On behalf of the New Zealand Association for the Study of Religions, it is our great pleasure to invite you to the University of Otago for the 22nd Quinquennial World Congress of the IAHR.
The theme of the congress is Centres and Peripheries. New Zealand is both central and peripheral to the study of religion: further East than Japan, further south than almost anywhere, New Zealand’s small size and geographical isolation have meant the people of New Zealand have always looked outwards, whether to Hawaiki or to the intellectual centres and tradition of Europe.
New Zealand is also a Pacific nation, with deep ties to the Pacific societies which have formed the setting for both classic works in the study of religion and for some of the most innovative contemporary studies on religion and society.
We invite you to join with us and leading scholars of religion from throughout the world to exchange ideas in the wonderful surroundings of New Zealand, to renew old friendships and to forge new connections. The next chapter in the academic study of religion opens in New Zealand in 2020!
Will Sweetman, Ben Schonthal and John ShaverCall for papers
The XXII Quinquennial World Congress of the IAHR, hosted by the New Zealand Association for the Study of Religions, will take place in Dunedin, New Zealand August 23-29, 2020.
While welcoming contributions on any topic in the academic study of religion, this year’s Congress will have the theme of Centres and Peripheries.
From its earliest moments, the academic study of religion has consistently placed certain traditions, peoples, geographies, concepts, and institutions at the centre of its analyses, while at the same time relegating others to the periphery. The 2020 Congress invites scholars to reflect on these dynamics, to historicize and critique them, and to reconsider how, why and with what effects scholars of religion have engaged in acts of normalization and marginalization. The setting of New Zealand, distant from the historical centres of religious studies in North America and Europe, provides a fitting location for this examination as well as for considerations of other related dynamics. These include patterns of dominance and subjugation, transformation and repositioning and, especially, migration and indigeneity. While we welcome interdisciplinary, multi-method and comparative research, we ask that scholars submit within one of seven themed areas.
Studies that focus on the emplacement and migrations of people, texts and traditions over spaces and times. This includes themes of migration, colonization and diaspora. We especially welcome submissions examining the category of indigeneity and indigenous religions.
Studies that consider religion in the context of debates over the proper ordering of human society and the regulating of human behaviour, especially as it relates to the intersections of religion with legal regimes and/or structures of political power.
Studies that focus largely on situating religious communities, persons, practices and/or institutions in their historical and cultural contexts. We especially welcome submissions examining religion in places, times and contexts that have been historically overlooked or marginalized in the study of religion.
Studies whose main focus is on interpreting, clarifying, comparing and/or analysing texts, rituals, stories, material culture, art or other elements of religion. This includes studies that examine the place of religion in material and textual artefacts not normally associated with religion.
Studies that focus on the transformations of religion over time, with particular attention to recent transformations in technology, communication and social organisations. We especially welcome studies that reflect on the influence of new media on religion and religious studies.
Studies that focus on causal factors that lead to and shape systems of beliefs, behaviours, and institutions found in one or more traditions, regions, and/or across time. This includes studies that reflect on role and importance of scientific and empirical methodologies in the study of religions as well as studies that consider generally the interplay of science and religion (as methods, fields of expert knowledge, and historical constructs).
Studies that critically consider the field of religious studies, its methodologies, theories, patterns of production, historical development, scholarly composition, institutional embedding, and future possibilities. We especially welcome submissions that examine the dynamics of centring and marginalising, foregrounding and ignoring, authenticating and debunking, in the study of religions.
Early bird registration opens
Speaker registration closes
Final programme announced
Tanya Marie Luhrmann is the Watkins University Professor in the Stanford Anthropology Department. Her work focuses on the edge of experience: on voices, visions, the world of the supernatural and the world of psychosis. She has done ethnography on the streets of Chicago with homeless and psychotic women, and worked with people who hear voices in Chennai, Accra and the South Bay. She has also done fieldwork with evangelical Christians who seek to hear God speak back, with Zoroastrians who set out to create a more mystical faith, and with people who practice magic. She uses a combination of ethnographic and experimental methods to understand the phenomenology of unusual sensory experiences, the way they are shaped by ideas about minds and persons, and what we can learn from this social shaping that can help us to help those whose voices are distressing.
She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2003 and received a John Guggenheim Fellowship award in 2007. When God Talks Back was named a NYT Notable Book of the Year and a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year.
Congress Organising Committee
Will Sweetman is Associate Professor of Asian Religions at the University of Otago, where he has taught since 2004. After studying Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of Lancaster, he went on to do an MPhil and PhD at the University of Cambridge. Will taught at universities in London and Newcastle, and has held research fellowships at Cambridge, Hamburg and Halle. A past President of the NZASR, Will has organised three NZASR conferences (2007, 2011 and 2015) and attended three IAHR Congresses (Durban, Tokyo and Toronto). Will’s research interests centre on interactions between the religions of Asia and the West in the modern period. His primary focus is accounts of South Indian Hinduism in English, Dutch, German, French and Portuguese writers from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries.
