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Academic program on Western Civilisation

By Peter Bowden - posted Friday, 18 January 2019

The University of Wollongong has recently accepted the Ramsay Centre-funded degree on western civilisation. The media that day felt that staff believed the acceptance was a 'Betrayal,' as the Ramsay deal was accepted without consultation.

There is little doubt that the staff would have rejected the offer had they been consulted. This is now the third university where staff have rejected the offer or would have rejected the offer if given the chance.

Quadrant magazine published an article by Tony Abbott some while ago setting out his reasons for teaching Western Civilisation at, initially, Australian National University . One of the reasons he gives is that "Largely missing, even from Catholic schools, was a deep focus on the Christian faith." This assertion ,however, could not be further from the truth.


It is time the reasons behind the series of rejections were set out. There are several. This article adds yet another. That the teaching of western civilisation is not in the interests of those who take the degree, that in fact it is contrary to their personal and academic interests. But first, the reasons why the universities are rejecting the offer.

The President of the Students Representative Council at the University of Sydney, Imogen Grant, published an article a little while ago in Honi Soit, the student newspaper, arguing that students should protest against the Ramsay Centre's financing of a Bachelor of Western Civilisation at the university. She gave two reasons for the rejection; one was a failure to emphasize diversity: "the Ramsay Centre's programme would be a violation of our crucial role in promoting a society of diversity, inclusiveness and mutual respect. "The second was that the university's processes are being "corrupted by finance."

These are powerful reasons. The Sydney Morning Herald published a counter reply on November 2, Shame if Sydney Uni drops education's biggest hot potato. The Herald writer, Salvatore Babones, presumably a European, did point out that university staff voted against the plan but he adds that Ramsay's critics are wrong to say that the Centre has a "right-wing political agenda". He argued that the proposed centre is studiously and (seemingly) sincerely non-partisan. This despite the chairman of the board being John Howard, and Tony Abbott "the most outspoken member".

The article was followed up by Jordan Baker noting that thirteen signatories were in support, from departments as diverse as medicine, dentistry and geosciences (six wanted to remain anonymous). Hundreds, however, had "signed an open letter opposing a deal with Ramsay in July".

The Ramsay Centre website is "chock full of pictures and quotes glorifying the West".Babones tells us. One article on that websites argues that Liberals are undermining western civlisation. This then is the third reason for the rejection.

University staff are openly liberal, and are likely to reject proposals that have such a conservative background.


This article asserts that there is an even more powerful reason to reject the teaching of western civilisation. It builds on, and extends Imogene Grant's reasons – the need for cultural diversity. That is the failure of Western civilisation to give us a moral code, or even a thinking process, by which we can manage our lives, and our civilisations. The mess that the world find's itself in at the moment is due to our inheritance from the west.

We have a multitude of these arguments today. Same sex marriage, the death penalty, climate management, gun control and health care in the US, abortion and stem cell research, treatment of refugees. All are ethical issues. Western civilisation has given us no way to resolve them. We need to determine whether Eastern, or Asian philosophy has given us. Whether the Buddhists, Hinduism, the Jains, even Islam has answers. And I would argue that they have – the concept of non- violence, of helping those who need help, is Buddhist, but it can be found across Eastern and western philosophies

Europe has been constantly at war for some 2000 years. Much of that war has been over the Christian faith. The 30 year war, a religious war, was probably the greatest killing field in our history. It resulted in eight million fatalities not only from military engagements but also from violence, famine, and plague The relatively peaceful years since the end of World War II have given us some hope that common sense and democracy may have prevailed. But we are not sure. Britain's withdrawal from a united Europe may be relatively peaceful, but it was solely self- serving and does send some shivers of concern down some spines.

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About the Author

Peter Bowden is an author, researcher and ethicist. He was formerly Coordinator of the MBA Program at Monash University and Professor of Administrative Studies at Manchester University. He is currently a member of the Australian Business Ethics Network , working on business, institutional, and personal ethics.

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