Current Postgraduate Research Projects

Sarah K Balstrup
Raphael Lataster
Merrilyn Mansfield

Sarah K Balstrup

Doctor of Philosophy
Spiritual Sensations: Accounting for Non-Denominational Religious Experiences in the Cinema


Based upon accounts from audience members, films like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void (2009) and Lars von Trier’s Melancholia (2011) have been identified as films that are capable of facilitating religious experiences. This thesis seeks to identify common characteristics in regard to such non-denominational religious experiences to determine an alternate model of Western sacrality that derives its influences from non-Christian sources. To date, studies of religion and film have largely ignored the social reality of religious change in Western culture, and have placed undue significance on perceived Christian sub-texts. In order to address this imbalance, this thesis accounts for the presence of non-Christian influences in the aforementioned films in light of the cultural context of their creation.

Teaching
2013. RLST1002 A History of God, Deities and Demons
2013. RLST1005 Atheism, Fundamentalism and New Religions

Conference Papers
‘The Nature of Spiritual Australia: Making Sense of Mythological Blendings in a Post-colonial Land. A Consideration of the Work of Danie Mellor and Del Kathryn Barton’s Religious Identity in the 21st Century: From Indigenous Faiths to Atheist Enthusiasms. A One-Day Symposium to Welcome Professor James L. Cox to Sydney, 18th October, 2013, University of Sydney.
‘The Origins of Modern Love: Tragedy and Transcendence in Flaubert’s Madam BovaryThe Aesthetics of Love, 2nd November, 2012. Religion, Literature and the Arts (RLA)/Sydney Society for Literature and Aesthetics (SSLA), University of Sydney.
‘To Believe in Love: The Religious Significance of the Romantic Love Myth in Western Modernity’ Studies in Religion Postgraduate Seminar, 4th September 2012.
‘At Home in Sacred Place: Conceptualisation of Space and Place Among Travelling Goddess Pilgrims and the Communities of the Western Apache’ Philosophies of Travel, 29th September – 1st October, 2011. Religion, Literature and the Arts (RLA)/Sydney Society for Literature and Aesthetics (SSLA), University of Sydney.
‘Sentient Symbols: The Implications of Animal Cruelty Debates in Contemporary Australian Art’ Beyond Pasolini (and then some…) the Aesthetics of Excess and Limits to Representation, 29th April, 2011. Religion, Literature and the Arts (RLA)/Sydney Society for Literature and Aesthetics (SSLA), University of Sydney.

Publications
Sarah K Balstrup, ‘The Location of the Sacred: Methodological Reconsiderations of the Sacredness of Place,’ in Alex Norman (ed.) Journeys and Destinations: Studies in Travel, Identity, and Meaning, Cambridge Scholars Press, 2013.
Sarah K Balstrup, [Book Review] ‘The Red Book/Liber Novus, Carl Gustav Jung,’ Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review, Vol. 2, No. 2, 2011, pp. 393-396.
Sarah K Balstrup, ‘Sentient Symbols: The Implications of Animal Cruelty Debates in Contemporary Australian Art,’ Literature and Aesthetics, Vol. 21, No. 2, 2011, pp. 114-133.

Raphael Lataster

Doctor of Philosophy
God's Intellectual Battles: New Atheists, New Theologians, Philosophical Arguments and Public Engagement

Raphael's thesis analyses the arguments of William Lane Craig (and also Richard Swinburne) for the existence of God, and investigates Craig's sociological impact.

With a background in pharmacy, medicine, and finance, Raphael Lataster is a professionally secular PhD researcher (Studies in Religion), having recently passed his Master of Arts (Research), undertaken in the Department of Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney, with Distinction. His main research interests include philosophy of religion, sociology of religion, Christian origins, logic, epistemology, Bayesian reasoning, justifications and social impacts of atheism, Taoism, overpopulation and sustainability concerns, pantheism, and pandeism. Other interests include rock-climbing and volunteering with the State Emergency Service.
Raphael wrote his Master’s thesis on Jesus mythicism, concluding that historical and Bayesian reasoning justifies a sceptical attitude towards the ‘historical Jesus’. For his doctoral work, Raphael is analysing the major philosophical arguments for God’s existence (as argued by William Lane Craig, Richard Swinburne, Alvin Plantinga and Thomas Aquinas), attempts to demonstrate the logical implausibility of the monotheistic concept, explores the theological tendencies of Philosophy of Religion, and considers the plausibility of pantheistic worldviews.

Raphael is currently publishing numerous articles summarising his Master’s dissertation, and exploring the themes of his doctoral project. Being passionate about education, Raphael hopes to eventually teach in Religious Studies and possibly Philosophy (critical thinking and philosophy of religion), and also to make every effort to engage with the public, through popular books, speaking engagements, public debates and websites, www.RaphaelLataster.com and www.PantheismUnites.org.

Publications
Bayesian Reasoning: Criticising the ‘Criteria of Authenticity’ and Calling for a Review of Biblical Criticism. Published in the Journal of Alternative Perspectives in the Social Sciences (Volume 5, Issue 2, pp.271-293) - May 2013

New Atheists and New Theologians. Published in Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review (Volume 4, Issue 1) - June 2013

Merrilyn Mansfield

Doctor of Philosophy

Merrilyn is a sessional lecturer and tutor in the Department of Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney. Her PhD research has been assisted by the Australian Postgraduate Award after she received first class honours in the Bachelor of Ancient History Honours degree at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. She plans to apply for a postdoctoral fellowship to continue her research and teaching interests after being awarded her PhD.

Merrilyn’s research interests include the historical John the Baptist, early Christianities and Judaisms, Hebrew language, women in Jewish and Christian texts, and the involvement of women in 21st century Christian communities. Her doctoral thesis examines whether John the Baptist used the Scripture texts that are associated with him in his teaching, or whether these Scriptures were linked to John by the early church for specific theological purposes.

In 2011 she was awarded the Baillieu Research Scholarship and the James Kentley Memorial Scholarship to attend Oxford University for a term to conduct PhD research under the supervision of Professor Markus Bockmuehl. In 2012 she was lecturer and tutor at The University of Sydney for RLST 2611 Monotheism: Judaism and Islam.

In 2013 Merrilyn contributed a paper on her most recent research to the Society of Biblical Literature conference in Edinburgh, Scotland. Click here for Merrilyn's Academia.edu profile.