Events in Religion at Otago

To receive email announcements of seminars and lectures hosted by the Religion Programme please sign up to our mailing list here. If you are interested in presenting a seminar as part of the Religion Seminar Series 2023, or for further information, please contact Deane Galbraith.

Recordings of select past seminars and lectures are available on the Religion Programme, University of Otago YouTube channel.

Inaugural Professorial Lecture

Tuesday 14 March, 5:45pm

Inaugural Professorial Lecture

Professor Ben Schonthal
University of Otago

About Ben Schonthal's research

Ben researches the interactions of religion, law and politics in Asia, with a particular focus on Buddhist communities. His work draws on training in Asian history and languages as well as social scientific approaches to the study of law and religion.

He has published widely on topics such as religious freedom, constitutional design and religious nationalism. He has advised courts, governments and humanitarian organisations on issues relating to law and religion and co-directs (with colleagues in Law and History) the newly formed Otago Centre for Law and Society.

Ben’s current research explores the development and contemporary practice of Buddhist law in South and Southeast Asia, while also asking broader questions about how secular states deal with religious law.

Ben received his PhD from the University of Chicago and has held visiting positions at Northwestern University, the Institute for Advanced Studies (Bielefeld) and the Law School at the University of Chicago.

He currently serves as Associate Dean (International) for the Division of Humanities.

This lecture will be followed with light refreshments, tea, coffee and juice.

Castle 1 Lecture Theatre (75 Albany Street, North Dunedin, Dunedin Otago).

Albert Moore Lectures 2023

Wednesday 15 March, 5:15pm

Albert Moore Lectures 2023 - Lecture 1 - Contemporary Buddhist Tales of the Paranormal

Dr Dee Osto
Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Massey University

Moot Court Lecture Theatre, located on the tenth floor of the Richardson Building.

Thursday 16 March, 5:15pm

Albert Moore Lectures 2023 - Lecture 2 - Nonbinary Buddhism

Dr Dee Osto
Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Massey University

Archway 2.

Friday 17 March, 1:00pm

Albert Moore Lectures 2023 - Seminar - Psychedelic Buddhism, Inner Space, Outer Space and the Limits of Human Knowledge

Dr Dee Osto
Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Massey University

Moot Court Lecture Theatre, located on the tenth floor of the Richardson Building.

Religion Seminar Series 2023

Friday 14 April, 1:00pm

Religion, Maternal Support, and Child Health and Development across Five Cultures

Associate Professor John Shaver
University of Otago

Abstract:From an evolutionary perspective, the higher relative fertility of religious individuals in contemporary environments represents a puzzle: studies find a negative relationship between child number and developmental outcomes for each child; however, there is currently little evidence that children born to religious parents fare worse, despite larger family sizes. Using data collected from over 5,000 mothers and their children across Bangladesh, the Gambia, India, Malawi and the United States, this talk describes the results of a study designed to evaluate the hypothesis that religious systems motivate cooperative parenting behaviours among extended kin networks and unrelated co-religionists to enable large families of successful children.

Richardson 7N10 Seminar Room

Friday 5 May, 1:00pm

Psychedelics as Personalised Medicine: Strategies, Experiences, and Outcomes of Lay Psychedelic Use for Health and Well-Being in New Zealand

Chris Arnison
PhD Candidate, University of Otago

Abstract: The earliest religious specialists were also medical specialists: shamans who entered trance states to interact with supernatural forces in order to heal illness. In some instances psychoactive flora were used to occasion such states, and now in the present century, psychoactive substances - and especially those with psychedelic properties - are being investigated for their potential to treat a range of psychiatric conditions. In this seminar I will offer a brief comparison of indigenous shamanism and contemporary psychedelic-assisted therapy before presenting preliminary findings of qualitative research undertaken in New Zealand exploring a third modality of psychedelic medicine, where non-professionals are self-administering psychedelics as a component of self-managed treatment strategies for health or well-being issues.

