2017 Religious Studies Events and Seminars

Seminar 12, 2017

Professor Nils Oermann

Date: Monday, 21 August 2017

Time: 12:00 - 13:00

Location: VZ 606

Albert Schweitzer: his life, work and theology

Celebrated in his own time as a scholar and humanitarian, Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) was renowned for his work in several fields – as a theologian, musician, philosopher and physician. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952 for his philosophy of “reverence for life”, but has also been variously criticised. In this seminar, Professor Oermann offers an evaluation of Schweitzer’s life, work and theology, drawing upon his recently published biography (Oxford University Press, 2016).Schweitzer

Prof. Dr. Dr. Nils Oermann is Professor of Ethics at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg. He is also a visiting Professor at the University of St. Gallen, and Director of the Research Faculty “Religion, Politics and Economics” at the Humboldt University of Berlin. From 2004-2007, he was a personal adviser of the Federal President of Germany, Horst Köhler; he has been an advisor to the German Minister of Finance Dr. Wolfgang Schäuble since 2009. Professor Oermann is a Doctor of Philosophy (Oxford, in Modern History, completed as a Rhodes Scholar) and of Theology (Leipzig), and an ordained pastor in the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland.

Seminar 11, 2017

Professor Emerita Gillian Clark. Joint seminar with Classics.

Date: Monday 14 August, 2017

Time: 12:00 - 13:50

Location: MYLT102

Gillian Clark is Professor Emerita of Ancient History at the University of Bristol and a Fellow of the British Academy. A prolific author and renowned expert on the social, intellectual and religious history of the later Roman Empire, she is a leading authority on Augustine and his world

Seminar 10, 2017

Dr Conrad Hackett, senior demographer and associate director at Pew Research Centre

Date: Monday, 31 July 2017

Time: 12:00 – 12:50

Location: KK 204

Dr. Conrad Hackett is a senior demographer and associate director at Pew Research Center. His expertise is in international religious demography, sociology of religion, and how religion relates to characteristics including gender, fertility and education. Hackett received his doctorate from Princeton University’s Department of Sociology and Office Hackettof Population Research. He is an author of research reports on the future of world religions, the global religious landscape, the gender gap in religion, religion and education around the world and various other studies of religious demography. Washingtonian magazine named his Twitter feed as one of Washington’s best.

Many people have speculated about the future of religion. Now Pew Research Center has undertaken the first formal demographic projections exploring the future of religion using data on age, fertility, mortality, migration and religious switching for major religious groups around the world. These projections provide new answers to important questions – Will the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated or the affiliated grow faster in the coming decades? And among the affiliated, which religions will grow fastest and which are expected to decline?

This talk will discuss the latest data on the changing global religious landscape, how change is expected to vary by region, as well as the causes and consequences of these changes.

Seminar 9, 2017

Dr Eva Nisa, Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington.

Date: Monday, 29 May 2017

Time: 12:00 – 12:50

Location: KP 14 / 101

Dr Eva Nisa received her Ph.D. from the Department of Anthropology, Australian National University in 2013. More recently, before taking up her post at VUW in 2016, she completed two post-doctoral projects. The first pertains to Islamic contemporary literature, and is a study of the role of the largest Islamic writing forum in Indonesia in disseminating their version of morality, and which has developed branches in numerous countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Yemen. The second, titled “Problematizing ‘Muslim Marriages’: Contestations and Ambiguities”, focuses on unconventional Muslim marriages in Indonesia and Malaysia. At present her research includes the role of Muslim youth in spreading diverse voices of Islam in Malaysia and Indonesia; access to educational opportunities for Rohingya in Malaysia; the most current condition of Rohingya women in Malaysia; philanthropy and middle-class Indonesian Muslims.

Title: "Precarious Situation and Vulnerable Spaces: Unregistered Marriages of Indonesian Migrant Workers in Malaysia"Eva Talk

This paper will concentrate on the trend of having unregistered marriages and officialising unofficial marriages of Indonesian Muslim migrant workers in Malaysia. Under the Immigration Act and based on their working contracts, Indonesian migrant workers cannot marry in Malaysia during their contract period. This paper will analyse the strategies employed by Indonesian diplomatic representatives in dealing with unregistered marriages of Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia. In addition, it will examine the voices of the main actors behind this practice, in particular, migrant workers who have experienced non-state-registered marriage. In light of the growing trend of officialising unofficial marriages, this paper argues that social and political context is imperative to understand how law operates and how individuals make strategic decisions.

Seminar 8, 2017

Shivani Bothra, PhD candidate, Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington.

Date: Monday, 22 May 2017

Time: 12:00 – 12:50

Location: KP 14 / 101

Title:  Jain Shvetambar Terapanthi Gyanshala: Addressing Issues of Migration in the post-independence India

Shivani talk

My research examines the shift from traditional to contemporary methods of transmitting religious education to children in Jainism.  I argue that for the Jain Shvetambar Terapanthi tradition, migration from rural regions of Rajasthan to urban regions across India has been a prime driver in this transformation of religious education. I show that Terapanthis developed Gyanshala, non-formal religious schools, in order to address issues of relocation and to preserve religion, culture, identity, language, and Jain dietary norms.

We look forward to seeing you there. All are welcome

Seminar 7, 2017

John Chote, MA candidate, Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington.

Date: Monday, 15 May 2017

Time: 12:00 – 12:50

Location: KP14 / 101

NCEA seminarTitle:

“NCEA Achievement Standard Religious Studies in New Zealand’s State Secondary Schools, 2009 -2015.”

I will present graphs and conclusions from my preliminary analysis of all entries in NCEA Religious Studies Achievement Standards, 2009-2015, and indicate how this guided the next steps of the research. I will explain the research process of identifying key teachers in key State schools, and outline the consequent focus of the questionnaires and interviews developed. I will then present the preliminary conclusions about key themes and findings arising from my analysis. Finally I will attempt to generalize and characterize the State Schools’ use of NCEA RS against select comparators and relevant aspects of the New Zealand context.

Seminar 6, 2017

Dr Raymond Pelly

Date: Thursday, 11 May 2017

Time: 16:10 – 17:00

Location: KP 14 / 101

Seminar is from 4-5, followed by a book launch of Raymond’s new book, Pilgrim to Unholy Places: Christians and Jews re-visit the Holocaust

Rev Dr Raymond Pelly is an Anglican priest and theologian. He studied theology at universities of Oxford and Geneva. He has been a parish priest, taught in seminaries in England (Wescott House, Cambridge) and New Zealand (St John’s College, Auckland), and is currently an Honorary Priest Associate at the Cathedral of St Paul, Wellington. Dr Pelly’s research includes theology and Māori religious thought, Jewish-Christian relations, and theology after the Holocaust.

Title: “Agency in Auschwitz?”

Given the ‘choiceless choices’ of the inmates and the ‘silence of God’, can we speak of agency of God or the victims in Auschwitz?  Many thinkers, Jewish & Christian, have addressed this issue. Most prisoners had no escape; but some made choices, around food or survival, that were ethical and/or spiritual.  Concerning God, I look at Melissa Raphael’s article, The Female Face of God in Auschwitz.  Can a God, both present and powerless, inspire acts of caring that transcend the Nazi death cult and point to a humane and liveable future?  Is this the God of Auschwitz as of Golgotha?

Seminar 5, 2017

Dr Michael Radich, Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington.

Date: Monday, 10 April 2017

Time: 12:00 – 12:50

Location: KP 14 / 101

Title:Stabat Māyā dolorosa: The Buddha’s Death, His Mother’s Sorrow, and Circulation of Pilgrims and Texts in Fifth-Century China”

golden coffin New computer-assisted philological techniques can show that extremely close relations obtain between a group of three Chinese Buddhist texts, produced in the South in the mid-fifth century. As I will discuss, analysis of these texts also affords a glimpse of Chinese Buddhism at a time of great change. The talk will touch on themes of the Buddha’s death and its consequences; the image of his birth mother, Māyā, and its significance; the enculturation of Buddhism to China; pilgrimage, including the epic pilgrimages of Chinese monks to India; and the production and circulation of texts.

Seminar 4, 2017

Sue Ann Teo, PhD candidate, Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington.

Date: Monday, 3 April 2017

Time: 12:00– 12:50

Location: KP 14 / 101

Title: Bargaining sacred place: Hindu temples under threat of demolition in Malaysia

Hindu templeScholars believe that if a sacred place is destroyed, the community involved will react violently to safeguard it. My ethnographic data of a Hindu temple in Penang, Malaysia prove otherwise. The managing committee responded by willingly relocating their community’s temple to a new place, even though the relocation entails destroying their century-old Hindu temple’s structure.

I argue that underlying their bargaining and compromising, the managing committee was engaging in indirect resistance to the state’s hegemonic development policies. Their passive-aggressive approaches have not only managed to save their temples, but also enable them to safeguard their Hindu identity and religious freedom.

Seminar 3, 2017

Seth Tweneboah, PhD candidiate Religious Studies Victoria University of Wellington

Date: Monday, 27 March 2017

Time: 12:00 – 12:50

Location: KP 14 / 101

Seth Tweneboah has just defended his PhD thesis which focuses on religious human rights within Ghanaian indigenous societies. His research interest is in how, in the name of religion and tradition, people’s rights are occasionally violated, and how in the name of human rights, the concept of the sacred is disregarded and the social and political consequences associated with this.

Title: “Ghanaian Prayer and Healing Centres as Sanctuaries of the Marginalised in Society”

A SethMedia, human rights activists and scholarly reports have bemoaned the depth to which clienteles who employ the services of some religious specialists have often had their basic rights violated. Focusing on episodes of child witchcraft maltreatments, this paper explores a missing dimension of the discourse on Ghanaian pentecostal healing and prayer centres. It argues in the absence of proper state interventions, these ritual spaces become not only centres of abuse but also function as spiritual sanctuaries for the disenfranchised. The paper combines ethnographic evidence with extant literature to demonstrate the correlation between state failure and the search for spiritual security.

Seminar 2, 2017

Rick Weiss, Senior Lecturer of South Asian Religions, Victoria University of Wellington

Date: Monday, 20 March, 2017

Time: 12:00 - 12.50

Location: KP 14 / 101

Title: When Convention becomes Controversial: Resistance to Modern Hindu Sainthood

Rick's talkRamalinga Adigal was a Tamil mystic and poet, famous for his devotional verses to the Hindu god Shiva. His verses, first published in 1867, had the form of conventional poems, modelled on earlier classical works. The controversy they caused thus appears somewhat perplexing. This paper will try to explain how these apparently benign writings caused a rift in South Indian Hinduism. I pay particular attention to shifts in new notions of tradition that stressed rationality and resisted new claims to canonicity. The paper thus makes sense of broad changes in Hindu religiosity in colonial India.

Seminar 1, 2017

Joan Taylor, Professor of Christian Origins and Second temple Judaism at Kings College London is a historian of Jesus, the Bible, early Christianity, the Dead Sea Scrolls and Second Temple Judaism, with special expertise in archaeology, women and gender, and the work of Philo of Alexandria.

