary response: “we must do something; it’s the right thing to do” etc. It needs to be more than this… so often good intentions and the desire to help have devastating consequences. We can get wrapped up in our need to help that we forgot the needs of the very people that are supposedly ‘desperate’ for our help. The University of Divinity’s new Centre for Research in Religion and Social Policy is a space that can do more than provide the ‘expected’. It has the exciting possibilities of being able to transcend the tired, wearisome stop gap measures and become a place of real engagement – a place of good scholarship, critical engagement across the societal and religious concerns. It can become a place where there is less “scholarship of the marginalized” that is, work that skirts around paternalism & avoidance, and more of a hub intellectual, spiritual and cultural engagement of the real, the known, and the lived. Aunty Lilla Watson, Gangulu woman & the words of the Aboriginal activists group, Queensland, 1970s still ring true: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”[4] The University’s new Centre can set the new standard for intercultural and interreligious engagement and scholarship. Such exciting times!


 Ray Oldenburg, the American sociologist writes that people intentionally seek and gravitate towards “third places”…spaces where people feel a sense of community, a sense of being about to connect and discuss important and often contentious issues. He identified these as coffee shops, pubs, sports grounds, community organisations.[5] He speaks of the need for people to congregate and feel comfortable. I have been giving his work a lot of thought over the past 20 years as I work as an Aboriginal academic within non-Indigenous institutions. I have come to the conclusion that academics, researchers, thinkers, wisdom seekers of “black, white, and brindle” need a third place of our own…a place where research, thinking and discussing can be done. A place where those of us who don’t fit all the boxes can find a home, to develop and continue our contributions to scholarship, policy development and community life. The University of Divinity’s new Centre for Research in Religion and Social Policy seems to me a good new “third place”.


I congratulate the University of Divinity on the launch of its new Centre for Research in Religion and Social Policy. I invoke a blessing to all who are associated with the Centre. The days and nights will be long, the journey perhaps uncertain, and unclear at times, the dreaded paperwork that comes with institutions might seem insurmountable, but keep going! May the University and its new Centre become a home for new ways of inter-religious engagement and the development of social policy! Thank you.


[1] Tinker, George E. American Indian liberation: A theology of sovereignty. Orbis Books, 2008. p.19

[2] Grieves, Vicki. "Aboriginal spirituality: A baseline for indigenous knowledges development in Australia." The Canadian Journal of Native Studies 28, no. 2 (2008): 363.

[3] Baskin, Cyndy. "Circles of resistance: Spirituality in social work practice, education and transformative change." Currents: New scholarship in the human services 1, no. 1 (2002): p1

[4] Sperling, Valerie. Altered states: The globalization of accountability. Cambridge University Press, 2009.p322

[5] Oldenburg, Ray. The great good place: Cafe, coffee shops, community centres, beauty palours, general stores, bars, hangouts, and how they get you through the day. Paragon House Publishers, 1989.