Research Seminars, Semester 2, 2014

All presentations will take place in the Rogers Room, Level 3, The John Woolley Building, Science Road, The University of Sydney.
Presentations will commence at 4pm and finish promptly at 5pm.

'Pagan Past and Christian Future in the Old Irish Narrative Immram Brain maic Febail (the Voyage of Bran son of Febal)'

12 August, 2014
Speaker: Professor Jonathan Wooding BA, PhD (Sydney), FSA, FRHistS, FHEA, is the Sir Warwick Fairfax Chair of Celtic Studies at the University of Sydney. He is additionally a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a fellow of the Higher Education Academy of the United Kingdom.

‘Inventing God Within an Indigenous Paradigm’

26 August, 2014
Professor James L. Cox is an Honorary Professorial Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. He is past President of the British Association for the Study of Religions, co-editor of the ‘Religion in Modern Africa’ Series of Ashgate Publications, co-editor of Bloomsbury's ‘Advances in Religious Studies’ Series, past General Secretary of the African Association for the Study of Religions, and past Deputy General Secretary of the European Association for the Study of Religions. Professor Cox is in Australia to celebrate the launch of his latest book The Invention of God in Indigenous Societies, Acumen 2014.

‘The Search for Allusions to Extant Scriptures in the Pastoral Epistles’

9 September, 2014
Mr Brett Graham is a doctoral student in the Department of Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney.

‘How We Take God to School’

23 September, 2014
Professor Marion Maddox. Professor Maddox is based at Macquarie University and is the leading authority on the intersection of religion and politics in Australia. Her latest book Taking God to School: The End of Australia’s Egalitarian Education (Allen and Unwin 2014) investigates the new spirit of evangelism and its impact on Australian ‘secular’ education systems.

‘The Aesthetics of Self Harm and Community Construction: A Resacralising of the Wound in a Virtual Milieu’

7 October, 2014
Dr Zoe Alderton (Writing Hub, University of Sydney). On the eve of the publication of her monograph on New Zealand artist Collin McCahon The Spirit of Colin McCahon, (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2014), Dr Alderton takes thematics of blood and group sacrality evident in McCahon’s work and develops them in an entirely new direction. She writes,

“There is a great deal of research concerning self-harm behaviour in youths, but few sociological investigations of the manner in which community formation and identity may encourage, valorise, and sacralise this behaviour. Online communities provide a large amount of support for self-harmers, and can also be a place in which they retreat from negative social environment and express themselves in an authentic and meaningful manner. In this presentation, I will be exploring the case study of ‘soft grunge’ blogs on Tumblr and their very particular aesthetic representations of the self-harm process. Soft grunge is a contemporary aesthetic trend that focuses on motifs including vintage imagery, soft focus, pale flesh, flowers, and bruises. It combines the gentle with the grotesque, providing a space in which feminine-identifying teenagers can explore beauty within fresh wounds and broken skin.”

Research Seminars, Semester 2, 2013

Seminars are held from 4 – 5 pm on Tuesdays in the John Woolley Building, Rogers Room, unless otherwise stated.

6 August: Travel to New Religions: Total Institutions and the Concept of Religious/Spiritual Leisure

Dr Alex Norman

Alex Norman completed his doctorate at the Department of Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney in 2010. Since then he has worked at the Department of History and Philosophy at the University of New South Wales, and the School of Social Sciences and Psychology at the University of Western Sydney before returning in 2012. He has taught subjects focussing on religions since 2006, including the units RLST2603 Classical Hinduism, RLST2626 Witchcraft, Paganism, and the New Age, and has lectured for the Centre for Continuing Education on the history of travel. In 2008 he was awarded the Faculty of Arts Teaching Excellence Award, and in 2011 was a finalist for the Rita and John Cornforth Medal for contributions to the University community.

27 August: Material Religion, Animal Religion, and 'New Materialist' Animacies: Notes towards a Transdisciplinary and Post-Secular Ecosophy

Mr George Ioannides

This seminar presentation seeks to address the complex and contentious associations between the study of religion and materialism, and of the relationship between religion, animals, and ecology. It will specifically focus on the implications of such enquiries for the current methodological and theoretical presuppositions attending the wider study of religion itself. In this talk, I consider the recent revaluation of religious material culture, and the reconfiguration of the relations between religion and materialism, arguing that the utility of such theoretical and methodological manoeuvres would be better served by thinking through the work of the 'new materialisms'. Such work attempts to engage the question of matter and the material through posthumanist and anti-anthropocentric positionalities that are at times absent from the study of material religion.