Date: Monday, 27 February 2017

Time: 16:10 – 17:00

Location: KP 14 / 101

Title: “What Did Jesus Look Like?”

The Gospels have a strange omission: not once do they mention the appearance of Jesus in any detail. We do not notice this as an omission because after 2000 years everyone today recognises Jesus. We all have quite a clear idea of how he looked, and how he was dressed. But how accurate is his idea? In this talk we will explore how close we can get to a picture of Jesus’ appearance, by considering art, ancient literature and clothing from the first century.

2016 Religious Studies Seminar Series

Protestant Accommodation: Practice or Principle?

Dr Will Sweetman University of Otago

Monday 17 October,  12.00 - 12.50, OK 523

The principle and practice of accommodation as a missionary strategy is usually most strongly associated with Catholic mission. But while there is abundant evidence that Protestant missionaries did adapt their practice in response to the cultural contexts in which they worked, what would be called accommodation in Catholic contexts is generally not labelled as such when it occurs in Protestant missions. This paper will examine the evidence for accommodation of caste in the German Lutheran mission established in the first half of the eighteenth century in Tamil Nadu. As the first Protestant mission in India, the Tranquebar mission continues to be important for the self-image of Tamil Lutherans. While missionaries were uncomfortably aware that they had to “connive somewhat” at the caste sensitivities of their early converts, there was no Protestant equivalent to the “rites debates” which so divided Catholics in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This may account for the lack of explicit articulation of a principle of accommodation as policy by Protestants in this period.

Brief Bio

Will Sweetman is an Associate Professor of Asian Religions at the University of Otago. He studied Philosophy, Religious Studies, and Theology at the Universities of Lancaster and Cambridge, has taught at universities in London and Newcastle, and has held research fellowships at the University of Halle (Germany) and the University of Cambridge. Will has published three books and numerous articles on historical and theoretical aspects of the study of Hinduism. He is founding editor of the journal Relegere: Studies in Religion and Reception and a Fellow of the New Zealand India Research Institute at Victoria University.

Ritual human sacrifice evolved social inequality

Dr Joseph Bulbulia, Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

Monday 14 March, 12pm - 1pm, KP14 101

Evidence for ritual human sacrifice is found throughout the archaeological and ethnographic records, however its functions have been long debated. Drawing on a diverse sample of (93 traditional Austronesian cultures) and applying a computational toolkit from comparative biology,  we find that human sacrifice stabilised social stratification and promoted a shift to strictly inherited class systems.  Results support a link between the rise of religious elites and institutional inequality, and demonstrate how tools from the biological and social sciences may be combined with an increasing wealth of cultural data to understand the complex fabric of human history.

Baoyun (372/376?- 449):The Greatest Unknown Translator in Chinese History?

Dr Michael Radich Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

Monday 21st March 2016, 12pm - 1pm, KP14/101

Baoyun (372/276?-449) was one of the first generation of scholar-monks/pilgrims to make the epic journey to India and return alive to China. Scattered evidence indicates that after his return to China, he was regarded as the finest Sanskrit translator of his generation, and was key in a number of significant translation projects. However, Baoyun is now an obscure figure, almost unknown to modern scholarship. Further, in the canon transmitted to us, only two translations are associated with Baoyun, both attributions are dubious. This talk will present preliminary results of an attempt to recover the work of Baoyun, and through it, his intellectual profile and contribution to East Asian Buddhist history, using new computer-assisted methods for the study of internal textual evidence.

Religions as cooperative breeding niches

Dr John Shaver, Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

Monday 4 April, 12pm - 1pm, OK 501

Several prominant scholars such as Marx, Weber, Freud, and more recently Dawkins and Dennett, have predicted the decline of religion and the rise of secularism. Despite all of their other intellectual insights, these thinkers were simply wrong about the future of religion - current demographic projections show that the world is becoming more religious, not less. This increase in religion around the world is almost exclusively due to the higher relative fertility of religious people. Across all biological taxa, however, organisms sacrifice quantity for quality of offspring. Yet, religious children do just as well, or better. Why? Using ethnographic examples and a very large dataset, this talk will answer this riddle, clarify larger questions about the enormous success of religion in humans, and specify the social conditions under which secularism thrives.

Samuel Marsden, Peace and Church Missionary Society mission to New Zealand

Geoff Troughton, Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

Monday  11 April 2016, 12pm- 1pm, OK 301

This paper focuses on the place of peace in the thinking and strategy of the Revd Samuel Marsden, the founder of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) mission to New Zealand. Marsden was no pacifist, but did consciously promote peace. In doing so, he stood at the foundation of a peace tradition within New Zealand Christianity.

Samuel Marsden, Peace and Church Missionary Society mission to New Zealand

Geoff Troughton, Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

Monday  11 April 2016, 12pm- 1pm, OK 301

This paper focuses on the place of peace in the thinking and strategy of the Revd Samuel Marsden, the founder of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) mission to New Zealand. Marsden was no pacifist, but did consciously promote peace. In doing so, he stood at the foundation of a peace tradition within New Zealand Christianity.

Masjid (Mosque) – Between Architecture and Cosmogony

Dr Christopher Longhurst,  Pontificia Universitas Studiorum a Sancto Thoma Aquinate in Urbe

Monday 2 May, 12pm - 1pm, MY 105

Masjid (mosque) – An architectural space, a cosmic place, a theological concept, a social institution – how so? Exploring these ideas within the philosophy of Islamic law 'fiqh' and the traditions or sayings of the Prophet 'hadith' will reveal how Islam gave rise to an entirely new spatial typology in the history of religion and architecture.

A new Framework and method for the comparative study of religion

Benno Blaschke, PhD Candidate, Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

Monday 9 May 2016, 12pm - 1pm, MY 105

I will discuss with you Lindahl’s (2010) most recent contribution to comparative Christian-Buddhist studies – Paths to Luminosity:  A Comparative Study of Ascetic and Contemplative Practices in Select Tibetan Buddhist and Greek Christian Traditions – and how he conceives comparative study should be done to be successful. I will then talk about how my project Contemplative Responses to the Sense of Self realises this vision by contributing new and more reliable data to the field. I will briefly discuss a new method that I have developed to get the right kind of data to answer what I think are critical questions in comparative religion. The first question is how language is employed by contemplative practitioners to report their experience. The second question is how the context of practitioners comes to bear on their experience. I will proceed with revisiting the Constructivist argument that context pre-determines experience and that the reports of practitioners mirror one-to-one the phenomenology of their lived-through experience. I will conclude with the help of specific examples in my research data, and examples of how this data was reported, that the Constructivist argument is “intellectually lazy” and fosters a culture of “intellectual bullying” - a phenomenon described by John Searle - in the comparative study of religion.

To do a PhD or not to do a PhD?  That is the question.

Andrew Mahoney

Monday 16 May 2016, 12 - 1 pm, OK 501

Alone stood brave Horatius, but constant still in mind; Thrice thirty thousand foes before, and the broad flood behind!” A ‘PhD survivor’ talks about the ups and downs, pros and cons, and why anyone would spend years of their life trying to earn a title that your bank won’t put on your credit card and your airline won’t include in their passenger list.

Polemics of the Book: Tamil Shaiva Hindu Publishing in 1867

Dr Rick Weiss, Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

Monday 30th May 2016, 12-1pm, KP14/101

This paper begins to survey the range of books published on religion in India in the 1850s and 1860s, the dawn of popular publishing in the region. Book publishing in this period was dominated by the editing and printing of classical devotional texts, along with a handful of original literary works. I pay particular attention to the polemical features of these publications, which authors and editors used to contribute to debates about caste and ritual. I argue that this theistic poetry, which at first glance may appear to be disengaged from current social controversy, served as one of the most important polemical literary forms in Tamil in this period.

Religion, Law and Human Rights in Ghana: The Case of Child Witchcraft Occurrences

Seth Tweneboah PhD Candidate, Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

Monday 23rd May 2016, 12- pm, AM 101

The paper uses child witchcraft accusations and maltreatments as a case study to demonstrate the ambivalent role of religion in the interrelationships of religion, law and human rights in contemporary Ghana. It examines how in the face of socioeconomic, political and legal weaknesses, many people tap into religious imaginations and customary systems to find meaning in life.

Sufism in Thailand: From Historical Ethnography and Cultural Geography

Dr Christopher M. Joll. Research Development Unit, Thammasat University, Bangkok, Thailand, and Institute of Religion Culture and Peace, Payap University, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Wednesday 6th July 2016 12 - 12.50pm,  KP 14 / 101

In this presentation, I introduce provisional research findings from my (on-going) multi-sited study of Sufism in Thailand that I began in late 2012. This is an Islamic constituency that about which no research has been conducted. For a number of decades, scholars appear to have been obsessing over the local impact of reformist movements, and the extent to which the insurgency in South Thailand (2004-present) has been influenced by transnational jihadism. I begin by relating how I stumbled into Sufism, how my ethnographic fieldwork became multi-sited, and how my research methods changed with my ethnographic subject. I relate my interest in Sufi orders between Central Thai and the southern border provinces provided new insights into the ethnic and sectarian diversity of Islam in this geo-body historically dominated by Theravada Buddhism. I describe which Sufi orders are present in Thailand, when, and through whom these were adopted and adapted. In addition to these elements of my historical ethnography of Siamese Sufism, this data provides new insights into the cultural geography of Islam in Thailand. I discussed the significance of Sufi orders having largely remained within the cultural milieu of their founders. For instance, the Qadriyyah of Central Thailand is absent in the Malay far-south, and the Ahmadiyyah-Badawiyyah in Thailand has not been widely adopted outside the Southern Thai-speaking Muslim communities.

Brief Bio

Dr Christopher M. Joll is a New Zealand anthropologist, who has been based in Thailand for over 16 years. He has a PhD from the National University of Malaysia in 2009, and is the author of Muslim Merit-making in Thailand’s Far-south (Springer 2011). He currently works at the Research Development Unit at the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Thammasat University (Bangkok), and is affiliated at the Institute of Religion Culture and Peace, Payap University (Chiang Mai). Although his research interests are inter-disciplinary, inter-religious, and trans-national, his primary ethnographic subjects have been Thailand’s diverse Muslim minority.

Digital divide: bypassing traditional ulama

Dr Eva Nisa, Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

Monday 15 August, 12:00, KP14 101

Studies on the Internet have emphasised how applications and social media sources have effects on the way believers of diverse religious traditions practice their religions, including Muslims. The increasing number of cyber-fatwas (legal opinions or Islamic rulings) or online fatwas issued by Muslims, ranging from the qualified well-known mufti (fatwa givers) to ordinary Muslims who merely feel obliged to share their Islamic knowledge, has become widespread. This has led to a shift in how Muslims receive religious knowledge. Vast arrays of fatwas from radical clerics and extremist groups encouraging acts of violence against perceived enemies have also flooded the internet and its platforms, particularly since the attacks of September 11. The terms Google Sheikh, Twitter Ulama (Muslim scholars) or Facebook Mufti have increasingly become popular. This has generated a number of questions regarding the place of  ulama who are not web-savvy but have undertaken extensive traditional Islamic education and spent years studying Islam in the chief centre of Islamic learnings. Looking at such a phenomenon, this paper focuses on the status of  ulama  in today's high-tech world and amidst the birth of a new category of religious authority whose popularity is achieved via the Internet. It examines how traditional ulama and modern intellectuals perceive the presence of these instant muftis or “wiki-oriented” Islam, to borrow Bunt's term. This paper argues that  ulama and Muslim congregants have become more divided as a result of this development in technology. However, the penetration of the internet, the phenomenon of online religion, and the presence of Google Sheikh, Twitter Ulama or Facebook Mufti, have not been able to replace the accountability and authority of traditional ulama.

