Upcoming Events

Religion and Society Research Cluster HDR Day

Date: Friday, 11 October 2019

Location: Parramatta City Campus 01.7.65 (Please access level 7 via the concierge)

Time: 10:00-16:00

Guest Speakers: Dr Sebastian Boell (University of Sydney), Dr Lisa Worthington (WSU), JasbeerMamalipurath (WSU)

Convenors: Dr Jennifer Cheng (WSU) and Dr Alan Nixon (WSU)

Compulsory for RSRC students but everyone is welcome!

RSVP: To Jennifer Cheng (j.cheng@westernsydney.edu.au) by 27 September - RSVP compulsory due to limited spaces

Morning tea and lunch will be provided.

The RSRC is holding a workshop day for HDR students. It will work through various problems experienced by those undertaking a HDR project. The day includes a workshop, two guest speakers and two group activities:

Workshop: "Dealing with Information Overload in Research: a Hermeneutic Approach to Literature Reviews"

By Dr Sebastian Boell

Over the last few decades we have seen an exponential rise in the amount of research that is available online. Dealing with this 'information overload' has now become a major issue for academics. This presentation focuses on how to make use of this wealth of research without getting lost in the literature. Using the concept of the ‘hermeneutic circle’, it introduces techniques and approaches for the efficient identification of relevant literature. This hermeneutic approach offers an antidote to the often misused ‘systematic literature reviews’ in the social sciences and humanities. By using the techniques introduced in this presentation, time can be spent reading relevant research instead of engaging in a painstaking process of spending days sorting through thousands of documents to identify only a few relevant publications.

This workshop is suitable for HDR students at any stage of their candidature as well as seasoned academics, as the techniques can be applied in any academic work.

Dr Sebastian Boell holds a PhD from UNSW and an MA from Saarland University in Germany. Sebastian’s research draws from his multi-disciplinary training in Information Systems, Information Science, Cognitive Psychology, Engineering and further expertise in different research methodologies including: histography, qualitative research, interpretive work, scientometric and bibliometric approaches, practical information retrieval and literature analysis. This broad intellectual foundation is applied to problems such as: the use of technology for remote work (telework); conducting literature searches and analysis; the visibility of research output in journals, libraries and online; the creation of knowledge in academic disciplines; and for investigating fundamental concepts in information systems and information science.

Talks: “Advice from Near the Goal and After the Finish Line”

By Jasbeer Mamalipurath and Dr Lisa Worthington

Two of our more recent HDR students have volunteered their time to give you insights on their PhD journey and what they learned during the process. Others have come before you in this process and it can be useful to hear about their experiences, especially if they are recently graduated and have likely gone through a similar process to you. Come along and learn from those who have experience in how to make it to the other side!

Group Activity: “Staying Sane during the PhD Process”

By Dr Jennifer Cheng

While it is important to stay focused on your thesis, we sometimes neglect ourselves during the PhD process. This activity will discuss self-care during the PhD journey. We will explore different types of self-care (especially on a tight budget), how to deal with “imposter syndrome”, and how to respond to obstacles both in life and in research.

Group Activity: “Communicating your Research Succinctly”

By Dr Alan Nixon

There are many situations where academics and HDR students need to explain their research in a short and succinct way. From confirmation of candidature panels to discussions with colleagues, networking at conferences and 3 minute thesis competitions. In this group exercise we will help each other to communicate our research, quickly and concisely. A skill that is especially important when speaking to non-experts.

See flyer for the event here

Minors in Minority Religions: The Delicate Balance between Religious Freedom and the Well-being of the Child

Location: Western Sydney University, Liverpool City Campus, 03.8.01

Date: Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Time: 13:00-15:00

Speaker: Dr Susan J. Palmer (School of Religious Studies, McGill University)

RSVP: By Friday, September 13, 2019 to Alan Nixon (a.nixon@westernsydney.edu.au)

Queries: Alan Nixon (a.nixon@westernsydney.edu.au)

What is happening to children born into the so-called “cults”? Are they captive, abused or free? And what should be done about this situation?

