Whiteness, Religious Diversity and Relational Belonging

Opportunities and Challenges for African Migrants in Australia


  • Enqi Weng Deakin University
  • Anna Halafoff Deakin University
  • Danielle Campbell University of Tasmania
  • William Abur University of Melbourne
  • Gary Bouma† Monash University
  • Greg Barton Deakin University




migration, African, religion and spirituality, racism, belonging, Australia


African communities in Australia reflect the rich cultural and religious diversity of the African continent. Despite their persistence and agency, many members from these communities continue to experience a ‘fractured belonging’ due to persistent issues of racism and exclusion; issues that have been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Religious community groups and organizations have long played important roles in assisting new migrants with settlement and belonging in Australia, including African migrants. This article presents preliminary findings from an Australian Research Council project on religious diversity and social cohesion, drawing on census data and interviews with African-Australian community and religious leaders in Melbourne and Hobart, from Mauritian, Ghanaian, Ethiopian, Somalian and South Sudanese communities. It explores the roles that religion and spirituality play in both addressing and perpetuating issues of racism, trauma and displacement. It also examines the development of ‘relational belonging’ and diverse, complex and dynamic identities among African migrants in contemporary Australia. It argues the case for retelling the history of African migration to Australia, to subvert the myth of a white Christian nation that excludes non-white Australians. It centres African migrants’ lived experience narratives and theories of belonging developed by African scholars to counter narrow and negative stereotypes perpetuated by political and media discourses.

Author Biographies

Enqi Weng, Deakin University

Enqi Weng is a Research Fellow at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation. One of her most recent publications includes the monograph Media Perceptions of Religious Changes in Australia: Of Dominance and Diversity (Routledge, 2020).

Anna Halafoff, Deakin University

Associate Professor of Sociology
School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Arts and Education

William Abur, University of Melbourne

Lecturer, Social Work

Faculty of Arts and Education

Gary Bouma†, Monash University

Emeritus Professor, School of Social Sciences, Monash University.

Greg Barton, Deakin University

Chair In Global Islamic Politics

Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation


ABC News 2020 Three Queensland Women Charged over Alleged False Border Declarations. 30 July. Online: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-07-30/coronavirus-queensland-three-women-charged/12508498 (accessed 14 December 2020).

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2017a 2071.0 – Census of Population and Housing: Reflecting Australia – Stories from the Census, 2016. Online: https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/Lookup/by%20Subject/2071.0~2016~Main%20Features~Cultural%20Diversity%20Article~60 (accessed 30 December 2020).

b 2016 Census QuickStats Country of Birth. Online: https://quickstats.censusdata.abs.gov.au/census_services/getproduct/census/2016/quickstat/9214_036 (accessed 31 December 2020).

Abur, William 2018 Settlement Strategies for the South Sudanese Community in Melbourne: An Analysis of Employment and Sport Participation. PhD diss., Victoria University, Melbourne.

A New Life with Opportunities and Challenges: The Settlement Experiences of South Sudanese Australians. Africa World Books Pty Ltd, Juba.

Abur, William, and Charles Mphande 2020 Mental Health and Wellbeing of South Sudanese-Australians. Journal of Asian and African Studies 55(3): 412–28. https://doi.org/10.1177/0021909619880294

Abur, William, and Ramon Spaaij 2016 Settlement and Employment Experiences of South Sudanese People from Refugee Backgrounds in Melbourne, Australia. Australasian Review of African Studies 37(2): 107–128. https://doi.org/10.22160/22035184/ARAS-2016-37-2/107-128

Babatunde-Sowole, Olutoyin, Tamara Power, Debra Jackson, Patricia M. Davidson and Michelle DiGiacomo 2016 Resilience of African Migrants: An Integrative Review. Health Care for Women International 37(9): 946–63. https://doi.org/10.1080/07399332.2016.1158263

Benier, Kathryn J., Jarrett B. Blaustein, Diana Johns and Sara L. Maher 2018 ‘Don’t drag us into this’: Growing up South Sudanese in Victoria after the 2016 Moomba ‘Riot’. Online: https://research.monash.edu/en/publications/dont-drag-us-into-this-growing-up-south-sudanese-in-victoria-afte (accessed 14 December 2020).

Bouma, Gary D. (ed.) 1996 Many Religions, All Australian: Religious Settlement, Identity and Cultural Diversity. Christian Research Association, Victoria.

Campbell, Danielle M. 2011 Community Policing and Refugee Settlement in Regional Australia: A Case Study of Tasmania. PhD diss., University of Tasmania.