Brief Bio

Dr Eva Nisa is a lecturer of Islamic studies at the Victoria University of Wellington. Nisa received her Ph.D. from the Department of Anthropology, Australian National University in 2013. She completed her Master’s degree at Universiteit Leiden (the Netherlands) at the Faculty of Humanities with a major in Islamic Studies. Previously, she had completed her Bachelor’s degree majoring in Islamic studies, at the Faculty of Theology, Al-Azhar University (Egypt). Within her Islam and Social Media project, Nisa focuses on three research topics:  Da’wa (Islamic proselytising) and WhatsApp, Muslim youth da’wa and Instagram, and ulama (Muslims scholars) and digital divide.

Social Media and Their Temporalities in Indonesia’s Islamic Field: Capital Conversion Revisited

Dr Martin Slama, Institute for Social Anthropology, Austrian Academy of Sciences

Monday 5 September, 12pm- 1pm, KP14/101

The paper is concerned with the latest developments of Indonesia’s Islamic field. Its focus lies on the role of social media in exchange relationships between Islamic preachers and their constituency. While the paper first discusses economic exchanges between preachers and their followers, it then concentrates on social exchanges and how they are mediated today. Empirically, the paper delivers insight into the concerns of mostly female Indonesian middle-class Muslims and shows how preachers have to adjust to the needs of their followers who are regularly online. Theoretically, the paper offers a re-reading of Pierre Bourdieu’s classic work on forms of capital and their conversion. It emphasizes the temporal dimension of capital accumulation and conversion as well as explores the temporalities of online exchanges that have become constitutive of preacher-follower relationships. By doing this, it can show how Indonesia’s Islamic preacher economy is currently transformed by these online exchanges resulting in preacher-follower relationships that are characterized by dialogic constructions of Islamic authority. Being part of Indonesia’s Islamic field, these changes in the Islamic preacher economy point to a broader trend in Indonesia’s Islamic field towards greater sensitivity to the needs and worries of Indonesian middle-class Muslims.

Brief Bio

Martin Slama is a researcher at the Institute for Social Anthropology, Austrian Academy of Sciences. He has extensive fieldwork experience in Indonesia conducting research on young internet users (for his PhD), on diasporic Hadhrami-Arab communities (post-doc), and currently he directs the research project “Islamic (Inter)Faces of the Internet: Emerging Socialities and Forms of Piety in Indonesia”. His latest publications include “File Sharing and (Im)Mortality: From Genealogical Records to Facebook” (in Sanjek, Roger/Tratner, Susan, eds.: eFieldnotes: The Makings of Anthropology in the Digital World, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016); From “Stone-Age” to “Real-Time”: Exploring Papuan Temporalities, Mobilities and Religiosities (co-edited with Jenny Munro, ANU Press, 2015); “From Wali Songo to Wali Pitu. The Travelling of Islamic Saint Veneration to Bali” (in Hauser-Schäublin, Brigitta/Harnish, David, eds.: Between Harmony and Discrimination: Negotiating Religious Identities within Majority/Minority Relationships in Bali and Lombok, Brill, 2014).

Zeus the ruler, Zeus of flies: divine unity in Greek religion

Dr Diana Burton Classics, Victoria University of Wellington

Wednesday 5 October, 12.00 - 12.50, MY 401

Ancient Greek gods were offered cult not only under their names (Athena, Zeus) but also under their epikleseis, or cult epithets (Zeus Basileus, Zeus Meilichios, and so forth), each of whom has a different function and a different cult.  This poses a problem with the unity of the divine figure who lies behind the epithets.  Can we speak of these aspects of Zeus as part of the same god, when cult offered to Zeus under one epiklesis may not placate him under another?  In this seminar, I will discuss the function of cult epithets, and consider how to identify the glue which binds these different aspects of the deity together.

Brief Bio

Diana Burton is a Senior Lecturer in Classics at Victoria University.  Her research centres on the myth, religion, and iconography of ancient Greece, particularly in the area of death and dying.  She is currently working on a monograph on Hades, god of the underworld.

New Zealand yoga study: examining intersections between spirituality and consumerism in the yoga industry

Ali Tilley, MA candidate Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

Monday 10 October 2016, 12.00 – 12.50, MY 301

Abstract: This ethnographic study looks at the Aotearoa New Zealand (NZ) Yoga Industry, examining the ways that spirituality and consumerism influence Modern Yoga practices. This study argues that New Zealanders choose yoga practices for different spiritual, physical, and psychological reasons, reflecting the diverse sociocultural values and consumer expectations of local people. Moreover, data gathered during fieldwork shows that the Wellington Yoga Industry contains three subcultures: 1) moral communities; 2) secularised corporate communities; and 3) brand communities. This wide-ranging spectrum of yoga practiced at a local level reflects the pragmatic needs, consumer expectations, and imagined ideals of resident populations. Theories from Religious Studies and Marketing Theory help us analyse the complex connections between yoga spirituality, as a set of embodied practices, and desired customer experience, as a set of service expectations. Yoga in NZ is currently under-researched, making this study a starting point for further inquiry.

Brief Bio

Ali Hale Tilley is a Religious Studies major and Master’s candidate at Victoria University of Wellington. Ali is also a Yoga Industry professional who has run a yoga studio since 2007. Ali’s unique insider-outsider perspective offers us an interesting look at New Zealand’s booming yoga market and how New Zealanders’ perceptions of yoga have changed over time.

2015 Religious Studies Seminar Series

Feminizing the Question of Faith in Candrāvatī's Rāmāyaṇa

Professor Mandakranta Bose

29 October, 4.00 PM

Can faith survive under adversity? This timeless and universal question assumes a particular poignancy in the version of the ancient Indian epic, the Rāmāyaṇa, by the 16th c woman poet Candrāvatī, who turns the anguish that issues from social injustice into spiritual angst and makes the process intrinsic to women's existence. That women suffer under male despotism is painful enough; far more corrosive is the realization that this condition of female existence is ordained by the creator deity who rules all existence. By suggesting that women are excluded from the creator's benevolence and even justice, Candrāvatī insinuates into her poem the unresolved challenge of retaining faith in a loving God.

Mandakranta Bose is Professor Emerita at the Institute of Asian Research at UBC and Director of the Institute's Centre for India and South Asia Research. She is a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society (London), and of the Royal Society of Canada's Academy of Arts, Humanities and Sciences. She is also a fellow of Green College, UBC. Dr. Bose is a Sanskritist with active research interests in the classical performing arts and religions of India, the Ramayana, and gender studies, with extensive publications in each of these areas.

Geering on Geering: interviews with an accidental heretic

Mike Grimshaw, Associate Professor in Sociology, University of Canterbury

22 April

Intrigued by what seemed to be either missing or unsaid from Lloyd Geering's autobiography, Mike Grimshaw undertook a series of interviews with Lloyd Geering seeking answers to the questions that arose. In these wide-ranging discussions, Lloyd Geering spoke with clarity and honesty about his life, views and experiences. This seminar discusses these interviews and supplements them with  findings from archival research whereby the truly accidental nature of Geering's trial for heresy becomes apparent.

Wood Seminar Room, OK 406, Co-Sponsored by the New Zealand India Research Institute

Quantifying The Benefits of a Cultural Festival: Social Cohesion and Personal Well-Being from The Wellington Diwali Festival

Joseph Bulbulia (and colleagues), Reader, Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

8 May

Cultural festivals are cherished, yet they appear manifestly impractical. It has long been held that, contrary to appearances, rituals offer tacit functional benefits.  However few researchers have quantified the magnitude of such utilities, and debates about the practical value of festivals persist.  We assesed social bonding and subjective well-being at the 2014 Wellington Diwali Festival celebration and in five successive time-points following the event (N=324 Diwali responses). Participants reported greater physical health and energy levels immediately following Diwali. Likewise, participants felt more connected to their trues selves, to family and friends, and to humanity in general. They also felt more connected to Indian communities in Wellington and across New Zealand. People who identified as ethnic Indians exhibited the strongest social bonding, but enhanced social connections extended to NZ Europeans and other ethnicities. Somewhat unexpectedly, we observed greater social bonding to workplace colleagues, suggesting cultural festivals might harbour tacit economic utilities.  Whether such benefits generalise to other cultural events — such as national commemorations or sport — raises practically important questions for future investigations.

The Occult in Ghana

Comfort Max-Wirth, PhD Candidate in Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

14 May

RA Seminar Comfort 1

This paper will argue that the occult is a vital part of Ghanaian traditional religion. The sphere of occult beliefs and practices constitutes a space in which individuals and groups in Ghana, and for that matter, African communities elsewhere, seek answers to the puzzles of their daily life experiences especially dislocations, such as poverty, disease, chronic lack of money, and unemployment which render them weak and helpless. Although an unorganized portion of Ghana’s religious field, the occult is a crucial domain of religious notions and praxis.  The paper will demonstrate that Ghanaian traditional religion became occult upon its encounter with outsiders—colonial authorities and early Christian missionaries—and over the years acquired new meanings and elements. These accumulated meanings inform the usage of the term ‘occult’ today when people make reference to how the occult is enlisted by others in Ghana.

Divergent Paths for Cultural Recognition;  Jewish and Maori Examples

Hal Levine, Senior Lecturer in Anthropology, Victoria University of Wellington

21 May

Hal Levine

Stimulated by a recent government ban on kosher slaughter (shechita), and a whale stranding involving Ngāti Toa near Wellington, the author compares the quests of indigenous and minority groups for cultural rights in Aotearoa (New Zealand). Observing Māori and Jews navigating in the contexts of the Treaty of Waitangi and human rights legislation, this paper provides concrete ethnographic examples that highlight how such claims articulate with political and the legal contexts in this antipodean nation.

For the Serene Joy and Emotion of the Pious: Islamophobia and Violence in Sri Lankan Buddhism

Bruno Shirley, Graduate Student in Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

28 May

During Sri Lanka’s civil war against the LTTE, Sinhalese nationalists attempted to legitimise the state’s use of violence against Tamil separatists by contextualising the conflict within the historical narrative of the Sinhalese people, based on the Mahāvaṃsa text. Recently a new nationalist group, the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), has shifted the target of their violence to Sri Lankan Muslims while still discursing the same narrative of Sinhalese defence against the impious other. This adaptability in terms of target suggests that the narrative itself serves an important function for Sinhalese nationalism that endures beyond the perceived threats posed by any one target group. I argue that this narrative has come to serves as a contextualising framework for Sinhalese national identity and that participation in the narrative reifies this identity, regardless of the specific “other” that must be defended against.

