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Events Archive 2021

Friday 5 March, 3pm

Seminar postponed to 4 June, due to Covid Level 2 restrictions

Friday 4 June, 3pm

Revisiting the "Fugitive Problem" in Social Science research using the example of church attendance in a rural Fijian Village

Associate Professor John Shaver
Head of Programme, Religion, University of Otago.

Social scientists collectively hold a "dirty little secret": we know that informants often inaccurately report their behaviour, but rarely, if ever, do we acknowledge this, let alone attempt to remedy the issue. Keys to improving the accuracy of behavioural measures include, a) estimating the extent of inaccuracies in self-report, b) isolating the sources of inaccuracies, and c) developing novel methods to overcome biases. Here I compare self-reports of church attendance to observed attendance across 48 services in a rural Fijian village. Findings suggest that self-report is not reliably associated with observed attendance, but that inaccuracies in self-report are systematic and can be partially attributed to gender differences in norms for childcare. Comparing data derived from these two methods, moreover, reveals interesting patterns of gender differences in religious syncretism that are not evident in either method alone. Further, third-party ratings of church attendance by fellow villagers are more reliably associated with observed church attendance than self-report. Together these findings suggest that: 1) informants inaccurately report their religious behaviour, 2) self-report biases are culturally patterned, and 3) researchers interested in estimating behavioural variation should consider employing third-party methods to avoid biases inherent to self-report. Thus, investigating the "fugitive problem" not helps to improve accuracy, but can also provide insights into culture.

Room R1S3 (Te Tumu, Te Wānanga), Richardson Building South.

Friday 11 June, 3pm

Transformation and transferral of acceptance following the 2019 Christchurch New Zealand Mosque Attacks

(Co-hosted by the National Centre for Peace and Conflict studies)

Professor Joseph Bulbulia
School of Psychology, Victoria University of Wellington / Te Herenga Waka, on behalf of the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study.

We systematically quantify prejudice before and after the 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks in a nationally diverse longitudinal sample of New Zealanders (N = 11,272). We find that after the attacks acceptance of Muslims strongly increased. Encouragingly, acceptance also grew for Asian ethnic groups. Notably, prejudice for non-Muslim and non-Asian targets, such as the elderly and overweight people, remained constant. This pattern indicates the growth of Muslim acceptance and its transferral to Asians is a response specific to domestic terrorism. Thus, although the attacks were perpetrated to incite a race war, their immediate effects were to forge tolerance. Worryingly, however, the growth and spread of tolerance may be waning.

Blue Lecture Theatre (Walsh Building/School of Dentistry, 310 Great King Street).

Friday 30 July, 3pm

Modelling Secularization across Nations Using Phylogenetic Causal Path Analysis

Dr Joseph Watts
Religion, University of Otago

Over the past century, there has been a tenfold increase in the number of people identifying as atheist or agnostic worldwide. This growth in secular affiliation has been highly uneven across nations: around two percent of the population of Malawi identify as agnostic or atheists, whereas over half the population of Estonia identify as agnostic or atheists. Theories differ over the factors that explain the growth and variation in secularization across nations. Some predict that existential security reduces the needs for the reassurances provided by religions. Others argue that differences in secular affiliation reflect rising levels of formal education among populations, which promote analytic thinking and scientific based worldviews. The results of previous cross-national research has largely been taken to support the importance of existential security in secularisation, but has not sufficiently accounted for the historical relationships that exist between nations, nor the complex causal relationships that exist between hypothesized predictor variables. We aggregated cross-national databases and developed a method of exploratory phylogenetic path analysis to account for the common ancestry of populations, and disentangle the complex causal relationships among hypothesized determinants of secularisation. Our best fitting causal models show that while secularisation is associated with a wide range of factors, education is the strongest and most direct predictor of secularisation across nations. Our results challenge the importance of existential security in secularisation and show how new approaches to causal modelling can help disentangle complex pathways in human cultural evolution.

Room R6N4, Richardson Building.

Friday 6 August, 3pm

Bringing the 'psyche' back to psychology: Why wairuatanga matters for Māori well-being

Associate Professor Natasha Tassell-Matamua
Centre for Indigenous Psychologies, School of Psychology, Massey University / Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa (Manawatū campus)

Despite historical figures in the discipline of Western psychology concerning themselves with matters of the spirit, in more recent times spirituality has been largely neglected. Yet, spirituality and spiritual experiences are an important aspect of existence and integral to well-being for many people, especially Indigenous communities. Wairuatanga (spirituality) is considered to underpin te ao Māori (the Māori world) and is threaded throughout many practices, beliefs, rituals, and notably language. Yet, rarely is wairuatanga given attention in Western psychology, and given the diverse realities of contemporary Māori, what wairuatanga looks and feels like is likely to exist along a continuum. This presentation will explore findings from a study that explored wairuatanga in a sample of Māori, as well as findings from a related study that explored the differences in interpretation of wairua experiences in a sample of mental health workers. The implications of such findings for the practice and trajectory of Western psychology in Aotearoa will be discussed.

Room R6N4, Richardson Building.

Friday 20 August, 3pm

Troubling Subjects: Legal Performativity and Indigenous peoples’ FPIC

(Co-hosted by the Otago Centre for Law and Society)

Dr Stephen Young
Faculty of Law, University of Otago.