Campbell, Danielle M., and Roberta Julian 2007 Community Policing and Refugee Settlement in Regional Australia: A Refugee Voice. International Journal of Diversity in Organisations, Communities and Nations 7(5): 7–16. https://doi.org/10.18848/1447-9532/CGP/v07i05/39482

Clegg, Joshua W. 2006 A Phenomenological Investigation of the Experience of Not Belonging. Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 37(1): 53–83. https://doi.org/10.1163/15691624-90000005

Crime Statistics Agency 2018 Correction of Country of Birth Data Incorrectly Reported and Attributed to the Crime Statistics Agency. Online: https://www.crimestatistics.vic.gov.au/media-centre/news/correction-of-country-of-birth-data-incorrectly-reported-and-attributed-to-the (accessed 12 June 2020).

Davey, Melissa, and Matilda Boseley 2020 Coronavirus Victoria: Experts Warn against Blaming Migrant Communities for Spreading Misinformation. The Guardian Australia, 28 June. Online: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jun/28/coronavirus-victoria-experts-warn-against-blaming-migrant-communities-for-spreading-misinformation (accessed 14 December 2020).

Department of Immigration and Citizenship 2009 Refugee and Humanitarian Issues: Australia’s Response. DIAC, Canberra.

Ennis, Sue P. 2016 Religion, Spirituality, and the Refugee Experience in Melbourne, Australia, 1990s–2010. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

Essed, Philomena 1991 Understanding Everyday Racism: An Interdisciplinary Theory, Vol. 2. Sage, Newbury Park.

Fozdar, Farida, and Lisa Hartley 2014 Civic and Ethno Belonging among Recent Refugees to Australia. Journal of Refugee Studies 27(1): 126–44. https://doi.org/10.1093/jrs/fet018

GAV (Ghana Association of Victoria) n.d. About. Facebook. Online: https://www.facebook.com/GhanaAssociationofVictoria/about/?ref=page_internal (accessed 17 November 2020).

Hage, Ghassan 2012 [1998] White Nation: Fantasies of White Supremacy in a Multicultural Society. Routledge: New York.

Continuity and Change in Australian Racism. Journal of Intercultural Studies 35(3): 232–37. https://doi.org/10.1080/07256868.2014.899948

Halafoff, Anna 2006 UnAustralian Values. In Refereed Conference Proceedings UNAUSTRALIA Conference. University of Canberra, Canberra.

Special Religious Instruction and Worldviews Education in Victoria’s Schools: Social Inclusion, Citizenship and Countering Extremism. Journal of Intercultural Studies 36(3): 362–79.

Halafoff, Anna, Emily Marriott, Geraldine Smith, Enqi Weng and Gary Bouma 2021 Worldviews Complexity in COVID-19 Times: Australian Media Representations of Religion, Spirituality and Non-Religion in 2020. Religions 12(9): 682. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12090682

Han, Gil-Soo, and John Budarick 2018 Overcoming the New Kids on the Block Syndrome: The Media ‘Endorsement’ on Discrimination against African-Australians. Continuum 32(2): 213–23. https://doi.org/10.1080/10304312.2017.1409340

Henderson, Ailsa 2007 Hierarchies of Belonging: National Identity and Political Culture in Scotland and Quebec. McGill-Queen’s University Press, Quebec.

Horta, Paula 2017 Becoming, Belonging and Sharing: Striving to Live in the Spirit of Ubuntu in Portugal. Coolabah 21: 47–58.

Hugo, Graeme 2009 Migration between Africa and Australia: A Demographic Perspective. Australian Human Rights Commission, Sydney.

Kwansah-Aidoo, Kwamena, and Virginia Mapedzahama 2018 Black Bodies in/out of Place?: Afrocentric Perspectives and/on Racialised Belonging in Australia. The Australasian Review of African Studies 39(2): 95–121. https://doi.org/10.22160/22035184/ARAS-2018-39-2/95-121

Mackenzie, Cynthia, Clovis Mwamba and Charles Mphande 2015 Ancestors and the Politics of Reality: Housing, Home and Belonging in Postcolonizing Australia. Critical Sociology 43(1): 145–58. https://doi.org/10.1177/0896920514565483

Majavu, Mandisi 2016 The Whiteness Regimes of Multiculturalism: The African Male Experience in Australia. Journal of Asian and African Studies 53(2): 187–200. https://doi.org/10.1177/0021909616677372

