Photo by Noam ChenNew Pre-Christmas Summer School Paper

We will be offering a new special topic paper in the pre-Christmas Summer School. The paper will offer an introduction to Judaism in the modern world, with emphasis on contemporary issues and debates.

If you're keen to learn more about Judaism, or to get ahead with your degree by taking an additional paper in early summer of 2016 do check out the links below. The paper will be taught by Dr Deane Galbraith both on campus, and by distance, and is offered at 200- and 300-level.

Pre Christmas Summer School
ST: Judaism in the Modern World

Ben Schonthal granted an Early Career Award for Distinction in Research

Senior Lecturer Dr Ben Schonthal has been granted an Early Career Award for Distinction in Research from the University of Otago. The Early Career Awards for Distinction in Research were introduced in 2004 to recognise and nurture the University’s most promising early career researchers.


Dr John Shaver has been appointed as Lecturer in Religion. Dr Shaver is currently a post-doctoral fellow in the Religious Studies Programme at Victoria University of Wellington. He will take up his appointment on 17 May. We're delighted to welcome him to the Department.


Ben Schonthal will be promoted to Senior Lecturer and Will Sweetman to Associate Professor. Both promotions take effect from 1 February 2016.

Presentations and Papers in November/December

Dr. Guthrie will be giving a paper at the NZASIA Biennial New Zealand Asian Studies Society Conference (29 November-1 December 2015) on a panel dedicated to legacy of De Jong. Her contribution is titled "De Jong’s participation in the inaugural WFB conferences during the Buddha Jayanti period." Dr. Guthrie will also be in Cambodia in early December participating in a workshop with Kate Crosby (Kings College London), Andrew Skilton (Kings College London), and Olivier de Bernon (EFEO) and his team of Khmer scholars/translators to work on mul kammatthan meditation manuscripts. The eventual aim of the workshop is to publish some three volume book but in the meantime she will enjoy collaborating with Khmer, Thai, French and British scholars in the ambience of Angkor Wat.

Dr. Farzana Haniffa to give two talks

Anthropologist from the University of Colombo, Dr. Farzana Haniffa, will give two talks at Otago on Tuesday September 29. From noon to 1:00pm in St. Davids Seminar room 4. Dr. Haniffa and Dr. Schonthal will lead an informal conversation about Sri Lanka’s current political climate, in the wake of recent parliamentary elections and in the aftermath of the civil war. The event is part of the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies Seminar Series. Dr. Haniffa will be also be giving open, public lecture will be from 5:00-6:15 in QUAD 1. The title of the talk is: "Merit Economies in Neoliberal Times: Halal Trouble in Post War Sri Lanka”. This is hosted by the Religion Programme along with the Centre for the Study of Islam and Muslim Cultures.

Gamelon Performance in Queenstown

On November 28, Elizabeth Guthrie will be in Queenstown with University of Otago's Puspawarna Gamelan group, performing at “Indonesia Day” an Indonesian festival sponsored by the Indonesian Embassy in NZ. The group will put on a wayang kulit (javanese shadow puppet theatre) of an episode from the Mahabharata.

Religion Lecturer wins OUSA 2015 Teaching Award

The Otago University Students' Association has named Ben Schonthal one of the university's "top ten teachers" for 2015. One letter of support included the following: "Ben is the most enthusiastic, encouraging, supportive, and interesting lecturer I have had in my 5 years at Otago University. I looked forward to every lecture and really enjoyed the material we covered. He challenges us students to do the best that we can, and supports us to make sure we achieve our best. He has always been there for any questions that we might have, and you can tell that he really cares about the material that he is teaching, and ensures that we understand. I am sad to be finishing University this year because I would love to take more of his papers."

Dr. Meilssa Crouch to give two talks

Dr. Melissa Crouch, Lecturer in Law at the University of New South Wales, will give two talks about Myanmar on Tuesday September 1. From 12:00-1:00 in the Law Faculty Staff Library, as part of the Law Faculty seminar series, Dr. Crouch will deliver the talk “Constitutional Reform in Authoritarian Regimes: Writs as Weapons in Myanmar?" At 5:00-6:30, she will deliver an open, public lecture in QUAD 1 titled "Myanmar’s Muslims and the Struggle to Define a Burmese Muslim Identity." This is hosted by the Religion Programme along with the Centre for the Study of Islam and Muslim Cultures.

Dr. Tamara Loos to give two talks

Dr. Tamara Loos, Associate Professor in History at Cornell University, will give two talks. From 5:00-6:30 on Tue Aug 4 in QUAD 1, Dr. Loos will deliver an open public lecture titled "Buddhist 'Activists' and Muslim 'Terrorists': Biography and Islam in Thai History." This is hosted by the Religion Programme along with the Centre for the Study of Islam and Muslim Cultures. On Wed Aug 5 in the Department of History Conference Room, Dr. Loos will give a seminar paper on her new book project, titled "Bones Around My Neck." This seminar is hosted by the Centre for the Study of Colonial Cultures.

Albert Moore Memorial Lectures

The second series of Albert Moore Memorial Lectures will be delivered by Dr Christopher Hartney of the University of Sydney, on 14, 15 and 16 July 2015. For details of the series, please see here.

