Religious History Association, President’s report: AGM May 2019

Religious History Association, President’s report: AGM May 2019

As President, it is my first duty to register my thanks to Joanna Cruickshank and Kriston Rennie for their sterling service as editors of the Journal of Religious History. Kriston has stepped into the role previously taken by Jason Taliodoros. I am delighted with the way he has slipped into this role. The Journal continues to prosper under Wiley, with our interests looked after by Chloe Chadwick. I am also indebted to Anna Haunton for the professional service she gives to them in producing each issue of the journal, as well as for maintaining the website (which she has refreshed in certain aspects). I encourage people to look at the website, to ensure that it is communicating significant information in the best possible way. I also thank her for producing the impressive annual newsletter, which I commend to all members of the association.

I can also report that a subcommittee, comprising Katharine Massam, Shurlee Swain and myself, have come to a decision about the best article published in the JRH in 2018. The committee found that the standard of the four best articles identified by the editors was uniformly high. The prize winning article we identified was that of SUZANNE K. KAUFMAN “Les Miraculées de Lourdes: Sacred Celebrities in the Age of Mass Spectacle” published in the December 2018 (vol 42). Kaufman, an Associate Professor at Loyola University, Chicago, examines the promotion of women as subject to miraculous healing as a remarkably successful strategy that created a new kind of religious celebrity: women healed through the grace of the Virgin. She looks at the medical figures who assisted in promoting scientific recognition of these female miraculées not just as a new phenomenon in the piety of the later nineteenth century, but as a marketing strategy, within the emerging mass media of the day. These women were able to create a new identity for themselves through belief that they had received miraculous healing.
I am looking forward to hearing about the religious history stream at the AHA conference to be held in Toowoomba in 8-12 July 2019, where the theme will be ‘Local Communities, Global Networks’. I look forward to continuing participation by the RHA in this event.

On 3-4 December 2018, I attended a conference convened by the Religious History Association of Aoteoroa at Massey University (Auckalnd campus) to honour the achievement of Peter Lineham. I was enormously impressed by the energy of religious history in New Zealand, and realise the vast debt religious historians in NZ owe to Peter Lineham, who special contribution has been in the study of small “fringe” churches in both the 19th and 20th centuries. I think historians of Australian religious history have much to learn from their counterparts in Aotearoa.

The paper that I gave at that conference concerned the issue of the common research classifications by which Australian and NZ scholars have to describe their research. Simply put, religious history does not exist in these classifications. Scholars have to choose between a very specific code (21) relating to the Division of History and Archaeology and the 22 Code, History and Religious Studies—which has a 4 digit Group code of Christian Studies, under which one can do Biblical Studies or Church History. Since 2008, the discipline of Christian Theology, has disappeared from the research fields (although it would be easy to have it added as a part of Christian Studies). Curiously Hebrew Bible studies are under Christian studies, when it would make more sense for Christian Studies to include New Testament Studies, and Hebrew Bible studies under Jewish studies. As it happens, the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Stats NZ are currently reviewing these classifications. They are calling for responses from Peak Bodies by 7 June. To that end I have produced draft responses to their questions, which I have circulated under separate cover. I welcome any suggestions that we could put to the authorities on this occasion.

One last matter that I would like to raise in my report is the absence of any representative from the West on our committee. If there is any possibility of including someone from the West, I would like us to consider this possibility.

I am sure that there have been a number of publications and activities relating to religious history either having taken place or to take place. I look forward to hearing about them, or at least having them reported in our annual newsletter.

Yours faithfully

Professor Constant Mews,
President, RHA