Religion and the Unmaking of Negative Affect towards New Zealand’s Muslims

John H. Shaver, Postdoctoral Fellow in Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington


4 June

In most Western and traditionally Christian nations social relations between majority populations and minority Muslim communities have historically been, and continue to be, strained. Given widespread negative attitudes towards Muslims, and signs of increasing hostility, explaining anti-Muslim sentiment in Western societies is both scientifically and socially important. Unfortunately, there have been relatively few studies investigating this question. Here we address this gap by investigating anti-Muslim sentiment among a large sample of non-Muslim New Zealanders. Since the 1960’s most studies have found a positive relationship between religion and prejudice towards all minorities; however we predicted – given the unique religious ecology of New Zealand – a negative relationship between religion and prejudice against New Zealand’s Muslims. Moreover, because we suppose that this relationship is driven by the existence of a religious in-group relative to a secular out-group, we predicted that religious people would exhibit a lesser prejudice towards Muslims than both Arabs and immigrants generally. In support of our hypotheses, we show that self-identified religious New Zealanders exhibit less anger and greater warmth towards Muslims than their secular counterparts. We conclude with a discussion of the practical implications of our study and forecasts for the future.

Religious Conflict and the Evolved Human Brain

Wesley J. Wildman, Professor of Philosophy, Theology, and Ethics and Convener of the doctoral program in Religion & Science, Boston University.

8 June

There’s a reason the ideological spectrum in politics and religion exists: societies are more robust and more flexible when left-right conflict and monitoring are in place. The right optimizes precious energy through the preservation of achieved forms of social complexity, while the left optimizes human well-being through criticizing harmful consequences of institutional forms. And the moderate majority sees value on both sides and retains the power to push on whichever side needs support in a given setting. The neurobiology underlying political and religious ideology is fascinating, and helps to craft more accurate measures of  political and religious ideology. Knowing all of this yields an understanding-based empathy, which is a low-cost path to mutual respect and a complex kind of ideological harmony.

Wesley J. Wildman is founding director of the Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion (www.ibcsr.org), a large and active research organization focused on the scientific study of religion employing both biological and cultural techniques.

“It is what it is”: Myth-Making and Identity Formation on a Christian Zionist Tour of Israel

Sean Durbin, University of Newcastle

25 June

This talk will critically examine the ways that evangelical pastors and Israeli tour guides employ religious language at various sites of interest on a Christian Zionist tour of Israel. It argues that applying religious discourse to descriptions of seemingly ordinary sites such as landscapes serves to mystify and therefore naturalise what are otherwise highly contested political realities, by reframing them as manifestations of God’s will. Second, the talk will consider the way these rhetorical techniques work to reframe the touring group’s identity as more authentically Christian in relation other Christian groups who visit different sites of interest in the region.

Transmission and Transformation

"Reception of the Qur 'an in Indonesia: The Place of the Qur'an in a Non-Arabic Speaking Community "

Ahmad Rafiq, Department of Quránic Studies, State Islamic University (UIN), Sunan Kalijaga, Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Sharia image

13 July

Al-Qur’an is the primary source of Muslim teachings, and is believed to be universal across time and space. It was revealed to Muhammad (PBUH) in Arabic and has been transmitted to many non-Arabic speaking regions in the original language.In this presentation, I will discuss how non-Arab Muslimsreceive and appropriate Al-Qur’an and its messages in their local contexts. In particular, I will identify strategies of a local community in claiming a universal value of the scripture as well as keeping their local identity. Based on fieldwork among Banjarese (urang Banjar) of South Borneo, I find that the main mode of reception is through oral tradition. Recitation of Al-Qur’anis is perceived as a way to seek heavenly blessing and rewards, as well as devotional values to meet their material and spiritual needs. It also has performative functions in some communal rituals. Another mode of reception is through exegetical tradition. Here, religious leaders have played a key role in preserving and transmitting a long-lasting tradition of knowledge that has been appropriated to the local context. Both oral and exegetical traditions support each other in conjunction with cultural possibilities of the local context.

Religion and Social Capital: Producing Inter-ethnic Relationships in New Zealand

Devon Robinson, Graduate Student in Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

23 July

Due to migration New Zealand is experiencing an increase in the diversity of both religions and cultures. This poses several practical concerns for policy makers and citizens alike: how do you promote civil trust and cooperation among diverse groups of people? And what role does religion play in this process? This research attempts to answer such questions through the concept of social capital, and examines the effects of religious identification and religious attendance on the frequency of inter-ethnic relationships. Due to New Zealand’s current and projected demographics, the study focuses on the creation of relationships between New Zealand Europeans and Asians. The study draws upon data from the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Survey in order to explore these questions.

Understanding Evangelical Politics in America

Prof David Gushee St. John's Visiting Professor

6 August

Evangelicals play an active role in American politics, and have done so since the rise of the Christian Right in the 1970s. This presentation describes the current activities of today's Christian Right, but also introduces an Evangelical Center and Left, and delineates the differences between the three groups -- as well as some of the key personalities and organizations involved in each. Changes that have occurred in US evangelical political engagement since the presidency of Barack Obama are noted.

Currents in New Zealand Religious History

Geoff Troughton, Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies

17 September

In recent decades, the field of religious history has emerged as a lively field within New Zealand historical studies. This seminar offers an overview of the development of the field, an analysis of current trends, and reflections on opportunities for future research.

The Slave Trade in the New Hebrides”: Covenanting Ideology, the New Hebrides Mission, and the Campaign against the Pacific Island Labour Traffic

Valerie Wallace, Lecturer in History, Victoria University of Wellington

22 September

The late nineteenth-century campaign against the Pacific labour traffic, the transportation of Pacific Islanders to work in the sugar fields and on the cotton and copra plantations in Fiji, New Caledonia, Samoa, Tahiti, and Queensland, Australia, arguably represents a final chapter in the history of British antislavery. The campaign was led by Scottish missionaries in the New Hebrides (present-day Vanuatu), many of whom were associated with the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland, also called the Covenanter Church, a dissenting sect which had its origins in the Scottish Covenanting movement of the 1600s. Seventeenth-century Covenanters had formed a portion of the bonded labour force exiled to American plantations. Covenanting theorists critiqued the institution of slavery and American abolitionism, scholars have argued, was indebted to the ideas of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. These ideas, I will suggest, also underpinned the missionary protest against the Pacific labour trade. This paper links Atlantic and Pacific antislavery and examines the ideological foundations of the missionary campaign. The attitudes to the governance of the New Hebrides, it concludes, can be properly understood only by locating the mission within the longer history of Covenanting resistance to the British state.

The Indian Martin Luther? Arumuga Navalar’s Publishing Project

Rick Weiss

1 October

Prior to the middle of the nineteeth century, book publishing in India was primarily a colonial and missionary enterprise. By the 1850s, Indians began to advance their own publishing projects, and printed books became the most popular medium for textual transmission. This paper begins to explore some of the implications this shift had for Hinduism. I examine the publishing project of Arumuga Navalar, one of the first Hindus to systematically print a range of classical works and original compositions. By looking at one of his first publications, Navalar’s own prose rendering of a canonical Shaiva work, I will highlight his ritual and textual conservatism. This conservativism was also, somewhat paradoxically, innovative, seeking to extend elite, orthodox messages to a broadening reading public. My analysis will question the adequacy of prior evaluations of his project, which invoke a Western precendent by comparing his efforts to the work of Martin Luther.

Understanding the Islamic School in Indonesia: Pondok pesantren

Edi Erwan

Edi Erwan

2 October

Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world with over 202 million Muslims and has more than 50,000 Islamic schools in the country. There are three types of Islamic schools, pondok pesantrens are the oldest and are regarded as the bastion of Islamic knowledge as well as the main provider of Islamic scholars and teachers. Pondok pesantren have intellectual, but primarily religious and moral goals. Based on popular tradition, the pondok pesantren education system originated from traditional Javanese pondokan; dormitories; ashram for Hindu or viharas for Buddhists to learn religious philosophies, martial arts and meditation. The purpose of this paper is to describe how a unique Islamic education system, named Pondok Pesantren, implemented and contributed substantially to the character education of its students.The   paper also will discuss issues such as the survival of pondok pesantren today and in the future with modern challenges.

2014 Religious Studies Seminar Series

Religion and Disaster Relief: Rethinking their Relationships in Asia

Philip Fountain, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

13 March

This seminar is focused on the second of these tasks. Through critical engagement with three recent books – Riesebrodt’s The Promise of Salvation, Barnett’s Empire of Humanity, and Huet’s The Culture of Disaster – I seek to re-think the ways that the entanglements of religion and disaster relief are analysed and, following on from this, I point to how this might be put to work in the research agenda on this topic in the Asian region.

Sacred Tears in a Secular World: The Role of Religion, Spirituality and Faith in the Processes of Trauma and Recovery

Lynne O’Brien, MA. candidate in Religious Studies

27 March

Sacred tears in a secular world is an ethnographic study into the role that religion, spirituality, and faith (RSF) plays for some people dealing with and recovering from the far-reaching effects of significant trauma, in post-earthquake Christchurch. A continuum of earlier field and literary research conducted in 2012, this project aims to contribute to current discussions on religion and trauma by identifying the function of religion in people’s everyday real-life worlds. The respondents in this study represent faith paths that are themselves less known about or understood and illustrate that RSF is important for some sectors of the community, but not necessarily in the way that we think.

Maps of Reality: a model for Understanding Religions

Chris Parr, Professor, Department of Religious Studies, Webster University.

The book I am presently working on is provisionally titled Maps of Reality: Making  sense of religions in a world that’s full of them. I propose that the model of Religions as Maps of Reality (which I derive from psychologist Scott Peck and Religious studies scholar Joseph

3 April

Kitigawa) shows that any religious position has 5 aspects: how the world is put together (cosmology); where we are in it (the human condition); where we are going  (human destinies); how to get there (possible life-paths); and what to notice along the way (the sacred & the abhorrent). Religions can therefore be compared and contrasted, and historical developments can be described, in terms of these five Aspects comprising their respective maps of reality.

Democracy, Pluralism and Conservative Religion

Zainal Abidin Bagir (Visiting Lecturer, Religious Studies, Victoria University, Wellington; Center for Religious and Cross-cultural Studies, Graduate School, Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia)

8 May

Recent rethinking of secularism and the questioning of  old assumptions about its necessity for democracy have opened up new possibilities to think about religion and democracy. This question is important more specifically in the case of Muslims, who now live in countries undergoing democratization (e.g. Indonesia, Senegal, Turkey, Tunisia). When religion is said to be compatible with democracy, does it refer only to the liberal kind? Can democracy live with a conservative religion? If diversity is a mark of today’s democracy, what kind of pluralism is required by a pluralist democratic polity? My presentation will look at the theoretical discussions, then will take case studies mostly from Muslim majority countries, especially Indonesia.

