Current Projects

The following represents a selection of research projects currently being undertaken by Centre staff and members.

German Civilian Expatriates of Persia and their Fate in Australia

Researcher: Dr. Pedram Khosronejad

It was during August 2019 that Dr. Pedram Khosronejad meet some of the “children” of the civilian German expatriate colony of Persia (Iran) in Australia, whose parents had been detained in Iran in 1941 after the country’s invasion by the British and Soviet Armies during the Second World War. About 500 of them (single males and six families with their children) were sent to the Australian war camps as prisoners of the war, while the rest of the women and children were forced to return to Germany during the war.

In 1947, many of them were deported to Germany while many could stay in Australia, although they had to find employment in order to make enough money to pay for the return of their families (wives and children). It was only in 1949 that most of the women and children were able to rejoin their husbands and continue to live in Australia.

This project concerns their life stories. (opens in new window) This site best viewed in Google Chrome

In 2020 I am also pursuing two contract research activities. The first continues preparation of a Native Title claim on behalf of claimants over Bradshaw (FTA) and Wombungi PL in the Northern Territory. The second activity is Covid 19 Impact Assessment of Timor-Leste, as part of a broader study commissioned by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) developing comparative analyses of impacts (health and economic) across the Asia Pacific Region.

Household Vulnerability and the Politics of Social Protection in Indonesia

Researchers: Andrew McWilliam

Andrew has finalised a collaborative project entitled, Household Vulnerability and the Politics of Social Protection in Indonesia (2014-2019) that has been exploring the impact and effectiveness of Indonesian welfare policy and programs designed to target and alleviate poverty across the archipelago. The field research for this activity focused on several Sama Bajo (maritime oriented) communities in Southeast Sulawesi. A comparative edited volume is currently in preparation.  A second ARC research project (with Lisa Palmer Uni Melb), entitled, Spiritual Ecologies and the role of Customary Governance in Timor-Leste (2016-2020) builds on earlier ethnographic work to examine the dynamics of a widespread ‘return to custom’ that connects the everyday practices of ancestral house communities with the complex ecologies upon which people's livelihoods and well-being depend.

In 2020 Andrew is also pursuing two contract research activities. The first continues preparation of a Native Title claim on behalf of claimants over Bradshaw (FTA) and Wombungi PL in the Northern Territory. The second activity is Covid 19 Impact Assessment of Timor-Leste, as part of a broader study commissioned by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) developing comparative analyses of impacts (health and economic) across the Asia Pacific Region.

Shari’ a in Australia and the US

Researchers: Selda Dagistanli, Adam Possamai, Bryan Turner, Malcolm Voyce and Joshua Roose (Senior Research Officer)

Where large diasporic communities of Muslim migrants develop, there are demands for the practice of Shari’ a in the resolution of domestic disputes. This research explores, for the first time, how Shari’ a is lived by these communities across two Western states: Australia and the USA. By exploring Muslim experiences of Western and Shari ’a courts, and the understanding of Shari' a within Western courts, this study will make innovative conceptual and empirical contributions to the debate about post-secular societies through the study of legal pluralism in the West. This research will form an appropriate empirical base for a more complex and informed engagement with Shari' a.

This project is funded by the Australian Research Council through its Discovery Projects grants scheme.

UWS Shari'a Project Press Release

If you are interested in finding out more or participating, please visit our project Facebook (opens in another window) page.

Non-Religion amongst Australian Aboriginal Peoples

Researchers: James Cox, George Morgan and Adam Possamai

To date, no studies of non-religion amongst indigenous societies have been attempted.  This is partly because it is commonly assumed that traditional, small-scale societies make no distinction between religion and non-religion in the sense that every activity of life possesses some spiritual significance.  It is also pointed out that indigenous populations almost never have a word in their vocabulary which equates to the Western idea of religion.  The notions that indigenous peoples do not separate sacred from secular activities and that religion is entirely a Western concept reflect naïve and simplistic assumptions.  Indigenous peoples identify objects that possess special power and therefore need to be respected, such as sacred mountains, trees, rivers, pools or particular instruments with mythic and ritual significance. When indigenous groups engage in rituals, they know that they are entering a time and space which is different from ordinary time and space.  These factors suggest that, although no word for ‘religion’ may be found in most indigenous languages, the concept of separating special objects from other objects and denoting sacred from non-sacred space and time is not foreign to them. This justifies the longstanding academic claim that indigenous populations practise Indigenous Religions, which can be and have been studied in detail. If religion/spirituality constitutes a particular research area amongst indigenous peoples, this raises the possibility that non-religion / non-spirituality could also constitute a field of study within indigenous societies.