Ever since the spiritual seekers of the 1960s and '70s settled down in new religious communities to raise alternative families, these concerns have been expressed by journalists, social workers and government deputies. While “hippy” parents voluntarily embraced radical social experiments, their children today are gazing with curiosity at the surrounding world they never chose to reject. Many leave, a few write their memoirs.

The presence of children in these religions challenges basic assumptions about religious freedom. For some, “religious freedom” means “freedom from religion. For others, children have the right to practice their parents' faith. Palmer shares the preliminary findings of her Children in Sectarian Religions project and addresses these issues:

  • the conflicting evidence concerning children's secret lives in sectarian religions.
  • the complex role of the “objective” researcher in the emotionally-charged micro-sociology of NRMs.
  • cases of state intervention in the family life of minority religions.
  • obstacles to research posed by ethics boards, “anticultism” - and the unpredictability of NRMs.

Susan J. Palmer is a researcher and writer in the field of new religious studies. She is an Affiliate Professor at Concordia University in Montreal and  is currently working at McGill University as Principal Investigator on a four-year research project supported by the Social Sciences and the Humanities Research Council:  Children in Sectarian Religions and State Control.  She is a Lecturer at McGill's School of Religious Studies where she also teaches the course on New Religious Movements. Palmer has published eleven books, sociological studies of new religions, notably: Moon Sisters, Krishna Mothers, Rajneesh Lovers: Women's Roles in New Religions (Syracuse, 1994); Aliens Adored: Rael’s UFO Religion (Rutgers, 2004); The New Heretics of France (Oxford University Press, 2011); The Nuwaubian Nation: Black Spirituality and State Control (Ashgate 2010), and (co-authored with Stuart Wright) Storming Zion: Government Raids on Religions (Oxford University Press, 2015).

Please find the Guest Lecture flyer here

Researching New Religions: Qualitative Methods in a Controversial Field

Location: Western Sydney University, Liverpool campus, LP-03.7.01

Date: Thursday, September 19, 2019

Time: 13:00-16:00

Speaker: Dr Susan J. Palmer (School of Religious Studies, McGill University)

RSVP and Queries: By Friday, September 13, 2019 to Jennifer Cheng (j.cheng@westernsydney.edu.au)

The media dubs them “CULTS”, the churches condemn them as “Heresies”, scholars call them “NRMs” – but for the groups themselves they are God’s Holy Family or Heaven on Earth, or The Chosen Ones, or Shambala, or the Ancient United Order of Melchesidek (etcetera). How does the Intrepid Researcher go about studying them, using real, offline, on-the-ground field research?

In Susan J. Palmer’s Master Class, we will explore how standard research methods may be applied to the study of unconventional spiritual groups, radical spiritual/social movements -  what Palmer likes to refer to as “baby religions”. Topics to be addressed include:

  • Choosing your group and doing a background study
  • Classifying your group (Roy Wallis’ typology of NRMs)
  • Identifying sources of information/agendas; Eileen Barker’s typology of “cult-watching groups” (CWGs)
  • Introducing yourself; the process of negotiating access
  • Participant observation field research; from “deep” to “distant” to “going native”
  • Conducting interviews: techniques and pitfalls
  • Understanding Research Ethics; complying and coping with your ethics committee
  • That Elusive Thing called “Objectivity
  • Analyzing and interpreting your data
  • Must one choose sides? From the Ivory Tower to the “Cult Wars”

This workshop will involve the students in exercises and brief focus group discussions

Bio: Susan J. Palmer is an Affiliate Professor at Concordia University, where she teaches. She is an affiliate member of the School of Religious Studies, Faculty of Arts at McGill University and a researcher at the ‎Centre d'expertise et de formation sur les intégrismes religieux et la radicalisation (CEFIR) at the Cégep Édouard-Montpetit. Her research in the field of new religious movements has been funded by six federal grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). In April 2017 she was awarded a five-year Insight Grant (SSHRC).