I will suggest that the data I have collected, taken together with accounts of how psychedelics were traditionally employed in indigenous contexts and descriptions of their use in contemporary clinical contexts, suggests the purported efficacy of these substances must not be thought of solely in terms of pharmacological action, but that cultural factors - including spirituality - play an important role in mediating therapeutic experiences and outcomes.

Furthermore, I will suggest that instead of developing a one-size-fits-all clinical model of psychedelic-assisted therapy, it may be more appropriate to develop a model that uses a personalised, or precision approach. Similar to personalised medicine in oncology where treatments are tailored to an individual's genome, personalised psychedelic medicine would be tailored to a person's particular cultural - and in some cases spiritual - background and beliefs.

Finally, I will offer some brief suggestions as to the direction that future research might take, based on the findings of this exploratory project, in order to better understand the roles that cultural variables play in the treatment of psychiatric illness using psychedelic substances.

Richardson 7N10 Seminar Room

Friday 19 May, 1:00pm

Respect My Authoritah! An analysis of authority in Billy Te Kahika's conspiracist episteme

Cameron Vercoe-Groenen
MA (Coursework) Candidate, University of Otago

Abstract: In 2020, Billy Te Kahika went from being a relatively unknown blues musician to gaining national (and to some degree international) attention for his social media posts espousing conspiracy theories about the nature of COVID-19 and the government's response to the pandemic. New Zealand media, and the public, consistently view Billy Te Kahika as a patsy for the far right and duped by the US political landscape and particularly the QAnon conspiracist movement. To challenge these views, I will look at the role of religion in establishing Billy Te Kahika's episteme and argue that far-right rhetoric and QAnon conspiracy theories are supplementary to Billy Te Kahika's own evangelical worldview, a worldview that has primed Billy Te Kahika for conspiracist discourse before any exposure to international influences. Furthermore, I will analyse different authorities in Billy Te Kahika's episteme, and argue that conspiracy theorists are not implicitly anti-authority, and that a better understanding of authorities in a conspiracist milieu will allow us as academics, and as members of society, to engage with and appropriately respond to conspiracy theories and other alternative narratives in our midst.

Richardson 7N10 Seminar Room.

Friday 18 August, 1:00pm

Systematic Scrutiny of the Costly Signaling Theory of Religion: New experiments and cross-cultural data

Radim Chvaja
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Otago

Religious rituals are both costly and universal across cultures, which presents a puzzle to evolutionary sciences. Why would natural selection tolerate behaviours that seem to exhaust time and energy, and yet make them one of the most fundamental human universals? The Costly Signaling Theory suggests that religious rituals evolved as part of religious systems that allow attenders to honestly communicate their cooperative commitment, leading to increased cooperation and individual benefits for both signalers and receivers of the signal. While observational and quasi-experimental studies support this theory, the core predictions have not yet been tested, and data to support its generalization is lacking. In my talk, I will first introduce a cross-cultural project on religious behaviour and social supportive networks that includes around 4,000 mothers from the Gambia, Malawi, Bangladesh, India, and the USA, although only preliminary analyses are available. Second, I will present results from several experimental studies demonstrating that costly signals can separate cheaters and cooperators and that religious costly signals are more effective in promoting trustworthiness than secular costly signals. Finally, I will outline ongoing experiments that are part of a project on signaler's psychology aimed at studying cognitive biases that prevent cheaters from paying signal costs and exploiting groups of cooperators.

Richardson 7N10 Seminar Room / Zoom Meeting ID: 983 9678 7287 Password: 697238.

Reading a Metaperson on Metapersons

Reading group on Marshall Sahlins, The New Science of the Enchanted Universe: An Anthropology of Most of Humanity (2022)

Friday 8 September, 2:00pm

Introduction and Human Finitude

The tearoom on Level 5.

Friday 22 September, 2:00pm

Immanence, Metapersons

The tearoom on Level 5.

Friday 13 October, 2:00pm

The Cosmic Polity and Afterword

The tearoom on Level 5.

Events Archive

University of Otago Religious Studies Programme