Miracles and modern Hinduism

Rick Weiss, Senior Lecturer, Religious Studies Programme

22 May

Scholars often highlight processes of rationalisation in the development of modern Hinduism. They point out that Hindu reformers and nationalists, the vanguard of modern Hinduism, were increasingly impatient with the 'superstitions' of many Hindus, viewing accounts of the extraordinary as artifacts of the past and impediments to change. However, not all strands of modern Hinduism dispelled of claims to the miraculous. In this paper I look at the miraculous claims of Ramalinga Adigal, a Tamil mystic active in the 1850s-70s. I will pay particular attention to how he and his followers asserted his extraordinary powers in order to legitimate innovations that continue to characterize Hinduism today.

When Does Philology Turn into Masochism? The Challenges of the Bao sheng lun

Michael Radich, Senior Lecturer, Religious Studies Programme

29 May

The Bao sheng lun Yijing's (635-713) Chinese translation of a Sanskrit commentary attributed to Dharmapāla (Ch. 6th century) on the "Twenty Verses" (Viṃśikā) of Vasubandhu (5th century). The root text is one of the most seminal texts of the Buddhist school known as Yogācāra ("Practice of Yoga") or Vijñaptimātra ("Representations Only"). This school claims that in ultimate truth, nothing "exists" but what is given to us as "mind", and the representations that are given as its "contents". With three other scholars (from Taiwan and Japan), I am now engaged in a new collaborative project to translate, annotate and interpret the Bao sheng lun. Like all of Dharmapāla's corpus, the Bao sheng lun was lost in the original Sanskrit, and survives only in Chinese (to my knowledge, none of his works were preserved even in Tibetan). We must thus work by trying to read "through" the Chinese, to discover the original Sanskrit lying behind it; in so doing, we will avail ourselves as heavily as possible of proximate sources in Tibetan and Sanskrit, as well as Chinese. This talk will introduce this extremely difficult text and its content; the methods by which we hope to tackle the text; and discuss the contribution such a study might hope to make to the field.

Cosmic (Dis-)Order and Retributive Justice: The Problem of Evil, the Law of Nature, the Ways of God, and the Cross of Christ

Dr Darrin Belousek

June 12

The common wisdom of humanity is that justice is based on the law of retribution (repayment in kind).  This view is buttressed, often unconsciously, by the ancient belief that, because God is both creator and judge of the world, the cosmic order is necessarily a moral order: a universal law of retributive justice is woven into the cause-effect pattern of the cosmic fabric.  This common view is confounded, however, by the classic problem of evil: the righteous suffer while the wicked prosper.

This talk will question, not whether the cosmic order has a causal structure or moral ordering, but whether the God-created order is a retributive system, whether retribution is the "natural law" of justice.  Reflecting on the wisdom literature of the biblical canon, ancient Greece, and early Christianity, as well as the empirical observations of contemporary experience, this talk will argue that the wisdom revealed by the cross of Christ--which demonstrates justice that transcends retribution for the sake of redemption--displays both the ways of God and the order of creation.

Dr Darrin Belousek teaches in the philosophy and religion department at Ohio Northern University and at Blufton University, in USA. His PhD is in the philosophy of science from Notre Dame University. Among his many publications are the major book Atonement, Peace and Justice: the Message of the Cross and the Mission of the Church (Eerdmans, 2011 ) and, more recently, Good News: The Advent of Salvation in the Gospel of Luke (Liturgical Press, 2014)

Strength of Religion and the Future of the Churches” (Geoff Troughton, Joseph Bulbulia, Chris. G. Sibley)

Geoff Troughton, Senior Lecturer, Religious Studies

24 July

This seminar will consider the future of New Zealand churches, based on analysis of survey responses drawn from the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (NZAVS). Specifically, we address the question of strength of religious identification, focusing on respondents’ subjective perception of the importance of religion to their life and identity. Our analysis focuses on the relationship between religious identification and age, and highlights varied patterns within different religious groupings. We describe four important and surprising findings, and discuss their implications for the future of New Zealand churches in the light of recently released 2013 census data.

Travelling with 'the Spirit': International Migration and Indigenous Pentecostalism in Ghana and Australia

Dorcas Dennis, PhD candidate, Religious Studies

31 July

There is a growing sense in Ghana that migrating to the West demands migrants’ spiritual empowerment. Correspondingly, indigenous Pentecostal traditions that dominate the Ghanaian religious field are constantly coming up with new narratives, practices and strategies designed to meet these demands. Consequently, Ghana’s Pentecostal churches are gradually occupying a crucial niche in Ghana and the Ghanaian diaspora in the West as the specialists in the provision of spiritual answers to questions linked to international migrations.   This paper presents an overview of my ongoing research on the ways Ghanaian indigenous Pentecostals facilitate international migrations to the West. The paper discusses my findings from the fieldwork I conducted among members of the Church of Pentecost (CoP) and Power Chapel (PC) in Ghana and Australia. Using the data from the field, I offer an account of the Ghanaian indigenous Pentecostal narratives and rituals that speak to needs of Ghanaians migrating to the West generally and Ghanaian migrants in Australia. The key argument of the presentation is that international travel and migration to the West have become so closely integrated into Ghanaian indigenous Pentecostal religious activities that we can say these churches are facilitators or enablers of these population flows.

A Model for Religiously Motivated Charity  (Joseph Bulbulia, Geoff Troughton, Danny Osborne, Chris Sibley)

Joseph Bulbulia, Associate Professor, Religious Studies

7 August

Charity counts among the defining features of our species, yet its psychological underpinnings remain unclear. We assessed the relationship between Charity, Political Affiliation, and Religious Identification in a large and diverse sample of New Zealanders (n=6518). In contrast to previous research, our models rigorously control for a host of demographic variables, for zero-inflation in charitable outcomes, and for social desirability biases. In line with previous research, however, we find that (1) religious identification predicts charitable donations and volunteering; (2) politically conservative religious New Zealanders donate more time and money than politically liberal Christians; (3) secular conservatives are the least generous of all groups. Importantly, differences between religious people and non-religious people in life-satisfaction can be entirely accounted for by the positive association between life-satisfaction and charity. Results suggest that religious people, and particularly religious conservatives may be happier because they give more to charity and are more likely to volunteer, however the association between charity and life-satisfaction also extends to secular people who give. Collectively, these findings suggests that when it comes to predicting life-satisfaction, ideology is secondary: it is charitable deeds that count. Religious identification and political orientation are predictive of life-satisfaction only to the extent such orientations enhance charitable giving.

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and an Islamic State

Hanlie Booysen, PhD candidate, Religious Studies

14 August

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (SMB) is committed to an Islamic state. However, this commitment does not entail support for the Islamic Caliphate proclaimed in July 2014 by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State (IS), formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham (ISIS). The head of the Brotherhood said IS has “radical views” and directly criticised Al-Baghdadi’s self-proclaimed leadership. Muslim Brotherhood (MB) ideologue and President of the World Federation of Muslim Scholars Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi further said Baghdadi’s Islamic Caliphate does not meet conditions dictated by shari`a; it has no legitimacy in other words.

What then is an Islamic state? How does the SMB conceive of an Islamic state? What is the role of shari`a in such an Islamic state? Would such a state be compatible with democracy? These questions motivate my research into the relationship between the SMB and an Islamic state.

In this paper I will provide some background on the political developments in Syria and the impact thereof on its neighbours, such as Iraq. I will then argue that the SMB is committed to the notion of an Islamic state, though its conception thereof has evolved to something that is very different from the Islamic Caliphate proclaimed by Baghdadi in July. I will finally present a possible framework for analysis that draws on both social movement theory (SMT) and organisation theory.

The Era of the Common Man has Come: The Position of the Chief in Contemporary Ghana

Seth Tweneboah

11 September

Traditionally, a chief in a Ghanaian community is the political leader of an ethnic group. Because the political and the religious landscape are enmeshed in African indigenous cultures, the basis of the chief’s political authority is religion. Among the Akan of Ghana, a chief is a sacred person. He sits on a throne or stool that has been used by previous chiefs. The stool links him with the spirits of the departed chiefs upon whom the welfare of the community is thought to depend. As such challenging him attracts some religious sanctions. This presentation examines the implications of these chiefly sanctions in the light of a rapidly modernizing, thoroughly globalizing, and a religiously and legally pluralistic Ghana where the influence of western originated belief in the rights of the common man is growing.

Roman Catholic Shrines in Chennai, India: Official “Shrine” Status as a Recently Discovered Tool for Marketing and Evangelization

Thomas Nagy

25 September

It is not widely known in the West, but the city of Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India is home to several historically and spiritually significant Roman Catholic shrines. However, if we understand the special designation of “shrine” as being an official title bestowed by the Church as outlined in the Code of Canon Law, it is surprising to note that many of these sites only achieved this prestige within the last ten years starting with the renovation of San Thome Cathedral in 2004. This presentation will explore the Church in Chennai’s utilization of a shrinal-based evangelization and marketing strategy that involves the wide-spread acquisition of official “shrine” status for several of its most locally significant churches. As I argue, official “shrine” status serves to better legitimize and reinforce the Indian Church’s positionality as a part of a wider global and universal (Catholic) community in the face of the nearly overwhelming popular (Hindu) religiosity so commonly found at Christian shrines throughout South India.

Troping the tradition: the hermeneutics of psalmody in Paul

Matthew Scott

16 October

The apostle Paul is often figured as a hermeneutical theologian, a dialectical reader in constant conversation with the texts of his tradition. Through quotation, allusion and so-called “echo”, it is argued, Paul brings the voice of scripture to speech full-fledged. By examining quotations of Davidic psalmody in Paul, and those in which Christ can be installed as subject, this paper discerns a different kind of author: a polemical, rather than conversational, reader willing to assert the hermeneutical novelty of the Christ-event.

Seminars by Dr Ansari Yamamah, Dr Nofrianto and Dr Ansari Yamamah

Models of Thought in the Islamic Law of Indonesian Islam: A Sociological Perspective    The study of Islamic Law cannot be separated from the socio-cultural and political models of thought developed in a society. This is also true of  Indonesian Muslims. From this perspective, Islamic Law is characterised by its societies ("local Islam"), on the one hand, and on the other hand, is what has been determined by Allah as the Law Maker ("international Islam"). A problem then arises, at least in Indonesian Islam, because "local Islam" is still an alien notion. However, some movements are afoot to transnationalise "middle eastern Islam", including efforts regarding the authoritarianisation of the classical schools of Islamic Law. Some Islamic movements active in this regard, both political and also religious, consider Islamic Law to be entirely the command of Allah. Against this trend, local Islam tries to understand and formulate Islamic law not solely from what is derived from classical interpretations, which are very strict in nash understanding, but also by looking at what is developing in the society in question. Transnational Islam, by contrast, not only  looks to accepting classical Islamic Law, but also tries to codify what has been formulated by the classical ulama. Efforts need to be made to collaborate and eliminate conflict between these two distinct approaches to Islamic Law, for the sake of  the harmonisation of religiosity, including the practical ideas of Islamic Law in societal realities.