This book talk will provide an overview of some arguments I make in Indigenous Peoples, Consent and Rights: Troubling Subjects (Routledge, 2020). It considers how various individuals, communities and tribes position themselves - and are positioned by others - as 'Indigenous peoples' to claim international human rights law. Through an examination of how human rights are claimed to contest natural resource development projects, becoming identifiable Indigenous peoples can be troubling for states and businesses. Claimants might intend that effect, which supports their agency. However, claiming international human rights law as Indigenous peoples also has unintended and troubling effects for the claimant(s). Through a lens attentive to legal performativity, I argue that those who become identifiable subjects of legal discourse also become identifiable objects of broader social discourses. Where claiming international human rights supports claimants' agency, it comes with costs that are limiting, constraining and perverting. In short, international legal discipline is itself is a troubling subject.


Friday 1 October, 3pm

Pigden Revisited, or In Defence of Popper's Critique of the Conspiracy Theory of Society

Dr Deane Galbraith
Religion, University of Otago

The subject of conspiracy theories has become a burgeoning sub-field within philosophy. Yet there was little philosophical interest in conspiracism before Charles Pigden stimulated such reflection with his influential 1995 article, "Popper Revisited, or What Is Wrong with Conspiracy Theories?" In that article, Pigden argues that Karl Popper's critique of conspiracy theories is incorrect, if not absurd. I argue that Pigden's argument is not sound, due to its misinterpretation of Popper. Yet Popper's analysis of the conspiracy theory of society, understood correctly, offers a possible alternative for the study of (some) conspiracy theories.


Friday 8 October, 3pm

‘A strange and interesting document’: how the Latter-day Saints discovered and reshaped the covenant (He Kawenata) of Māori poropiti Pāora Potangaroa

Associate Professor Ian Barber
Archaeology, University of Otago

In 1950, the official periodical of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (popularly Mormons) published an account of the discovery of a document identified as a New Zealand Māori ‘covenant’. This account was written by Matthew Cowley of the church’s governing quorum of apostles and a former New Zealand missionary and mission president. Headed ‘He Kawenata’, the document as Apostle Cowley reported it was associated with 19th century Māori poropiti (prophet) Pāora Potangaroa. Cowley advised that the covenant had been “concealed from public view” until a Māori Latter-day Saint presented it to him in New Zealand in 1944. The covenant set out the “hidden words” revealed to Potangaroa by “the spirit of Jehovah” on 16 March 1881 at the wharenui Ngā Tau e Waru at Te Ore Ore Marae, near Masterton. It set out a timeline of yearly events between 1881-1883 that Cowley interpreted as a prophecy of the Latter-day Saint mission to Ngāti Kahungunu, and Māori iwi more widely. Cowley read text and imagery from this document as prophetic anticipation of the Salt Lake City Latter-day Saints temple and its ordinances also.

This covenant as delivered to Cowley is now available to scholars as a result of its acquisition by the Latter-day Saints Church History Library since 2013. In this presentation I compare Cowley’s text and my own translation of components of ‘He Kawenata’, and the implications of Cowley's interpretation of prophetic He Kawenata text and iconography. I will evaluate Latter-day Saint and Māori culture histories and politics around the covenant more broadly as well, including Rātana church interest.

Room R6N4, Richardson Building.

Friday 5 November, 3pm

Sex workers' perspectives on religion, self-identity and family relationships in New Zealand and Australia

Luka Johnston
Postgraduate student, Religion, University of Otago

New Zealand and Australian sex workers were interviewed to investigate the interplay between religious beliefs and sex worker identity. Familial acceptance has shown to be a key factor in relation to one’s sense of well-being among the LGBTQIA+ community, so several interview questions investigated the potential effects of familial acceptance on religious beliefs and sense of well-being amongst sex workers. Investigating this topic helps to draw insights from a marginalised group who hold religious beliefs, as well as educate and ideally lessen the stigma surrounding people often considered to be on the fringe of society. Analysing the personal experiences of sex workers helps to educate the community at large, encourage support systems for those in sex work, and contributes to the better overall well-being of sex workers.

Room R6N4, Richardson Building.

2021 DIRI Buddhist Academy Zoominar Series

We are proud to co-host the 2021 DIRI Buddhist Academy Zoominar Series. This is a series of public lectures running from the 12th to the 30th of April. This zoominar series includes a number of outstanding scholars, including our own Dr Lina Verchery:

Buddhism and Filmmaking: Challenges and Possibilities

30th of April, 1-2pm NZST | 8-9am ICT | 2-3am CET

Dr Lina Verchery

In this talk, Dr. Verchery discusses the intersection of filmmaking and ethnographic work in Buddhist Studies, focusing on the example ofThe Trap/La Trappe, a short documentary on the Buddhist practice of animal release (fangsheng??)Linafilmed at Gampo Abbey in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Filmmaking offers rich opportunities for exploring the affective and aesthetic dimensions of Buddhism as a living tradition, as well as for making work in Buddhist Studies accessible to a broader audience.In this talk, Lina will speak about some of the unique challenges and possibilities this can present for research in Buddhist Studies.

Zoom Meeting ID: 825 3655 7097
Passcode: 072

For more information, please see the Dhammachai International Research Institute page here.

Events Archive

University of Otago Religious Studies Programme