Read: Susan J.Palmer, "Caught Up in the Cult Wars: Confessions of a Canadian Researcher." https://blog.longreads.com/2013/09

Photography, Race and Slavery: African sitters of Qajar Era Iran – Seminar and Exhibition Opening

Curated by Dr Pedram Khosronejad (Western Sydney University), this exhibition traces the unexplored history of African slaves in Iran during the Qajar dynasty and looks at the unique relationship between photography and slavery in Iran from 1840s to the 1930s. This exhibition is presented as part of the UNSW Library Exhibitions Program and the Silk Roads@UNSW Research Network Seminar Series in collaboration with the Religion and Society Cluster of Western Sydney University.

Location: UNSW Library Exhibition Space, Main Library, Level 5

Date: 23 September  - 18 October 2019

Seminar and Exhibition Opening:
Wednesday 25 September
Seminar 5.00pm
Opening 6.00pm

Join us at UNSW Library for this seminar and opening event. All Welcome – please RSVP.

Islam and Society: Challenges and Prospects - AAIMS Second Conference on the Study of Islam and Muslim Societies.

Queries: Directed to Professor Linda Briskman (l.briskman@westernsydney.edu.au) or Professor Shahram Akbarzadeh (shahram.akbarzadeh@deakin.edu.au)

Registration: Closes 13 September - onestop.westernsydney.edu.au/OneStopWeb/SSSP_025

Date and time: 30 September-1 October 2019, 9am-5pm

Location: Whitlam Institute, Western Sydney University

Speakers: Professor Deepa Kumar, Professor Fethi Mansouri, Dr Shakira Hussein

Sponsored by: Western Sydney University, AAIMS, Deakin University and Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation

The two leading nodes in Australian scholarship of race and ethnic studies are combining to offer the second Australian Association of Islamic and Muslim Studies (AAIMS) Conference. After the successful inaugural conference, the second conference will further represent the depth and breadth of scholarship in Australia and internationally. It will showcase and reflect upon the range of Muslim experiences across many countries from multi-disciplinary perspectives. The conference will bring together scholars from such disciplines as law, politics, sociology, religious studies, geography, philosophy and theology. The conference will feature international and local keynotes who are leading scholars in their fields.

Participants are expected to organise and financially cover their own travel, accommodation and registration expenses.

Please find the conference flyer here Opens in a new window

Call for Applicants: PhD Master Class in the Study of Islam and Muslim Societies

Location: Western Sydney University (Campus location to be advised)

Date: 2 October 2019

Proposals: Send by 26th August to M.LajevardiFatemi@westernsydney.edu.au

Queries: Pedram Khosronejad - P.Khosronejad@westernsydney.edu.au

Following the Australian Association of Islamic and Muslim Studies (AAIMS) conference (www.aaims.org.au/conference/), the School of Social Sciences and Psychology is organising a PhD master class on the Study of Islam and Muslim Societies with special interest on contemporary Iran and the Persianate Societies. We seek to bring together doctoral students from different disciplines to join this initiative, which will be led by Adjunct Professor Pedram Khosronejad.


The program is open to doctoral students in any discipline, as long as their dissertation subject, and the proposed talk, are broadly related to the theme of the master class. Even the main topic of the program is regarding Islam, PhDs with other topics specially those who are working on any aspects of contemporary Iran and the Persianate societies are encouraged to apply.


The master class will be financed by the School and will be free of cost to the students accepted. Morning and afternoon teas will be provided but participants will need to purchase or provide their own lunches. Participants will need to fund their own travel and accommodation.


The master class will take place 2nd October 2019. Doctoral students will each make a 20-minute presentation. Academics from Western Sydney University will also participate in feedback sessions.


This is an opportunity for receiving feedback from experts and peers and for discussion of your PhD work. Use this chance to improve your thesis in furthering your intellectual journey.