Dr Yamamah is a lecturer in the Faculty of Islamic Law at the State Islamic University of North Sumatra, Indonesia. He obtained his Master's Degree from Leiden University in 1998 and his Doctoral Degree from State Islamic University of North Sumatra, with a dissertation entitled "Transnational Fatwa on Jihad: A Legal Study of the Fatwas of Middle Eastern Ulama Related to Religious Conflict in Maluku". He also works for the North Sumatra Interreligious Forum for Harmony; is chairman of The Center for Study of Deradicalisation at his university; and has published articles in World Journal of Islamic History and Civilisation (IDOSI Publication) and Journal Tamaddun, University of Malaya.

Islamic Economics and Finance in Indonesia: Opportunity and Challenge

Dr Nofrianto

In recent years, Islamic economics and finance have developed so vigorously that they have evolved from a nascent industry to a global market, in which Muslims and non-Muslims work together and learn from each other for the development of relevant products and services. The fundamental feature of Islamic economics and finance is socio-economic and distributive justice. It also has a comprehensive system of ethics and moral values. The Islamic economic system prohibits commercial interest (riba), excessive uncertainty (gharar), and gambling (maysir) and all other games of chance, and emphasises a social welfare system based on mutual help, character-building, behavioural changes, and the system of Zakat.  Islamic economics, banking and finance is being practised in over 75 countries around the world, with about 550 Islamic financial institutions in the field. This talk examines the reasons for the growth of Islamic economics and finance, and the problems  and misconceptions associated with this growth.

Dr Nofrianto holds BA (1999) and MA (2003) degrees in Islamic Law from Imam Bonjol State Islamic Institute, West Sumatera, Indonesia. He was awarded his PhD (2012) in Islamic Economics from Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, Indonesia. He has taught at Sutlhan Thaha Saifuddin Islamic State Institute Jambi, The University of Jambi. His research interests include Islamic Economics, Law and Finance, Islamic Capital Market and takaful (Islamic insurance).

2013 Religious Studies Seminar Series

14 March 2013

“Faith After An Earthquake: A Longitudinal Study of Religion and Perceived Health Before and After The 2011 Christchurch New Zealand Earthquake”

Dr Joseph Bulbulia, Senior Lecture Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington, and Dr Chris Sibley, senior lecturer in social psychology, University of Auckland. Chris is the lead researcher for the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study, which he launched in 2009 to investigate stability and change in values among New Zealanders over time.

On 22 February 2011, Christchurch New Zealand (population 367,700) experienced a devastating earthquake, causing extensive damage and killing one hundred and eighty-five people. We first investigated whether the earthquake-affected were more likely to believe in God. Consistent with the Religious Comfort Hypothesis, religious faith increased among the earthquake-affected, despite an overall decline in religious faith elsewhere. This result offers the first population-level demonstration that secular people turn to religion at times of natural crisis. Our findings suggest that religious conversion after a natural disaster is unlikely to improve subjective well-being, yet upholding faith might be an important step on the road to recovery.

21 March 2013

“British Feminists and Religion in the Aftermath of Suffrage”

Jessica Koffler-Thurlow, Assistant Professor, Dept. of History, Aurora University, Illinois, USA and current Resident Scholar, Stout Centre for New Zealand Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

While the scholarship on the British women’s movement in the aftermath of suffrage has developed over the years, the historiography is not nearly as vast as the topic deserves. This paper will provide an examination of some of the intersections between faith and feminism in England during the mid-twentieth century, specifically campaigns for women’s ordination to the priesthood and female chaplain positions within the military. I argue that not only was feminist activity strong in the 1940s and 1950s, and often shouldered by older suffrage advocates, but that religious identity was a crucial motivating factor for many women’s political activity. Additionally, religious institutions became a battleground in which to contest gender inequality. Thus, assumptions that feminists were anti-religious and militantly secular in this period should be re-examined against clear evidence to the contrary.

11 April 2013

“Peace of Mind: Calming the Storm of Thoughts according to the Patristics of the Desert Fathers”

Dalia Tinawi, MA in Applied Theology and currently an independent scholar

This talk examines the relationship between the assaulting thoughts, the growth of addictive behaviour and the development of neuroses in the context of the teachings of the Church Fathers and the revival of these teachings in the writings of contemporary Elders and Orthodox psychotherapists. This study provides a Neptic treatment highlighting three interventions against mental turmoil: disclosure of thoughts under spiritual direction, dismissal of attacks by watchfulness and prayer, and transformation of thoughts by acquiring mental humility. I conclude that Patristic teachings provide a safety net that not only prevents, but can cure inner unrest.

18 April 2013

“Presence, Virtuality, and Tulkus in Tibetan Buddhist Online Communities”

Cath Soper, MA Candidate in Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

In recent years Tibetan tulkus have begun using online tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube as ways of creating ties, and interacting with their followers. The increasing use of the internet by religious groups has provoked discussion and thought amongst scholars and practitioners alike about what “type” of space the internet can be. Can it be a sacred space?
This seminar will discuss how the internet could be a sacred space for Tibetan Buddhists.

2 May 2013

“ Issues of Spirituality Confronting Caregivers of the Ageing Population”

Judy Hardie, MA candidate in Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

Spiritual awareness in the ageing and increasingly multi-cultural New Zealand society of the twenty first century has become a complex issue yet, within New Zealand, it remains a substantially under-researched topic. My observation of the ageing population during years of responding to their spiritual needs suggests that many people experiencing the final years of their lives find themselves in transition from previously held concepts to new understandings of a spiritual dimension of existence. At this stage of life, the support required from caregivers becomes multidimensional. The more obvious responses to physical or medical assistance needed by the incapacitated ageing population must be augmented with a positive response to individual emotional and spiritual needs. My thesis suggests that these needs have not been adequately expressed or understood.

9 May 2013

“Missionary Peacemaking”

Dr Geoff Troughton

In former times, early missionaries to New Zealand often represented own their mission as bringing a ‘gospel of peace’. Subsequent commentators frequently accepted this assessment and celebrated their peacemaking exploits. That peacemaking reputation has now waned, and is scarcely evident in the historiography of the local peace tradition. Paying particular attention to the history of the CMS, this paper examines changing perceptions of the missions and peace in New Zealand, and the ongoing significance of the missionary peace motif.

16 May 2013

“Projection as the Basis of Religion”

Barrie Davis, PhD candidate Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

Projection has been given as the basis of beliefs regarding God and gods by writers such as Feuerbach and Freud, yet the mechanism of projection has not been identified. I will propose an explanation of projection by applying General Systems Theory to cognitive psychology. This is new approach and I will solicit your feedback after the presentation.”

23 May 2013

“The Midwife of Truth: Irony in the Gospel of John”

Bruce Bell, PhD candidate in Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

The Gospel according to St. John (aka the Fourth Gospel) is renowned for its use of the enigmatic and engaging rhetorical device of irony. Whilst this phenomenon is well attested by scholars and notwithstanding the increase of narrative criticism in Johannine studies, there have been only a few attempts to explain the “how” of Johannine irony and no meaningful attempts to explain the “why.” The reticence of scholars and biblical commentators is understandable, perhaps even judicious, given that irony “laughs at all pretensions, especially the pretension of claiming to have grasped irony.” One hypothesis for the “why” of Johannine irony is that it is intrinsically linked to another Johannine preoccupation “alētheia” (truth). The notion that irony serves the Johannine quest for truth will be explored with particular reference to the Fourth Gospel’s prologue (1:1-18).

30 May 2013

“A Simple Computer Tool for Analysis of Large Quantities of Chinese Buddhist Texts: Some First Results, Potential Uses, and Methodological Considerations”

Dr Michael Radich

In collaboration with Jamie Norrish, I have recently been working on a conceptually simple tool for the analysis of large quantities of text in the Chinese Buddhist canonical and para-canonical collections. For two groups of text of arbitrary size, up to and including the canon in its entirety, the tool answers one of two questions: What strings of user-defined length n ("n-grams") are in A, but not B? or: What strings are in both A and B? Early experience with the working prototype of the tool developed in late 2012 are already confirming the expectation that despite its simplicity, this tool has great potential.

22 August 2013
“Irreconcilable Histories: Writing a biography of the Prophet’s daughter Fatima”

Dr Arthur F. Buehler

After a brief introduction to the subject of Fatima in early Islamic history, I demonstrate the impossibility of reconciling Sunni and Shi‘i histories, calling into question the extent to which either set of sources can be called “historical.” Then the paper will explain some preliminary approaches to the subject, many of which question both the conventional historical Islamic sources and modern scholarly approaches to these sources.

12 September 2013
“Torah Min Ha-Shamayim: Revelation in Modern Jewish Theology”

Professor Paul Morris, Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

Modernity poses a number of challenges to traditional accounts of revelation, and this is as true for Judaism as it is for Christianity, albeit in different ways. This paper traces these challenges and explores a number of responses by Jewish thinkers. The final section examines the communal impact of these debates and deliberations, with a particular focus on Orthodox Judaism. This forms part of a larger work on modern Jewish theology.

19 September 2013
“Are the Poor Worthy? Ritual Food-giving in India”

Dr Rick Weiss

The distribution of food by temples, monasteries, and other religious institutions has a long history in South Asia. Inscriptional and textual evidence indicates that gifts of food to specific groups – pilgrims, ascetics, eminent people, caste groups, sectarian groups, etc. – have been central activities at occasional festivals and everyday routines at a variety of religious sites in South Asia for at least a millennium. The hungry poor were generally not considered to be worthy recipients of food in these ritual transactions. This paper examines an 1867 writing of the Hindu mystic Ramalinga Adigal, in which he advances a new ideology of food-giving to the poor. I will highlight the novelty of Ramalinga’s writing by considering it in the context of long-established Hindu food-giving practices.

26 September 2013“Membership of Atheist Groups in New Zealand and Germany”

Katja Strehle, PhD candidate, Religious Studies Victoria University of Wellington

My research examines the motivations of people to become and be members of atheist/humanist groups in New Zealand and Germany in order to better understand the objectives and development of different organised atheist communities and the position of non-believing in respective countries. Some of the main questions I am interested in are: 1) What makes someone join an atheist group or association and abandon his or her former belief? and 2) How important is the social environment in a country that claims to separate politics and religion? Preliminary findings suggest that levels of atheist activism in New Zealand and Germany differ because the relationship between organised religion and the state vary.

3 October 2013“Infelicities in Agraria”

Elle Woods, MA candidate, Religious Studies Victoria University of Wellington

Steven Collins, in his study Nirvana and Other Buddhist Felicities, aptly argues that as society transitioned from the nomadic to the agrarian, imaginaires were constructed. A set of felicities, as supplementary imaginary worlds, constituted the imaginaire including nirvana. Felicities as part of this imaginaire provided an incentive for adhering to socially acceptable behaviour, thus maintaining stability by compensating those that suffered in agraria.
As part of Collins’s hypotheses, he argues that similar systems of felicities could be found in other agrarian states. In this paper, I intend to re-examine Collins’ argument, expanding it to include a set of infelicities, or a structure of infelicities. This study will compare infelicities from both the Pali Buddhist imaginaire and the Latinate Christian imaginaire.