As a case study, I address the issue of trans-species religiosity and the notion that some species other than those in the lineage of human evolution have behaviours, emotions, and thoughts that might be categorised as 'religious' or 'spiritual'. Omitting a discussion of the endless theological debates to do with such a provocation, I analyse the issue of trans-species religiosity through the distinctive insights garnered by animal religion, placing them in a dialogue with the wider state of the disciplinary study of religion in its materialist, anthropocentric configuration. I therefore explore what I take to be the theoretically entangled subjects of material religion, animal religion, new materialism, and what I propose as an animist onto-epistemology. I argue that such speculations are important for the examination of religious phenomena alongside the self-generativity and recalcitrance of religious materiality, both human and nonhuman in kind.

George Ioannides is a PhD Candidate, tutor, and research assistant in the Department of Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney. His research aims to rethink the points of correlation between the academic study of religion and that of materiality, new materialism, and the nonhuman, by placing itself at the broad nexus of religious studies, continental philosophy, and human-animal studies. He is currently interested in thinking through how particular theories of matter and mattering might animate certain conceptualisations of religiosity, including that of material religion, trans-species religion, and the materiality of religious 'things'. As well as publishing on the subjects of animals in film, the intersections of Islam and queer theory, and the study of religion and vitalist materiality, George has most recently delivered papers at the 2013 Australian Animal Studies Group Conference in Sydney, and the 2013 BSA Sociology of Religion Study Group Conference in Durham, UK, presentations on which this departmental seminar is based. George is also co-editing a forthcoming special issue of the Journal for the Academic Study of Religion (previously the Australian Religion Studies Review), on rethinking religion and the (non)human, and was guest co-editor of an issue of Literature and Aesthetics, where he also published an article on the aesthetics of sex and sacrality in film.

3 September: The Most Frequently Depicted Offering Scenes in ancient Egyptian Temples of the early Ramesside Period: Analysis of an emblematic system, with some observations about its earlier history.

Dr Katherine Eaton

Ritual scenes on the walls of ancient Egyptian temples are simplified depictions of the relative chaos of temple rituals which were themselves simplifications of the chaos of everyday life. In art the complexity of ritual is sometimes so reduced that a literal reading of a scene is physically impossible. In other cases, details such as the crowns the king wears follow patterns which probably reveal more about composition and aesthetics than cult practices. Thus, the religious significance of details in ritual scenes must be looked at critically. One way to do this is through analysis of broad patterns of what is appropriate, in a large number of monuments which transcend artistic styles. In studying scenes of offering white bread and ointment in Nineteenth Dynasty temples, I encountered a pattern which leads to significant observations about cultic performance. For some offerings, including white bread, wine and Maat, a very limited range of gesture is depicted. Other offerings, such as ointment, incense, and libation were depicted being offered with a wide range of gestures. Thus, a larger pattern emerges. A pattern which, I argue, allows us to reconstruct some aspects of the physical performance of these offering rituals. This study formed the final two chapters of my book, Reading Ancient Egyptian Temple Ritual: Performance, Patterns and Practice, which came out in June. After reviewing this material, I will present some initial observations about the earlier history of this system.

Katherine Eaton was awarded her Ph.D. from New York University in 2004. Since then, she has taught at Cal Tech, University of Pittsburgh and University of Sydney. Her main research interests are ancient Egyptian temple ritual and ancient Egyptian medicine.

8 October: The Christocentricity of Ecclesial Art in Early Byzantium

Mr Mario Baghos

Many scholars claim that the image of Christ as a peaceful, benevolent shepherd was transformed, from the Constantinian period onwards, into a ‘powerful, enthroned Jesus’ mirroring the emperor. This evolution presupposes the persistence of the ancient Roman imperial cult that extolled the emperor as eternal and divine well into the Christian epoch; a cult which used images of Christ as the traditio legis or the ‘Ruler of All’ (Pantokrator). Whilst this is to an extent a legitimate interpretation, it significantly downplays the tensions between Church and empire and the role of the former in the production of an art that reflected its own unique worldview. This paper will attempt a more nuanced approach, asserting that although from the fourth century onwards the affairs of the Church and state were – at least on an external level – intertwined, nevertheless the former subtly reacted to the latter’s imperialistic propensities, especially in the realm of art. More precisely, if we are to consider ecclesial art as a reflection of a particular mentality, then despite the framework of imperial beneficence, the Church’s art depicted a very different worldview to that of the empire; which is that of the emperor as subordinate to Christ and his saints. Indeed, since the saints were traditionally envisaged as participants in Christ, their images also contributed to the Christocentricity of ecclesial art in this period insofar as these holy figures always pointed to their Master. This will also be an aspect assessed by this paper, which will cover the development of some of these images from the fourth to sixth centuries, contextualising, at the end, their positioning within an emergent architectural symbolism that further pointed to the Church’s hagio/Christocentricity.

Mario Baghos is a PhD Candidate in Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney and Associate Lecturer in Patristic Studies and Church History at St Andrew's Greek Orthodox Theological College. He has published several articles on patristic approaches towards history and eschatology, and his research interests include the city of Constantinople as an imago mundi, and the history of religions and mentalities.