Olive Branch


is a series of short documentaries that records the establishment and development of a cross-section of faith groups currently active in the Australian Capital Territory. Each documentary provides a previously undisclosed snapshot of religious life in Australia’s capital, through interviews with both religious leaders and ordinary community members that provide a record of both individual and communal responses to questions of belief. Against the background of a developing interfaith movement worldwide Olive Branch seeks not only to document the intangible spiritual heritage of the ACT, but also to encourage and celebrate interfaith cooperation, harmony and understanding at a time when we need it most.


Olive Branch is also an important educational resource and is an invaluable tool to assist in the formalised study of religion as undertaken by the BSSS in the ACT, the NSW Board of Studies, the VCAA in Victoria, the QSA in Queensland, the SACE in South Australia, the TCE in Tasmania and the WACE in Western Australia. These courses, along with those under the broad umbrella of Australian Studies, all stress the importance of understanding religious expression in the Australian context as a means of facilitating cross-cultural harmony, and Olive Branch is able to assist in this understanding with a readily accessible snapshot of our multicultural and multifaith society.


To date this documentary series charts the establishment and development of Catholicism, Lutheranism, Sikhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Sukyo Mahikari, Macedonian Orthodoxy, Buddhism, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Islam, the Interfaith Movement and Indigenous spirituality in the ACT. While this is a varied sample, it is by no means exhaustive and further discs documenting all other faith groups are underway to complete the series.


~ Ardeshir Gholipour


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For further information regarding the Olive Branch project please contact

Ardeshir Gholipour at olivebranchpprb@gmail.com





Prof James Haire, Genevieve Jacobs, Bishop Pat Power, Ardeshir Gholipour

photo by Sylvia Deutsch


Interfaith Dialogue:


By Manjit Singh Gilhotra
(at the launch of Olive Branch, 24 Oct 2010)

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen
The need to promote interfaith dialogue is being recognised all over the world in the context of increasing mobility of people and continuous intermingling of cultures. In the short space of time allocated to me, I would like to share with you some of my thoughts on how interfaith dialogue can progress in a meaningful way.

As I see it, there are three phases of development in interfaith dialogue. The first phase is based on tolerance. At this stage we recognise plurality and diversity in our society. We accept that we have to live with people who are different from us in various ways and that it is not possible to convert all people to our own way of thinking. We realise that intolerance leads to communal conflict and social discord, and it is in our own interest to cooperate with other people even if we do not like some of their ways. I believe that at present interfaith movement in Australia is in the tolerance phase. I have attended a number of interfaith meetings and public events where the need for interfaith dialogue is emphasised but instead of real interfaith dialogue, we have a number of monologues presented by speakers from different faiths. Each speaker tells his or her own story and the audience listens with tolerance.

Tolerance is, of course, infinitely better than intolerance, but what I want to emphasize is that tolerance is not enough; it is not a stable basis for harmony and peace. There is always a danger of slipping backwards into intolerance. Only last week, Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, declared that the experiment of multiculturalism had failed in her country. Tolerance alone will not secure the success of multiculturalism. Apart from various socio-economic measures which could promote multiculturalism, interfaith dialogue can also help if it is serious and purposeful. It is important therefore that interfaith dialogue should proceed towards the next phase of development which is based on understanding. God reveals Himself in different ways to different people at different times. That is how different religions evolve. In interpreting Scriptures, we must take cognizance of the historical and cultural context in which these Scriptures were written. For example, any interpretation which urges the followers of a faith to hate others or kill others should be rejected as out of date and out of order. For me, descriptions like Sikh terrorists or Muslim terrorists are contradictions in terms. You can’t be a Sikh and a terrorist or a Muslim and a terrorist at the same time.


The roots of terrorism lie in social prejudice, economic agendas and political ideologies, not in religion. Ill-considered interpretations of Scriptures used to incite hatred or justify violence go against God’s Will. As Saint Kabir instructs us, “do not say that the Hindu Vedas or the Muslim Scriptures are false. False is the person who does not reflect on them.” (SGGS, 1350). “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching”, says the Holy Bible “

( 2 Timothy 3:12). In the context of interfaith dialogue, It is important to realise that there is only one God, the Supreme Creator of the universe. Many religions proclaim to be monotheistic but some of their proponents continue to insist that their God is different from the God of other religions. That makes one God too many. As different religions evolve in different circumstances, they have different ways of conceptualizing God. But God, the Supreme Reality, remains One. When we look at God’s relationship with His creation, and how God wants us to relate to our fellow human beings, we find close similarities in many religions. Instead of discussing the abstract nature of Supreme Reality or similar matters of dogmatic faith, interfaith dialogue should focus on shared human experience. From my own humble effort at understanding Christianity, I have imbibed a profound respect for Jesus’s teachings which are quite similar to the teachings of Sikh Gurus. I am sure any genuine effort at understanding other faiths will have similar effect.

The third phase of interfaith dialogue is based on love. Love is the basis of life. Love is God and God is love. Did Jesus command us to tolerate our neighbour? “This is my commandment,” said the Lord, “that you love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn 15:12).


And Guru Gobind Singh, the Tenth Master of the Sikhs, proclaimed, “Jin prem kio tin hi prabh paaio” – only those who love God and God’s creation will realise God. Here the question arises: how in this world of selfish materialism can we learn to love? Again the Scriptures show us the way. Guru Nanak says: Jau tau prem khelan ka chao, sir dhar tali gali meri aao (SGGS, 1412) - if you want to play the game of love, put your head on your palm and come my way. Offer your head means give up your ego; surrender yourself to the Will of God. Lord Jesus gives us the same message when he says: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Mk 8:34). Deny yourself means give up your ego and take up your cross means be prepared for suffering in the service of others. Love and selfless service are expressions of the Will of God. “For the Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve.” (Mk 10:45). It is only through humility that we learn to love; it is only through humility that we learn to serve. If we don’t give up our ego, if we engage in interfaith dialogue with a sense of self- righteous superiority, we won’t be able to understand others and we won’t be able to love others. And without love, my friends, there is no hope for interfaith harmony and universal peace.

Thank you.

Manjit Gilhotra - manjitgilhotra@hotmail.com