10 October 2013“Self-Remembering: Georges Ivanovitch Gurdjieff (1870–1949) & His Legacy”

Joanna Nicholls-Parker, MA candidate, Religious Studies Victoria University of Wellington

Gurdjieff’s mind-boggling legacy for some has been attributed to the unusual circumstances surrounding both his child and adult life. In addition, the literature on Gurdjieff has dealt with this legacy from the perspectives of medical doctors, e.g., Maurice Nicoll (1884–1953), Francis Roles (1901–1982) and Peter Fenwick (1935–). The aim of this talk, while remaining focused on the important moments in Gurdjieff’s legacy, is to discuss these sources in a different manner in order to establish an understanding of Gurdjieff’s methodology focused on the evolution of the spiritual faculty.

2012 Religious Studies Seminar Series

26 July 2012
Dr Michael Radich
"Is the Mahaparinirvana-mahasutra our earliest tathagatagarbha text? And if it is, so what?"

2 August 2012
Professor William T. Cavanaugh (DePaul University, Chicago)
"Torture and Eucharist"

9 August 2012
Mike Mawson (Duke University)
"Subjectivity, Disability, and Embodied Limits"

16 August 2012
Dr Clare Wilde (University of Auckland)
"Arab Christian Anti-Semitism"

12 September  2012
Professor Amir Zekgroo (International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation, Kuala Lumpur)
"Sacred, Religious & Non-Religious in the Islamic Artistic Tradition"

13 September 2012
John McGrath (University of Queensland)
"A mortgage on the Holy Ghost: How an unorthodox leadership system met the challenge of sustaining sectarian character in a pluralist society"

17 September 2012
Professor Amir Zekgroo (International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation, Kuala Lumpur)
"Spiritual Dimension of Creative Vision: A Visual Journey"

20 September 2012
Professor Paul Morris
"The Attractions of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints for Polynesians"

2011 Religious Studies Seminar Series

20 May 2011

Dr Michael Radich "Pure Mind in China: Chinese Background to Paramartha's Concept of Amalavijnana."

22 July 2011
Ratna Osman, (Sisters in Islam, Malaysia)

“Muslim Women Rights is Human Rights : An Experience of the Works of Sisters in Islam”

29 July 2011
Lydia Ellis, MA candidate, Religious Studies Victoria University of Wellington

“Obligation versus Liberation: Women at the Heart of Evangelicalism in New Zealand"

5 August 2011
Dr Rick Weiss

“Maligning A Mystic: Hindu Polemics in Colonial India”

12 August 2011 Associate Professor Chris Marshall

“Public Compassion: The Place of Compassion in Moral and Public Reasoning”

9 September 2011
Dr Joseph Bulbulia

“A field investigation of the effects of sacred values and synchronous movements in naturally occurring rituals.”

16 September 2011
Professor Paul Morris
“Religion and the Workplace”

23 September 2011
Chris Joll, Muslim Studies Centre, Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalorkorn University.

“Merit Making Rhetoric in Muslim in South Thailand.”

30 September 2011

Dr Geoff Troughton

“Religion, Alcohol, and the Perils of Public Theology”

2010 Religious Studies Seminar Series

Friday 28 May 2010

The Indian Christian sacred sites of Chennai, Tamil Nadu: Revival of the Eucharistic Chapel as necessity in light of religious and multicultural accommodation and encroachment

Thomas Nagy, PhD candidate,  Religious Studies Victoria University of Wellington

This presentation examines the revival of the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament specifically pertaining to the Roman Catholic/Syrian Orthodox Indian Christians of Tamil Nadu, and Kerala by extension. Through an analysis of the current political and religious landscape of South India one can obtain a better understanding of the impetus and motives behind the uniquely Indian Christian motive for maintaining this revival via the construction of Eucharistic Chapels or Prayer Houses.

Friday 14 May 2010

Revivalism and Prohibition in New Zealand

Dr Geoff Troughton

This paper examines the emergence of Blue Ribbon Gospel Temperance movement during the 1880s. Understanding the nature and influence of this movement helps explain the transition from temperance to prohibition campaigning and the fervently religious quality of the prohibition movement in general. It also complicates widely-held views about the revivalist tradition within New Zealand settler Christianity.

Friday 7 May 2010

Traductor traittore: seeking to translate religious experiences with more integrity

Dr Art Buehler

Translations should have labels like processed foods have labels listing all the ingredients. These labels, if done correctly, would disclose the gap (sometimes enormous) between the original and the translation. This is particularly the case  when translating texts concerning contemplative experience and practice where translators are not only (apparently) unaware of basic translation issues but even continue the slipshod use of 'saint,' 'mystic,' 'gnostic/gnosticism.'  This talk will summarize what I have learned from translating the most difficult sufi prose text in the Persian language, Ahmad Sirhindi's (d. 1624) Collected Letters.

Friday 30 April 2010

A Fragmented Landscape: Pakeha Spirituality in a Secular Terrain

Lisa Eyre MA candidate,  Religious Studies Victoria University of Wellington

My thesis examines a Pakeha spirituality of landscape that is shaped by and illustrates the perplexities of post-colonial New Zealand. This spirituality adds another dimension to the view of New Zealand as an eminently secular society. In this seminar I will give an overview of my thesis, covering my aims, method and findings.

Friday 26th March 2010

The Transmission and Storage of Memory

Amy Searfoss PhD candidate,  Religious Studies Victoria University of Wellington

The transmission and storage of information within groups is central to the formation of collective memory which, in turn, informs group history and identity.  Because of the centrality of this process to human groups, a great deal of time has been spent investigating it in both the human and social sciences.

This discussion will introduce four different theories on cultural transmission and storage, two internalist (Boyd and Richerson and Whitehouse) and two externalist (Goody and Connerton), and briefly discuss some issues pertaining to these theorists and M'ori t' moko.

Friday 19 March 2010

Flashbulb Memory After Spanish Firewalk Ritual

Dr Joseph Bulbulia

The intuition that high arousal rituals produce `flashbulb memories' forms the basis of several prominent cognitive theories of ritual. However, there is remarkably little evidence for the flashbulb hypothesis. This talk reports findings of a study investigating the effects of arousal on memory for a traditional Spanish fire-walking ritual.

Somewhat contrary to received intuitions, we found that few perceptual details were initially recalled immediately after the firewalk. However false memories were elaborated during succeeding months. At the end of a consolidation period, memory reports tended to converge.  The data thus suggest: 1) initial amnesia for the event, followed by 2) errors during consolidation, which converged to 3) collective memories.

A few implications of these results, both for theories of memory and for ritual theories, will be discussed.

Friday 12 March 2010

Religious Change in Samoa: Preliminary Palangi Reflections

Professor Paul Morris

Across the island nations of the Pacific there is a second religious revolution taking place. The first gave rise to the 'denominational' Christian colonial churches. These are being vigorously challenged by newer faiths. In Samoa, this challenge to the Congregational, Roman Catholic and Methodist churches comes from Pentecostals, evangelicals and the Latter Days Saints (Mormons). This study looks at the changing religious demographics, the reasons that people give for changing their religious affiliations, and, the responses by the established churches. The second part seeks to explain this new religious demography and discern the principal drivers of religious change. The final part seeks to highlight the impact of these changes on the cultural. economic, political, social and customary life of Samoans. Older scholarship contended that traditional culture and social structures were not undermined but actually preserved by the churches. My early conclusion is that the current changes are profound and have implications for culture, human rights, public policy and the very future of this island nation.

Friday 17 September 2010

The So-Called 'Emerging Church': A Contemporary Evangelical Renewal Movement?

Justin Duckworth, PhD candidate, Religious Studies Victoria University of Wellington

In the last 10 years, there has been a growth in the popularity of the 'emerging church movement'. Proponents often herald it as a renewal movement within modern evangelical Christianity. This seminar will introduce the emerging church concept, identify different streams that exist within this diverse and broad movement, and offer a brief analysis of its character as a renewal movement.

Friday 13 August 2010

Consuming Christianity

Carolyn Robertson, PhD candidate,  Religious Studies Victoria University of Wellington

Globally personalised, expressive forms of Christianity are growing, consumer culture is spreading, and awareness of poverty and environmental issues is rising. This presentation outlines the initial stages of PhD research that examines the intersection between all three within the context of New Zealand society.

Friday 6 August 2010

Is Obesity Caused by Gluttony and Sloth? The Politics of Obesity Causality in New Zealand 1997 ' 2009

William James Hoverd, PhD candidate,  Religious Studies Victoria University of Wellington

This seminar outlines a preliminary analysis of the two primary studies of my doctoral research. The first study includes several analyses investigating the application of a language of sin to modern obesity discourses. The second study comprises a series of surveys into the moral dimensions of medical and political obesity discourse in New Zealand between the period of 1997 and 2009.

Friday 30 July 2010

Tath'gatagarbha, the Problem of Maternity, and 'Kataphatic Gnostic Dualism

Dr Michael Radich

In early Mahayana Buddhism, a key group of innovative doctrines proposed that all sentient beings have within them the potential seed of full buddhahood. The most famous of these concepts it that of tath'gatagarbha, or "the embryo/womb of the Buddha". I will try to show that this concept can be understood as part of a larger set of ideas developed in response to trouble felt by the tradition in the face of the notion that the Buddha had a mother; and also as part of the early Mahayana turn towards increasingly docetistic doctrines about the Buddha. This seminar presents a preliminary version of work currently in preparation for a panel at the International Association of Buddhist Studies conference next year.

Friday 23 July 2010

The Suburban American Megachurch

Dan Dowling, PhD candidate,  Religious Studies Victoria University of Wellington

This seminar focuses on data obtained from interviews with participants in a number of Florida megachurches during November 2009. These interviews examined the role of faith in the lives of individuals, families and communities in terms of the changing patterns of religious organisations in contemporary American society.

The thesis to which this data relates examines the emergence of new forms of Evangelical Christianity in suburban America, in particular the development of new modes of organization, beliefs and practice that might indicate a seismic shift in the American religious landscape. The churches that exhibit these new models have witnessed explosive growth in the midst of older institutional decline. Their religious message seems to resonate with suburban Americans, and they have implemented new organizational structures that have adapted well to the changes in the American socio-cultural environment.

2009 Religious Studies Seminar Series

13 March 2009

Epigenetics in the Study of Religion

Michael Teitelbaum, PhD candidate,  Religious Studies Victoria University of Wellington

My doctoral thesis considers the role of non-genetic or "epigenetic" processes of information transference and their relevance to the explanation of religious thinking and behavior. In this talk, I will explore the idea that religion evolves "epigenetically" through an examination of its most famous example: Richard Dawkin's meme theory. I next raise three objections to Dawkin's theory, showing that even if these objections defeat Dawkins, they do not necessarily defeat every epigenetic approach to religion. I conclude by briefly sketching epigenetic alternatives to Dawkin's programme and by discussing how I intend to approach these alternatives in later chapters of the dissertation.

