I was extremely pleased when I learned that the Religious Studies Department at the University of Otago in Dunedin had put in a successful bid to host the 2020 World Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions. As the oldest University in New Zealand, higher education in Dunedin has a distinguished history. The study of religion is much more recent but has developed a notable record in research and publications in broad areas relating to the history of religions, theoretical approaches to the study of religion and location-specific religious traditions. Currently the Religion programme at Otago is forging new departmental links in the social sciences and promises to become a key player in research and teaching in our field on an international scale.
I know Otago, and Dunedin, well, having spent six months there in 2012 as the De Carle Distinguished Lecturer. From January of that year, I was resident in Dunedin and delivered a series of De Carle lectures in the University that formed chapters in the book I was writing under the title, The Invention of God in Indigenous Societies, published in 2014 by Acumen in Durham, England (now Routledge). During my stay in Dunedin, I also contributed to postgraduate seminars, participated in a postgraduate class on theory and method in the study of religions and took part in numerous inter-departmental and inter-disciplinary research seminars.
I found the University library and its affiliated branches an invaluable resource for my research, particularly the archival materials I was able to access on the history and controversies surrounding the postulated Māori High God, Io. I was also introduced by members of the Department to local leaders familiar with the history of missionary and ethnographic work among the Māori; I interviewed church leaders and postgraduate students working on history and culture in New Zealand/Aotearoa; and I consulted members of the highly respected Te Tumu School of Māori, Pacific and Indigenous Studies. All in all, I found the time I spent at the University of Otago intellectually stimulating and personally challenging as I studied and conducted research on the history, beliefs and practices of Indigenous peoples in the southern Pacific region.
I am very much looking forward to returning to New Zealand in 2020 to attend the IAHR Congress. Historical, cultural, political and theoretical issues related to the study of religions are enhanced by the New Zealand-Aotearoa context, not only for those like me who study Indigenous Religions, but for scholars of religion with varied disciplinary and geographical specialisations.