Submission guidelines:

Proposals for a 20-minute paper may be submitted, by 26th August, 2019. Proposals should be sent to: M.LajevardiFatemi@westernsydney.edu.au

  1. Full name and affiliation of the doctoral student,
  2. Title for the proposed presentation,
  3. An abstract (200-500 words),
  4. A list of 5-10 keywords,
  5. An academic C.V.

Approval and confirmation:

We will confirm receipt of each proposal and will respond by 3rd of September 2019. A draft of the paper should be sent by 16th September 2019 to permit pre-circulation among the participants. As places are limited, there will be a selection process in place.

Religion and Ideas Roundtable - Modern Thinking in Islam Series 2019

Location: Western Sydney University, Parramatta South Campus, The Female Orphan School, PS-EZ.1.57 (Geoffrey Roberson Boardroom)

Day and Time: Fridays, 10.00am – 12.00pm

Sponsored by: The School of Humanities and Communications Arts (HCA)

It is a common assumption that since the so-called closing of ‘the gates of ijtihad,’ there has been no genuine intellectual activity on the part of Islam. Such a view is undoubtedly fiction but the bias nevertheless persists, especially under the guise of the Muslim world’s alleged inferiority to the West. The ongoing intellectual engagement of Islam with modernity is well documented, yet what remains unaddressed is the extent and scope of the originality and creativity of the Muslim thinkers involved therein. Thus, the present roundtable aspires to answer the following question: How has Islam contributed to the prime production of ideas in the modern period?

Certainly, to answer adequately such a question one must consider the specifics of time and place, context and circumstance, as well as individual idiosyncrasies. Moreover, no answer can just assume that originality and creativity are given; what has to be explored and delineated is where, why, and how Muslim thinkers have been original and creative. Islamic modernism in all its forms – liberal, reformist or moderate – is the most promising field of reference with regards to the exploration of the alternatives that Islam may present to standard Western versions of modern theory and critical thinking.

The discussion series will delve into a wide range of areas of thought, such as political theory, philosophy, sociology, art and literature, theology, education and historiography, and at the same time consider a diverse number of Muslim thinkers, including Shariati, Taha, Nurbakhsh, Ahmed, Nasr, an-Naim, Soroush, and Kermani. These figures are not cases of passive and/or benign modernisation or even westernisation, but on the contrary represent instances of a robust and sustained encounter with the challenges of the West; this encounter becomes especially intriguing as it is about ideas that remain controversial for dominant Muslim perspectives throughout the world today.

The 2019 series will run every month on a Friday from March–June and August–November. It will host invited speakers leading discussion on suggested topics.The roundtables aim to foster inter-institutional collaboration on cutting edge scholarship in relevant fields of the study of religion. The objective of the seminars is to provide a platform for discussion of key issues in relation to religion in the modern world. Proceedings will be submitted for publication in a special series/edited volume.

See the flyer for the series here and individual talk flyers below

List of Presenters:

Friday 22 March - Professor Bryan Turner (ACU) - Orientalism: From Edward Said to Wael B. Hallaq (Flyer)
Friday 5 April - Emeritus Professor Garry W. Trompf (USYD) - Questions of Gnostic Islam (Flyer)
Friday 3 May - Dr Aydogan Kars (Monash) Soroush Between Tradition and Innovation (Flyer)
Friday 7 June - Dr Vassilis Adrahtas (Macquarie) - From Tradition to Modernity and Vice Versa: The Progressive Islam of Mahmud Muhammad Taha (Flyer)
Friday 2 August - Dr Maria Bhatti (WSU, Law) - The interaction between Islamic law and secular law (Flyer)
Friday 6 September - Dr Lucia Sorbera (USYD) - Beyond the Modernity–Tradition Binary: For a Women’s Intellectual History of Islam (Flyer)
Friday 4 October - Associate Professor William Shepard, retired (UC, Christchurch) - The Islamist Paradox
Friday 1 November - Dr Milad Milani (WSU) - Shahab Ahmed and the Hermeneutics of Islam

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