Aaron Hughes

As a western Canadian who has spent much time in the Vancouver-Victoria area, I thought to myself, “Why go to New Zealand? I’ve seen my share of green hills and blue oceans. I want to go see old cities in Europe.” Man, was I wrong. I arrived in Auckland after a lengthy journey from Toronto. Don’t worry, Air New Zealand is used to ferrying people over the Pacific Ocean and their planes are thankfully not the sardine cans familiar to those who travel domestically on all those horrible American airlines.

After a long, cold winter, the summer sun of Auckland was a most welcome respite for my vitamin-D deprived body. The short-ish plane ride from Auckland to Dunedin, the north island to the south island, was spectacular.

I’ve never seen the Lord of the Rings, so won’t go down that route. My eyes didn’t see the backdrop to a fantasy film, but the lush beauty of a living land, with formations and species I’d never seen in places like Vancouver, Cape Breton, or Scotland. For those looking for a fascinating island to visit—and I certainly don’t think I am the first to wax poetic about New Zealand’s beauty—and to sight-see in it, then this is the place for you.

But the magnificence of the place is only one half of the story, and you will undoubtedly get more vivid descriptions and photos from the travel board or the Lonely Planet edition to the country. The other half, of course, is Dunedin, the locus of the IAHR’s XXIInd Quinquennial World Congress in August of 2020. There, the New Zealand Association for the Study of Religion will host the event at the University of Otago, with its Department of Religious Studies forming the epicenter.

I was invited out this past March to deliver one of the Moore Lectures at the University of Otago, and had an absolutely lovely time there, and in Dunedin and environs more generally. It is in this capacity—a Canadian working in an American university that has been to the island—that I want to encourage IAHR members to attend the meeting in the summer/winter of 2020. From the moment I landed to the moment I departed, both the natural beauty of Dunedin and the warmth and hospitality of colleagues at the university astounded me.

I arrived knowing no one in New Zealand and I left the friend of a very special department in a very beautiful country. So, again, I would encourage members to use the IAHR 2020 as an excellent venue to disseminate their research, but, just as importantly, as an excuse to see one of the most beautiful countries I have had the privilege of visiting. What better backdrop for scholarship and friendship, both old and new.