Presentations and Papers Delivered

Ben Schonthal presented his work on religion and constitutional law in Sri Lanka at multiple events in Bielefeld, Germany, in July, as part of his participation in an international research group on Balancing Religious Accommodation and Human Rights in Constitutional Frameworks, supported by the Centre for Interdisciplinary Study (ZiF) at the University of Bielefeld. Will Sweetman presented a paper on Missionary Appropriations of the Veda at the Yale-Edinburgh Group on the History of the Missionary Movement and World Christianity, New Haven, 25–27 June 2015.

Papers offered in 2016

A provisional list of Religion papers to be offered in 2016 is now available here.

2014 Buddhist Studies Scholarships

The 60th Dhammachai Education Foundation Scholarships in Buddhist Studies for 2014 were presented by the Venerable Thong Srey, the Chief Abbot of the Wellington Meditation Centre, during a visit to Dunedin in May 2015.

The two scholarships (one for $2500, and one for $1500) are awarded annually to students in Buddhist Studies who gain the best marks on RELS102. The scholarships were awarded to Andrew McKean and Imogen Standring. Prizes were also awarded for outstanding performance on other papers in Buddhist Studies. The recipients were Brittany Jackson, Jaimee Thorpe and Julia Hirsch.

"Islam in Asia" Speaker Series, Semester 2, 2015

In semester 2, 2015, the Religion programme will host a series of public talks by international scholars on the theme of Islam in Asia. The series is made possible by the Centre for the Study of Islam and Muslim Cultures. Look here for more information.

Dr. Asanga Tilakaratne will be Visiting Professor of Buddhism in Semester One

The Department is very excited to announce that Dr. Asanga Tilakarante will be in residence for Semester One as a Visiting Professor in Buddhist Studies. He will teach two papers, "Theravada Buddhism" and "Buddhism, State and Society" and will be available to undergraduate and postgraduate students for advice and help with Buddhist Studies.

New Papers in 2015

Paper offerings in 2015 have now been confirmed. The full list is available here. Among them are a number being offered for the first time in 2015:

  • RELS 205 / 305 World Christianity (campus and distance)
  • RELS 222 / 322 Qur'an and Hadith
  • RELS 225 / 325 Science, Religion and Knowledge
  • RELS 314 / 414 Religion and Identity

Donation of Books

Ven. Manshin presents books to Dr Elizabeth GuthrieDr Elizabeth Guthrie recently travelled to Christchurch to attend the Buddha's Birthday Festival organised by the Buddha's Light International Association and Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple South Island, New Zealand. On behalf of the Department of Theology and Religion, she accepted a donation of books from Ven. Manshin, the Abbess of Fo Guang Shan New Zealand.

Since 2011, Fo Guang Shan's Woodenfish Programme has provided support for Elizabeth and three Otago graduate students to study Buddhism in China: Tenzin Mullin, Phra Kittipanyo Kittiasak and Kez Wallis. For more about this year's Woodenfish program at Mount Wutai Shan, see

Dr Kukkonen to visit New York University Abu Dhabi 2014-2015

Taneli Kukkonen will be Visiting Associate Professor at New York University's Abu Dhabi campus for NYUAD's academic year 2014-2015. During his time away, Dr Kukkonen will teach courses on Reason and Religion and Classical Arabic Philosophy and put the finishing touches to his second book, which is on the famous Islamic theologian, philosophers, and theoretician of Sufism al-Ghazali (d. 505/1111); he will also draw on the academic resources and connections of NYUAD, which is the region's first full liberal arts college and fast becoming a hub for academic collaboration across the region as well as globally.

Lecturer Nominated for OUSA Summer School Award

Dr. Ben Schonthal was nominated for an OUSA Summer School Teaching Award for the paper RELS 216/316 Zen Buddhism.


2013 Buddhist Studies Scholarships

Ven. Sudhammo presents a scholarship to Tessa WatsonThe 60th Dhammachai Education Foundation Scholarships in Buddhist Studies for 2013 were presented by the Most Venerable Phrapalad Sudham Tiravanich, the Chairperson and General Secretary of the Foundation, during a visit to Dunedin in April 2014.

The two scholarships (one for $2500, and one for $1500) are awarded annually to students in Buddhist Studies who gain the best marks on RELS102. The scholarships were awarded to Tessa Watson and Thaddeus Tobin. Prizes were also awarded for outstanding performance on other papers in Buddhist Studies. The recipients were Thomas Davies, Lilly Wilhelms, Andrea Hickman, Tessa Flatt and Christopher Burgess.

Postgrads present at international conferences

A number of Ph.D. candidates are presenting at international conferences in the coming months. Danilo Giambra will present a paper in June (in Japanese) titled Taniguchi Masanobu: Presenting and Representing the Religious Charismatic Leader over the Social Networks at the Centre for Information on Religion, in Tokyo, as part of their Seminar for the Study of Japanese Culture and Religion. Linda Zampol D'Ortia will be presenting a paper titled "A capa do diabo: Francisco Cabral’s policing of Jesuit identity in the Portuguese Assistancy (Japan, 1570-1580") at the 45th Annual Meeting of the Association for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies in Modena, Italy. Nikki Aaron will be presenting her paper, "The impact of sporadic missionary groups on Christian faith-based organisations: A case study from Karnataka, India," at a conference at National University Singapore titled The Ethics of Religious Giving in Asia: Historical and Ethnographic Explorations in October.

News archive

News items from previous years are available in the news archive.

University of Otago Religious Studies Programme