Co-Chair, Academic Programme Committee
Ben Schonthal is Associate Professor in Buddhism and Asian Religions. He received his PhD in the field of History of Religions at the University of Chicago and his dissertation received the 2013 Law & Society Association ‘Best Dissertation’ Award. Ben’s research examines the intersections of religion, law and politics in late-colonial and contemporary Southern Asia, with a particular focus on Buddhism and law in Sri Lanka. His work appears in the Journal of Asian Studies, Modern Asian Studies, Contemporary Buddhism and other places. Ben’s first book, Buddhism, Politics and the Limits of Law, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2016. His current research project, supported by the Marsden Fund of the Royal Society of New Zealand, examines the lived practices of monastic law in contemporary Sri Lanka and their links with state-legal structures. Ben is a former President of the NZ Association for the Study of Religions and a fellow at the ZIF (Institute for Advanced Study) in Bielefeld, Germany as part of an international research group on Religion, Constitutionalism and Human Rights. Ben teaches and supervises in the areas of Buddhism, Southern Asian religions, religion and law, religion and identity, and methods and theories in the study of religion. The Otago University Students Association named Ben one of the “top ten teachers” for 2015.
Co-Chair, Academic Programme Committee
John Shaver is Senior Lecturer in Religion in the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Otago. John holds a PhD with distinction from the University of Connecticut. Prior to arriving at Otago, he taught at the University of Connecticut and Victoria University of Wellington. John is currently on the Advisory Board for the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study. His research investigates the cognitive and evolutionary dynamics of religious change, with a particular focus on Christianity and Islam in New Zealand and the Pacific. He has conducted research in the Czech Republic, Fiji, Mauritius, New Zealand and the United States.
Co-Chair, Academic Programme Committee
Ann Taves is Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. She received her PhD from the University of Chicago in 1983 and taught for over twenty years at the Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University prior to her appointment at UC Santa Barbara in 2005. She is the author of numerous books and articles, including Fits, Trances, and Visions (Princeton, 1999); Religious Experience Reconsidered (Princeton, 2009); and, most recently, Revelatory Events (Princeton, 2016). She is currently working with collaborators on several projects including situating Religious Studies under the wider rubric of Worldview Studies, developing and testing a cross-cultural Inventory of Non-Ordinary Experiences, and co-authoring a primer on “explanation” for scholars of religion and other humanists. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2011), a past president of the American Academy of Religion (2010); and Deputy General Secretary of the IAHR (2015-2020).
Winnifred Sullivan, JD, PhD, University of Chicago, is professor in the department of religious studies, Indiana University Bloomington. She studies the intersection of religion and law in the modern period, particularly the phenomenology of modern religion as it is shaped in its encounter with law. Sullivan is the author of The Impossibility of Religious Freedom (Princeton, 2005), Prison Religion: Faith-based Reform and the Constitution (Princeton, 2009), and A Ministry of Presence: Chaplaincy, Spiritual Care and the Law (2014), co-author of Ekklesia: Three Studies in Church and State (Chicago, 2018), and co-editor of Politics of Religious Freedom (Chicago, 2015).
Russell Gray completed his Ph.D. at the University of Auckland in 1990. He spent four years lecturing at the University of Otago before returning to the School of Psychology at the University of Auckland. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and has been awarded with several fellowships, as well as the inaugural Mason Durie Medal for his pioneering contributions to social science. He is the Director of the Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History In Jena, and holds adjunct positions in the School of Psychology at the University of Auckland and the Department of Philosophy at the Australian National University.
Russell Gray’s research spans the areas of cultural evolution, linguistics, animal cognition, and the philosophy of biology. He helped pioneer the application of computational evolutionary methods to questions about linguistic prehistory and cultural evolution. His core research focuses on questions about the history of languages, cultures and people in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Together with Simon Greenhill he developed a large lexical database for the languages of this region. They analysed this data using Bayesian phylogenetic methods to test hypotheses about the sequence and timing of the peopling of the Pacific. The results revealed striking patterns of expansion pulses and pauses.
This linguistic work set the stage for his recent research applying ecological and evolutionary methods to questions about the cultural evolution of religion and the development of large-scale stratified societies both in the Pacific and around the globe. This research has found that notions of god vary with ecology, that moralising gods promote the development of social complexity, and in a darker vein, that ritual human sacrifice promotes and sustains the evolution of stratified societies. He has published over 100 journal articles and book chapters including nine papers in Nature and Science.