Institute for Religion, Politics & Society

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Introducing the Institute for Religion, Politics and Society

Director: Professor Bryan S. Turner

The aim of the Institute for Religion, Politics and Society is to consider the role of religion through a variety of lenses and study the economic, political, legal and social dimensions of religion. Through international collaborations and cross-disciplinary research, the Institute addresses contemporary issues around religion, political conflict and social stability.

1962 was a big year on the world stage – the Cold War was in full swing and the Cuban Missile Crisis nearly tipped the world into a full-scale nuclear war. 

For 18-year-old Bryan Turner, travelling in Russia and Eastern Europe before university, these seismic events had a profound influence on his life and career – one which still resonates today.

Professor Bryan S. Turner is one of the world’s leading sociologists of religion and is Director of the Institute for Religion, Politics and Society (IRPS) at Australian Catholic University (ACU).  He is based in New York but travels regularly to ACU’s Melbourne campus.

Prior to joining ACU, Professor Turner was Director of the Religion and Society Research Centre and Presidential Professor of Sociology at The Graduate Center at the City University of New York, USA. 

He also taught at the University of Aberdeen, Flinders University, University of Utrecht, Deakin University, Cambridge University and the National University of Singapore. 

Established in January 2015 and based in Melbourne, the IRPS brings together leading researchers from around the world to consider the role of religion through a variety of lenses.

“We examine the nature of religion as a public institution. By looking at the interplay between religion and major social structures — including the economy, politics and law — worldwide, we explore the broader question of what makes societies succeed,” said Professor Turner. 

Born in Birmingham, England, in 1945, Professor Turner was educated at the University of Leeds, where he took first class honours in Sociology in 1966 and was awarded his doctorate in 1970.

“My father wanted me to become a lawyer but I chose politics and sociology after experiencing ‘actual’ communism in Russia and Eastern Europe during my gap year.  I was, like most of my peers, very left-wing, but later became very critical of communism.  During this time, I was also influenced by issues such as the Vietnam War, Apartheid and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND),” Professor Turner said.

Professor Turner said that, along with politics, religion has had a major impact on his life and academic career.

“When I was 18, I converted to Christianity through the Methodist Church, later migrating to High Anglicism.  I became deeply influenced by the British Buddhist scholar, Trevor Ling, Professor of Comparative Religion at Manchester University, and, through his influence, later wrote my first book, Weber and Islam in 1974.”

According to Professor Turner, despite movements such as Solidarity, liberation theology and the Christian Right, religion did not play a particularly prominent role in world politics in the late twentieth century until one thing changed everything – 9/11.

“It was one of those occasions when the expression ‘nothing was the same afterwards’ is actually true. I found my interest in the sociology of Islam was suddenly in great demand.”

As well as Islam, Professor Turner said he is interested in researching all religions, particularly in areas such as globalisation, religious conflict and the modern state, religious authority and electronic information, religious consumerism and youth cultures, and human rights and religion.

“All religions are now in the public domain and are creating new political climates that can be threatening but they also create new opportunities for the development of civil society,” he said.

The IRPS brings together world-renowned scholars — including Professor Jose Casanova, Professor Oscar Salemink and Associate Professor Irfan Ahmed — and emerging researchers.

“International scholarly authorities on religion also sit on our advisory board, providing global insight and a strong network for the Institute,” said Professor Turner.   

The Institute has five main research streams: Religion and Law, Cities and Successful Societies, Asian Societies and their Religions, Global Catholicism, and Religion and Medicine.

Led by Dr Joshua Roose, Religion and Law studies the intersection of law and society, including issues of legal pluralism.

Led by Professor Turner and Dr Roose, Cities and Successful Societies examines how social and economic changes makes an impact on people’s happiness and well-being.

Led by Associate Professor Irfan Ahmad, Asian Societies and their Religions considers the relation of religion to resources, scarcity and economic development in Asian societies.

Led by Professor Jose Casanova, Global Catholicism explores the historical role of Jesuits in developing the Catholic Church as a global religious movement.  It will examine the development of a ‘global consciousness’ through these endeavours and their lasting consequences for the Church and for secular society.

Professor Turner will also lead the Religion and Medicine stream which is currently being developed.

There will be a wealth of opportunities for doctoral students at the IRPS.

“With our growing network with American Universities (Harvard, Wayne State and City University of New York), in Latin America (Diego Portales University in Chile), Germany (Potsdam University), Denmark (University of Copenhagen)  and Britain (University of Cambridge), we can offer students a cosmopolitan environment and opportunities to work and study abroad,” Professor Turner said.

2015 looks set to be a busy year for the IRPS, with an official launch in September and their journal – Journal of Religious and Political Practice – launching at the same time.

“This is an exciting year of growth for us.  The opportunity to create an Institute from the ground up is quite rare and one I have been very glad to grasp.  I’d like to thank the Vice-Chancellor and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) for providing the means to establish a world-class Institute at ACU.”

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