Former Faith and Globalisation Initiative student wins Young Australian of the Year

Supporting Leaders

Former Faith and Globalisation Initiative student wins Young Australian of the Year

15 Feb 2013

Former Faith and Globalisation Initiative student, Akram Azimi from the University of Western Australia recently won Young Australian of the year. He took a few moments to take part in a Q and A.

1.In terms of your work and aspirations, what has been the best aspect of winning Young Australian of the Year?

Being the Young Australian of the Year is an extraordinary - once in life time - opportunity to make a difference. By virtue of this award, I can pursue my social justice passions on a national platform; in effect, this Award has raised the volume of my voice and extended the reach of my story. I intend to use this new-found stage to highlight the importance of mentoring and mental health literacy for young people, make giving a socially relevant and valued act; inspire my generation to push forward and eradicate polio once and for all; and share with my fellow non-Indigenous Australian how I found deeper sense of belonging and connection to Australia by discovering about our rich and beautiful Indigenous heritage.

2. You moved between Afghanistan and Australia and have said it was a "transition between worlds". In your work you have championed indigenous Australians and introduced them to University students – two groups that might otherwise have not met. In your opinion, what is the importance of understanding 'the other' for building a reconciled Australia, or even reconciled 'worlds'?

In the context of reconciliation, understanding can be broken, albeit artificially, into two categories. Not only must the two or more groups know (in a cognitive, factual sense) about each other but they also must feel with and for each other. That is, there must 'deep empathy' between the divided camps.

Deep empathy requires the actor to only ask what the 'Other' is feeling and thinking but also why. More precisely, deep empathy demands that the actors ask themselves: 'how have I contributed to the Other's life experiences?' This is an emotionally difficult question as it requires the actor to reconcile their emergent sense of social responsibility with their past compliancy. Thus, the first step of reconciliation is reconciling one's self with one's self – and paradoxically this can only occur through knowing about, and feeling with and for, the Other. Once we are at peace with ourselves, by letting go of our hope for a better past, we can approach the Other and create a more reconciled world in the present and for the future.

3. How did your course on Religion and Globalisation and your experiences within the Faith and Globalisation Initiative network inspire your outlook and your work?

Firstly, I am so glad I studied this unit, Religion and Globalisation, because it allowed me to become Dr Debra McDougall's student. She was so inspirational that by the end of this unit I decided to pursue a major in anthropology – and now I am considering becoming an anthropologist!

Secondly, this unit gave me analytical tools that I could use in my social justice work; in particular, it enabled me to understand how religion builds a sense of community and how it can be used to deliver civic services.

Thirdly, this unit was mind opening experience because it helped me conceive of the world more holistically and helped me better understand the complex nexus between local forces and global pressures.

4. If you were talking to an up and coming young Australian at UWA would you encourage them to take the Religion and Globalisation course and why?

I would highly recommend this unit to anyone who has a passion for social justice at a global level. This unit will explain both 'the what' and 'the why' of the structures that shape our globalised subjectivities and experiences. In this unit you will find a holistic answer, informed by an inter-disciplinary perspective. And this will give you the insights to shape the processes of globalisation so as to create a more inclusive, just and open world for all.

5. In your acceptance speech you talked about the reality of dreaming and about the sacredness of the stories you help tell. In the context of a secular Australia, what part do you think this collective spirituality has to play?

I am not sure if we, as human beings, are able to be maintain a non-spiritual life. For me spiritually is distinct from the religion, although they are neither mutually inclusive or exclusive. I define spiritually as the means, stories and practices by which we contextualise ourselves, and our experiences, within the larger cosmos. This can of course be articulated through a religious, scientific or some other kind of over-arching narrative or idiom.

If spiritually is so defined, then it becomes apparent that the distinction between the 'religious' and the 'secular' in modern Australia is untenable. For example, in Australia a strong argument can be mounted spiritually – in the public domain – is articulated through the stories of sports. A cursory look at any sporting report will be demonstrative of the saturation of such stories with religious and cosmic metaphors and references. In a sense, old sacred stories today are (re)articulated through the ritual of sport in the public sphere.