Indigenous societies are neither static nor lost in the past.  They have responded to historical changes, the forces of colonialism and Westernisation and have been deeply affected in many areas by Christian missions.  Some have migrated to live in cities, whereas others maintain life in their traditional homelands, or in areas to which they were forced to move when confronted by colonial administrations.  Yet, in some forms, indigenous ways of life persist.  In light of these social and historical changes, in what manner and degree sections of indigenous populations have become non-religious / non-spiritual potentially defines a rich area for innovative research.

This project is funded by a UWS International Research Initiatives Scheme award.  

Muslims on Campus: University Life for Muslim Students in Australia

Researchers: Jan Ali, Kevin Dunn, Peter Hopkins and Adam Possamai

The dynamics and social effects of growing religious and socio-cultural diversity at universities have been under-researched across the world. There is still much to be known about how universities, as micro publics, can better encourage inter-faith and inter-cultural understanding and interaction in light of their diversifying populations. Given contemporary political concerns about the future of multiculturalism and inter-faith cohesion, this project seeks to understand the ways in which students negotiate religious diversities in Australian universities. It focuses specifically on the multilayered aspects of Muslim students’ experiences, subjectivities and perceptions of campus life, as an underrepresented voice in social research. Peter Hopkins’s 2011 study into the experiences of Muslim students on UK university campuses found a number of complex and subtle ways in which the institutional space of the university worked to marginalise Muslim students. From unequal access to facilities and resources to a social culture which emphasises alcohol consumption, Hopkins’s research demonstrates the exclusionary and discriminatory ways in which universities operate, despite efforts and policies aimed at promoting tolerance and diversity.

This project seeks to conduct case studies in three Australian universities and is a precursor to a much larger project aimed at developing research-based models of best-practice for religious inclusion and intercultural understanding in the British and Australian university contexts.

If you are a current or recently graduated Muslim student in/from an Australian university, the research team would appreciate your participation in the project via the completion of an online survey (opens in a new window).  

This project is funded by a UWS Research Grant Scheme award.

Sex and Post-Secularism: A marriage of convenience?

Researchers: Alphia Possamai-Inesedy and Bryan Turner

The increasingly religiously plural societies of Australia and New Zealand are “essentially tolerant of religion, disinterested in religious difference, and prefer[s] religion at a distance” (Bouma, 2004: 335; similarly expressed by Pratt, 2010).  Yet, a shift from the vision of a “shy” private religion to a more prominent public role for religion is apparent in both countries through an increased presence of religion in policy debates over social issues.

The aim of this project is to understand how religions in contemporary Australia and New Zealand are becoming more public as various religious traditions find themselves in a confrontational relationship with both the state and the law over issues relating to marriage (especially the definition of marriage), parental control of and responsibility for children, and the defence of traditional notions of heterosexuality. As both of these countries become more diverse in both cultural and religious terms, the scope of shared values contracts and the possibilities for public disputes over basic institutions increase. The state is drawn into religious controversies that tend to undermine the traditional divisions between church and state. This entanglement is most obvious in the struggle over the traditional Christian definition of marriage.

Of direct concern to this project is the expression of religious sentiments in relation to the debate on same-sex marriage. This project will explore the impact of religious institutions (churches and denominations) and religious values and beliefs, on not only the policy debate but also on individuals.  This study will facilitate an understanding of the interaction of politics and religion across both Australia and New Zealand.  In so doing, it aims to provide knowledge of the influence that religion has on public issue debates and policies through both quantitative and qualitative research in regard to the redefinition of marriage.