20 March 2009

Anti-Church Rhetoric in Early Twentieth-Century New Zealand

Dr Geoff Troughton

Attempts to dissociate Jesus from organised religion were a characteristic feature of discourse about him during the early decades of the twentieth century. In particular, the idea of Jesus as a prophetic critic of the churches appeared frequently. This paper examines the nature, appeal and significance of such 'anti-church' rhetoric.27 March 2009

Intersecting Communal Bodies: Trinitarian Relationships of a Feminist Nature

Cornelia van Bunnik, PhD candidate, Religious Studies Victoria University of Wellington

This paper will examine three separate moments in the contemporary history of the Sisters of Mercy in New Zealand that arguably embody Trinitarian relationships. Following Elizabeth Johnson's Trinitarian model in She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse this paper discusses how Wisdom/Sophia, a feminine understanding of God, has empowered radical change through a community of nuns in Aotearoa New Zealand who have committed their lives to Mercy ministries.

3 April 2009

Divine Sovereignty and State Authority

Negar Partow, PhD candidate,  Religious Studies Victoria University of Wellington

This study provides an analysis of the relationship between religion and state in religio-political Messianic states. It examines this dynamic in the process of nation building and in the ways these state manage religious matters. Iran and Israel are the case studies in this research as both states understand Messianism as an ideological foundation of their political identity. In this context Messianism is defined as a political philosophy concerned with two concepts of authority and right. These concepts have presented challenges and opportunities to these states in their treatment of issues such as nationalism, citizenship, military forces, and individual rights. This comparative study aims to explain their experiences of secularisation through observing these dynamics.

1 May 2009

Maori, Biculturalism and the Assemblies of God, 1970 to 2008

Philip Carew, MA candidate, Religious Studies Victoria University of Wellington

Global Pentecostalism is ethnically diverse, and has often been particularly attractive to 'marginalised' and minority groups. The 60 million adherents of the Assemblies of God worldwide generally reflect this. In New Zealand, the Assemblies of God is also ethnically diverse, yet it has many fewer Maori participants than most other Pentecostal groups. This paper explores attitudes to biculturalism within the Assemblies of God in New Zealand, and suggests some reasons for these lower rates of Maori participation.

15 May 2009

Conflict Management in Contemporary New Zealand Churches

Karen Kemp, MA candidate,  Religious Studies Victoria University of Wellington

Churches have traditionally turned to conflict resolution measures 4/10/10 g congregational discord. In so doing, they miss the potential for constructive change and set themselves up for cycles of conflict to recur in the future. At the same time they diminish their self-claimed identity as followers of Jesus Christ, whose recorded teaching gives striking priority to peacemaking and reconciliation.This project seeks to introduce key players in the relatively new field of conflict transformation into the 'conversation' at theological, spiritual, and practitioner levels, in order to propose an alternative to current practices which will enhance the capacity for local worshipping communities to understand and respond constructively to the perennial problem of congregational conflict.

22 May 2009

Costly Signalling Theory: Explaining the Costs in Religious Commitment and Behaviour

Eda Czarnecki, PhD candidate,  Religious Studies Victoria University of Wellington

Costly Signalling models seek to explain why organisms, including humans, behave irrationally. The models explain much irrationality as communication that decreases uncertainty in cooperative decision-making, thus increasing mutual payoffs in social interactions. 'Cost' here is understood as a decrease in survival and reproductive success. In this talk, I outline the basics of Costly Signalling Theory and its relevance to explaining apparently irrational features of religious practices as cooperation primes. My focal question: What is the relationship (if any) between religious irrationality and biological cost? Key evidence and objections are evaluated.

29 May 2009

"Yet the World Knew Him Not": Irony and Truth in the Narrative of John's Gospel

Bruce Bell, PhD candidate,  Religious Studies Victoria University of Wellington

Bruce Bell has a degree in law (VUW) and is working on his PhD Thesis in Religious Studies. After a brief stint as a lawyer he worked for the Government in a variety of law enforcement and security roles. Currently he is the Teaching Pastor at the Rock Church in Wellington. He is married with 3 children.

Irony, also known as 'the mother of all confusions,' is pervasive in the Fourth Gospel. Commentators are unanimous in this conclusion, yet they have surprisingly little or nothing to say as to why the author has made such extensive use of this subtle and playful rhetorical device. This seminar will provide an introduction to this topic, and outline a possible linkage between John's use of irony and another of his major motifs, truth.

24 July 2009

'God is Not a Gift'

Milan Magan, MA candidate, Religious Studies Victoria University of Wellington

A 'sheltered workshop' in Wellington manufactures the wafers by which the Christian ritual of the Eucharist is performed in churches throughout the country. In this talk I employ Marcel Mauss' classic but outdated paradigm of gift-exchange to examine the tension between a theology of the Eucharist as an 'absolutely free gift' and its manufacture as a commodity. Mauss' model has not yet been applied to the production and gift of objects circulated as 'anti-gifts'. I consider examples from the Old and New Testaments that conceive of an inextricable association between 'the curse' and the gift. Greco-Roman defixio or curse tablets' preceded and for centuries were exchanged parallel to the Eucharist. I suggest that the categories of 'commodity' and 'gift' provided by economic anthropological frameworks for analysis of these sacra exchanges be reformulated to recognize a fundamental relationship between the gift and 'the curse'.

14 August 2009

The Reception of the Ajatasatru Narrative in Medieval China

Dr Michael Radich

Kosawa Heisaku (1897-1968) was the author of the psychoanalytical theory of an "Ajase Complex". Kosawa held Freud's Oedipus Complex is particular to European cultures, and the Ajase theory is the Japanese equivalent. Kosawa based his theory on the Buddhist legend of the Indian King Ajatasatru (Jpn: Ajase). I am particularly interested in changes Buddhist versions of the Ajatasatru narrative underwent before it finally fell into Kosawa's hands; and in possible reasons for those changes, focusing mainly upon medieval China and early modern Japan. Here I will focus on several factors in medieval China that may have impacted on this process: the currency of Buddhist ideas about filial piety, especially in relation to mothers; the rise of Chinese ideologies about Buddhist kingship; putative Confucian prudery; and the burgeoning of Mahayana cults of salvation by the grace of celestial Buddhas. Larger themes at issue in this work include the problem of universalism versus cultural relativism in human psychology and religious ideas; and the complex processes by which religious ideas change through history, particularly as they move across major cultural boundaries and endure through epoch-making historical change.

11 September 2009

Just Compassion: The Parable of the Good Samaritan and the Ethics of Restorative Care

Associate Professor Chris Marshall

The parable of the Good Samaritan has had an extraordinary impact on the moral traditions of Western society. This paper lays the foundations for an exegesis of the parable that probes its relevance for legal ethics in general and restorative justice in particular.

2 October 2009

Processes of Religious Biography in Modern Muslim Indonesia

Dr Anna Gade

A trend in contemporary religious biography of the Prophet Muhammad in Indonesia is an emphasis on ideals of pluralism, dialog, and education. Materials in the Indonesian language include works originally in Bahasa Indonesia as well as books translated from English, Arabic, and other languages. The 'biographical process' of reception and production of modern forms of s'ra (religious biography of the Prophet Muhammad) in Indonesia evidences a distinctive focus in modern prophetic piety on the model of the Prophet's interaction with 'others,' Muslim and non-Muslim.

This paper is based on a survey of materials available in Indonesia in 2008, and a forthcoming publication in the Cambridge Companion to Muhammad.

9 October 2009

Explaining Religion?

Tim McVicar, MA candidate, Religious Studies Victoria University of Wellington

The European Commission recently granted Oxford University's Centre for Anthropology and Mind '2m for a project titled 'Explaining Religion (EXREL).'  EXREL aims 'to develop a computational model of religious dynamics that can be used to explain present and past religious traditions, and to simulate likely future directions.' The project is suggestive of a growing interest in the Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR).

The CSR is a 'paradigmatic' research program that has ambitiously reasserted the potential of explaining some of the big 'how?' and 'why?' questions in religious studies. My thesis addresses the CSR's attempt to explain religion via the methodologies of the biocognitive sciences. I bring the theoretical perspectives of a number of philosophers of science to bear on this attempt.  In particular, I assess the relations between causation, explanation, and prediction that are foundational to all CSR hypotheses and analyse issues surrounding the attempt to integrate research in the CSR into a coherent investigative schema.

Via a case study of Jesse Bering et al's work, I will discuss a number of methodological issues that impact on CSR explanations. The discussion relates more widely to the naturalness of religion (NR) meta-hypothesis, which posits '[r]eligion springs naturally from the way ordinary human cognitive systems interact with ordinary human social and natural environments.' Bering's research forefronts a number of important concerns in the CSR, and thus I present it to locate and disentangle some of these key issues, which I will identify as relevant to the scientific aspirations of the CSR as a whole.

Recipes for Immortality, Medicine, Religion and Community in South India

Dr Rick Weiss' book Recipes for Immortality: Medicine, Religion and Community in South India (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009) was launched on Thursday 19 March 2009 at Victoria University of Wellington. For more information, please see the Religious Studies Research Publications link on the Religious Studies Research page.

International Events

Quadrennial Convocation of Prison Fellowship International: Toronto 2007

Chris Marshall delivered a key note address at the Quadrennial Convocation of Prison Fellowship International in Toronto, July 4-7 2007. The conference attracted 800-1000 delegates from 110 countries. While most attendees were Christians there were representatives of other religious faiths, including Buddhist and Muslim.  Participants were largely PF workers, volunteers, judges, lawyers, criminal justice officials and church leaders, including prison chaplains. One of the other keynote speakers is the Preacher to the Papal Household in the Vatican. After the conference Chris Marshall taught a class at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, for the International Diploma in Restorative Justice.

Desmond Tutu Centre on Reconciliation 2007

Chris Marshall was invited to deliver the opening plenary address at a conference marking the inauguration of the Desmond Tutu Education Centre in New York city in September 2007. The conference, entitled “Reconciliation at the Round Table”, was timed to coincide with the sixth anniversary of 9/11. In his address, Chris spoke on the challenges of working for reconciliation in the context of the rising tide of religiously-justified violence, terrorism and counter-terrorism. The conference was attended by over 300 people from all over the US and overseas.

The Desmond Tutu Education Centre is a conference facility that will, among other things, host conferences and research seminars on reconciliation. It is located at the General Theological Seminary in Manhattan, the oldest Episcopal seminary in North America, founded in 1817. Archbishop Tutu was on sabbatical leave at this institution when he learned that he had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.

The Archbishop himself delivered the second plenary address at the conference. He spoke on the theme “without forgiveness there is no future”. This is also the title of a book he wrote about his experiences as chairman of South Africa’s historic Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the early post-apartheid era. The third plenary address was given by the Most Rev. Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church of America. She spoke on the continuing importance of working to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, aimed at eliminating extreme poverty.

The conference was co-sponsored by the Community of the Cross of Nails, a worldwide network of reconciliation communities birthed in the vision of those who sought reconciliation rather than retribution in the wake of the bombing of Coventry Cathedral in World War II.