School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies

Religious Studies

Religious Studies is the attempt to understand the beliefs and practices of humanity and how these impact on our lives and the lives of others. A knowledge and understanding of religion is essential in order to grasp our musical, artistic, legal, literary and philosophical traditions. We live in a religiously diverse country in an increasingly diverse world. We need to understand our neighbours – what they believe and why they do so and what they are led to do – locally, nationally and internationally.The majority of people on the planet subscribe to a religious tradition or faith. These beliefs and practices motivate people to kill and to heal, to include and exclude others, to love and to hate, and to produce sublime, inspired art, music and literature.

The Religious Studies programme asks question such as what do you believe? Why do religions persist, grow and decline? Is religion the cause of terrorism and war? Do religions have a role to play in the 21st century? Are the gods the invention of humanity or vice versa?

Religious Studies staff teach and research on beliefs and practices and the relationship between religion and conflict, religion and peacemaking, religion and resource inequalities and development, religion and the meaning of death, religion, morality and ethics, and religion and its role in our evolutionary history.

At Victoria the 100-level Religious Studies courses introduce students to the major religious traditions and the role of religion in the contemporary world.The religious traditions of the West (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), and of Asia (India, China, Tibet, and Japan) are explored. They also consider the relationship of politics and law to religion; as well as spiritual and religious experience through trance, meditation, prayer and ritual.

200-level courses pursue the study of particular traditions (Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, religions of India, religion in Aotearoa and the Pacific) and methodological approaches (psychology of religion, religion and political thought) in greater depth.

From here, the 300-level courses focus on themes and traditions, including religion and nature, religion and sex, new age spirituality and new religious movements, religion and death, religion and globalisation, terrorism, and mysticism. These courses also explore the theoretical dimensions of the study of religion and address the issues raised by cultural relativism and pluralism.

BA major requirements

 120 points from RELI 100–399 including:

1. 40 points from RELI 200–299
2. RELI 335 and 20 further points from RELI 300–399

Please note: the major requirements for Religious Studies have changed for 2014. For students enrolled in the major prior to 2014, please see the regulations in the previous Calendar or contact your Student Adviser at

Religious Studies Events

Seminar Series 2014

The Religious Studies Programme has an active seminar programme that is run during the first and second trimester in term time. Seminars are presented by staff and postgraduate students as well as invited guests and are held in the Trinity Newman Library in HU 320. These will be held on Thursday's from 4 - 5pm.

Trimester 1

13 March
“Religion and Disaster Relief: Rethinking their Relationships in Asia”
Philip Fountain, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

Over the past decade scholarship on the intersections between religion and disaster relief has advanced rapidly with a series of important studies making innovative forays into their complex relationships. Such attention is long overdue for, as this emerging research is showing, contemporary humanitarian action has clear roots in religious traditions and, moreover, a diverse set of actors affiliated with Christian, Islamic, Buddhist etc. traditions are often active and influential in shaping disaster responses. Yet there remains a pressing need for detailed empirical research into actual actors and practices and also for the development of more sophisticated conceptual frameworks for approaching the subject. 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.
27 March 
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

 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.

3 April
“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 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.
22 May
Miracles and modern Hinduism
Rick Weiss, Senior Lecturer, Religious Studies Programme

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.
29 May
"When Does Philology Turn into Masochism? The Challenges of the Bao sheng lun "
Michael Radich, Senior Lecturer, Religious Studies Programme

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.