This project is funded by a UWS Research Grant Scheme award.

Andromaque (Anthropology of law in the African and Asian Muslim Worlds)

Researchers: Arskal Salim et al.

Andromaque is a 3-year (2011-2013) research project led by Professor Baudouin Dupret (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France).This collaborative research project involves 12 leading scholars in this field from different parts of the world and has an anthropological focus on the property rights of women in Muslim communities in four countries: Morocco, Sudan, India and Indonesia. For the Indonesian case studies, Dr. Salim and Professor John Bowen (Washington University at St. Louis) are coordinating fieldwork in Aceh and South Sulawesi, as well as organising a conference in August 2013 to be held in Jakarta.

This project is funded by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR) / French National Research Agency.

Varieties of Contemporary Indonesion 'New-Sufism': Cosmopolitan and Parochial  

Researcher: Julia Howell

Some of the most influential modernist movements sweeping across the global Islamic community in the twentieth century have been hostile to Islam’s devotional and mystical tradition, Sufism. Muslim modernists, who wanted Islam to meet contemporary standards of rationality as well as classical standards of orthodoxy, baulked at the supposedly irrational states of religious emotion and mystical insight aspired to by Sufis, and condemned the way devotees supposedly ceded control over their spiritual lives to old fashioned masters of Sufi orders. But towards the end of the twentieth century cosmopolitan Muslims across the world – urbanites, for the most part, educated for the tasks of economic development and societal modernization, which required engagement with global culture – began to reassess the ‘bad press’ Sufism had been receiving and to search out new ways of enriching their religious practice with Sufi devotions, regimes of ethical cultivation, and inspirational literature.

This project seeks to document this diversity of sentiment and to understand its social distribution, as innovations in Sufi practice and organization spread from the upper tiers of society to less privileged urban workers and the countryside at large.

Commercialised Lay Evangelism in Indonesian Islam: Televangelism and Training Enterprises

Researcher: Julia Howell

Like Christian heritage countries, Muslim-majority countries have their televangelists. Since the 1990s when Indonesian television was substantially privatised, commercial stations have carried new, popular styles of Islamic preaching  incorporating entertainment routines, elaborate staging and talk-show formatting.Some of the most famous of the new-style celebrity preachers have also recast  spiritual disciplines as personal development programs highly popular with audiences wanting to be good Muslims and achieve ‘success’ in their rapidly modernising world. The CSCMS research program in this area is currently investigating the cross-selling of spiritual development programs by celebrity preachers through ‘training’ workshops for upwardly mobile Muslims and business managers. The program also surveys the mushrooming Islam-tinged ‘spiritual  training’ businesses set up by entrepreneurial business management specialists and others now styling themselves as ‘trainers’ rather than preachers to cater for the new market in Islamic personal development for ‘success’.

Muslim Organisations in Indonesian Society and Politics, 1950-1980

Researcher: Steven Drakeley

This research project is a study of the role of Islamic organisations and leaders in Indonesian political and social affairs during this historically significant period. There have been many recent studies focusing on contemporary Islam in Indonesia, and on the period since 1980. These studies quite rightly implicitly recognise the central role of Islam in contemporary Indonesia. There were also some fine earlier studies of Islam in Indonesia that dealt with the earlier post-independence period. But little has been written on this period lately and the earlier studies, naturally, lacked the historical perspective that can now be brought to bear given the passage of time. In particular, for example, in earlier works, there was a prevalent but unacknowledged assumption that secular forces were of primary importance in the construction of independent Indonesia and would increasingly be so. Islam, while not ignored, was generally regarded as something of an obstacle to modernity and to Indonesian progress, rather than being seen as a contributor.

This study will aim to re-align the balance, recognising the under-appreciated contributions that Muslim organisations and Muslim leaders made to development and social cohesion in Indonesia, which helped to lay the foundations for the contemporary Indonesia of today. The study will also explore the period’s impact on Islam in Indonesia and on Indonesian Islamic organisations, examining the thesis that contemporary Islam in Indonesia was very much shaped by the developments and experiences of these three tumultuous decades.

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