The ‘African Gangs’ Narrative: Associating Blackness with Criminality and Other Anti-Black Racist Tropes in Australia. African and Black Diaspora: An International Journal 13(1): 27–39. https://doi.org/10.1080/17528631.2018.1541958

Malkki, Liisa 1992 National Geographic: The Rooting of Peoples and the Territorialization of National Identity among Scholars and Refugees. Cultural Anthropology 7(1): 24–44. https://doi.org/10.1525/can.1992.7.1.02a00030

Mapedzahama, Virginia, and Kwamena Kwansah-Aidoo 2013 Negotiating Diasporic Black African Existence in Australia: A Reflexive Analysis. The Australasian Review of African Studies 34(1): 61–81.

Ndhlovu, Finex 2014 Becoming an African Diaspora in Australia: Language, Culture, Identity. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Nolan, David, Karen Farquharson, Violeta Politoff and Timothy Majoribanks 2011 Mediated Multiculturalism: Newspaper Representations of Sudanese Migrants in Australia. Journal of Intercultural Studies 32(6): 655–71. https://doi.org/10.1080/07256868.2011.618109

Pargament, Kenneth Ira 1990 God Help Me: Toward a Theoretical Framework of Coping for the Psychology of Religion. Research in Social Scientific Study of Religion 2: 195–224.

Pargament, Kenneth Ira, Bruce W. Smith, Harold G. Koenig and Lisa Perez 1998 Patterns of Positive and Negative Religious Coping with Major Life Stressors. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 37(4): 710–724. https://doi.org/10.2307/1388152

Pearson, Erin, and Paul Sakkal 2020 Hiding in Cupboards, Eating KFC – Police Reveal ‘Blatant’ Rule Breaking. The Age, 15 July. Online: https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/hiding-in-cupboards-eating-kfc-cops-reveal-blatant-rule-breaking-20200715-p55c86.html (accessed 14 December 2020).

Pybus, Cassandra 2006 Black Founders: The Unknown Story of Australia’s First Black Settlers. UNSW Press, Sydney.

Reynolds, Henry 2003 North of Capricorn: The Untold Story of Australia’s North. Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest.

RMIT ABC FactCheck 2018 Fact Check: Do Sudanese People Account for Only 1 Per Cent of Crimes Committed in Victoria? ABC News, 16 November. Online: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-05/fact-check-sudanese-gangs-victoria/10187550 (accessed 9 December 2019).

Stratton, Jon 2020 Multiculturalism, Whiteness and Otherness in Australia. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

Udah, Hyacinth 2019 Searching for a Place to Belong in a Time of Othering. Social Sciences 8(11): 297. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci8110297

Udah, Hyacinth, and Parlo Singh 2019 Identity, Othering and Belonging: Toward an Understanding of Difference and the Experiences of African Immigrants to Australia. Social Identities 25(6): 843–59. https://doi.org/10.1080/13504630.2018.1564268

Weng, Enqi, and Fethi Mansouri 2021 ‘Swamped by Muslims’ and Facing an ‘African Gang’ Problem: Racialized and Religious Media Representations in Australia. Continuum 35: 468–86. https://doi.org/10.1080/10304312.2021.1888881

Weng, Enqi, Anna Halafoff, Greg Barton and Geraldine Smith 2021 Higher Education, Exclusion, and Belonging: Religious Complexity, Coping and Connectedness among International Students during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Australia. Journal of International Students 11(S2): 38–57. https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v11iS2.3553

Woldeyes, Yirga 2018 Reimagining Belonging: The Quest of Africans for Relational Belonging and the Australian Requirement of Integration. Coolabah 24–25: 45–61.

Yuval-Davis, Nira 2006 Belonging and the Politics of Belonging. Patterns of Prejudice 40(3): 197–214. https://doi.org/10.1080/00313220600769331

Power, Intersectionality and the Politics of Belonging. In The Palgrave Handbook of Gender and Development, edited by Wendy Harcourt, 367–81. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke.

Zwangobani, Kirk 2008 From Diaspora to Multiculture: In Search of a Youthful Pan-African Identity. The Australasian Review of African Studies 29(1/2): 51–65.



How to Cite

Weng, E. ., Halafoff, A. ., Campbell, D. ., Abur, W. ., Bouma†, G. ., & Barton, G. . (2022). Whiteness, Religious Diversity and Relational Belonging: Opportunities and Challenges for African Migrants in Australia. Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, 34(3), 289–313. https://doi.org/10.1558/jasr.20745