|A Conversation with an International Focus Scholar|
The international focus for the Annual Meeting this November will be on Australia/Oceania. To help us learn more about and from the studies of religion in Australia/Oceania, the AAR is sponsoring nine scholars from that region of the world to participate in the Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. One of these scholars will be Douglas Ezzy.
Douglas Ezzy is a sociologist and head of the school of sociology and social work at the University of Tasmania in Australia.
RSN: How would you describe the current state of religious studies in Australia? Do you notice, for instance, any particular trends or emphases?
Ezzy: Religious studies in Australia is small. There are less than twenty-five religious studies academics in Australia who have full-time jobs in the dominant state-funded universities. There are approximately another twenty academics who publish and research on religious studies related topics and teach in cognate fields such as sociology, philosophy, or education. There are a number of theological colleges typically linked to particular denominations, but theological teaching is quite separate from the state-funded universities.
RSN: Yes, I noticed that you yourself are working in the school of sociology and social work, and many of our sponsored scholars from Australia who will attend the upcoming AAR Annual Meeting are also not located, institutionally speaking, in departments of religion. Has this always been the case? If so, why?
Ezzy: In general, Australia has a more relaxed and skeptical approach to religion than that of the United States. This stems in part from our convict history, where religion was forced upon the convicts and used as a justification of authoritarian rules and measures. While it varies considerably by state, most people in Tasmania (one of Australia’s eight major states or territories) have convict ancestry. As such, religion has historically been regarded with some suspicion in Australia. This also means that there are not many large private donors that might support religious studies programs financially.
RSN: Can you tell us a little bit about your own research at the moment?
Ezzy: My current research focuses on the transformative power of ritual. I am particularly interested in how religion operates through the embodied performance of ecstatic ritual and how this in turn shapes moral behavior. Theoretically, I am drawing together ritual studies (Victor Turner), sociology (Émile Durkheim), and some psychoanalytic thinking (Jessica Benjamin). I have two main projects at the moment.
RSN: What are your personal hopes or goals as you come to participate in AAR’s Annual Meeting?
Ezzy: I am hoping for some good conversations with scholars in Pagan studies, ritual studies, and indigenous studies. In the past, these conversations have been important catalysts for developing publications and research projects. I’m also looking forward to engaging with the rich variety of academic work presented at the AAR sessions.
RSN: What and how do you think scholars of religion in Australia and in the United States can learn from each other?
Ezzy: The wonderful thing for Australians coming to the United States is the experience of being part of a much larger group. It is very valuable to be able to talk to a wide range of people that understand in detail the literature and issues of my speciality. It is also very important for Australians to develop networks and contacts with researchers in the United States and the rest of the world.