Languages and religions

Understanding the profound and spiritual in the world
We research religion and the ways in which religion shapes the societies that have adopted it. Our research centers on exploring religious literature and the rich languages in which they are composed.

Religion is and has always been a major force in human societies, shaping individual, communal and national worldviews whilst underpinning a vast array of cultural and political systems.

It is not possible to understand a society without understanding the religion or religions that have been embraced by it, even in a seemingly secular society such as modern China. Understanding the philosophies and histories of the world’s religions comprises a fundamental aspect of cultural competence in the 21st century. Our researchers have expertise covering all the major world religions: Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

A particular strength of our researchers is in the literature of the great religions, with an emphasis on a command of the languages in which they are composed to access these primary sources.  

Associate Professor Mark Allon, Dr Chiew Hui Ho, Dr Jim Rhiengans, Dr Matthew Stavros and Dr Yu Sang are all engaged in the study of Buddhism in its many and various manifestations.

  • Associate Professor Mark Allon’s main research concerns the composition and transmission of early Buddhist literature and the Indic languages used by early Buddhist communities, with major projects concerning recent finds of ancient Buddhist manuscripts from Gandhara (Afghanistan and Pakistan).
  • Dr Chiew Ho’s research is primarily concerned with the socio-cultural history of Buddhism in China, particularly during the medieval period. He has produced major studies of the Tang dynasty narratives that extol the Diamond Sutra, with an emphasis on the role of the laity in shaping Diamond Sutra devotionalism.
  • Dr Jim Rhiengans’ research focuses on Tibetan Buddhist literary genres, religious history of the Tibetan plateau and Buddhist meditative traditions. He has produced several monographs on major Tibetan monastic figures.
  • Dr Matthew Stavros’ research focuses on the history of religious buildings and spaces in Japan between the 8th and 16th centuries, including the examination of temples, monasteries, pagodas, and concepts of sacred space primarily related to Buddhism. He is also researching early Japanese Buddhist narrative scrolls.
  • Dr Yu Sang, is engaged in the study of Humanistic Buddhism in Greater China.

Expertise in the major monotheistic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are provided by Professor Iain Young, Professor Vrasidas Karalis, and Dr Ali Aldahesh.

  • Professor Iain Young’s research focuses on the Hebrew Bible, its language, especially linguistic dating of biblical books, canonisation, and textual criticism.
  • Professor Vrasidas Karalis’ fields of research concern Byzantine and New Testament Studies as well as Greek philosophy after the Greeks.
  • Dr Ali Aldahesh’s research involves Qur'an Studies and translation along with gender and sexuality in Arab and Muslim societies.

Associate Professor Francesco Borgesi and Professor Yixu Lu are engaged in a major interdisciplinary project studying the Jesuit translations of the Confucian classics.

An understanding of Confusianism and Chinese philosophy more generally are also pursued by Dr Sean Moores and Dr Yu Sang, while Associate Professor Xiaohuan Zhao researches Chinese folk religion and ghostlore.

Our projects

Led by Associate Professor Mark Allon. This combines several projects involving the study, editing, and publication of Gandhari Buddhist manuscripts (dated from the 1st cent. BCE to the 2nd or 3rd cent. CE) that originate in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In the case of one collection, it involves their repatriation to Pakistan and their conservation, photographing, and housing at the Islamabad Museum. Learn more about the Robert Senior Collection

Led by Associate Professor Mark Allon. The Kuthodaw Pagoda Project concerns the conservation, photographing and study of a 19th century Burmese recension of the Pali Buddhist canon carved on 729 marble slabs in Mandalay, Burma/Myanmar, produced at the request of King Mindon, the second last king of Burma (reigned 1853–1878).

It represents a unique royal recension that predates Western scholarship on the Pali canon. 

Led by Associate Professor Francesco Borghesi, Profesor Yixu Lu, Dr Daniel Canaris, Meynard. The Jesuit translations of the Confucian canon not only provided the first European window into Chinese philosophy but also changed the intellectual and cultural history of Europe.

This project, supported by an ARC Discovery grant, examines the rich history of these translations and their dissemination, and interrogates how Confucian ideas influenced the development of Enlightenment philosophy.

It will produce the first comprehensive history of these translations and make them available to anglophone scholars primary and secondary sources in various European languages and Chinese. The project will advance our understanding of the personal and textual networks through which the first substantial philosophical exchange was conducted between Europe and China.

Led by Associate Professor Francesco Borghesi, Professor Rebecca Suter, Profesor Yixu Lu, Dr Jim Rhiengans and Dr Daniel Canaris.  Based on the current SLC-based DP210100458 (Transforming the East: Jesuits Translations of the Confucian Classics), this project will expand the focus of the current research beyond Chinese borders and look at the case of Jesuits translations in Tibet, India and Japan.

The project has ties with the Italian School of East Asian Studies in Kyoto (ISEAS) and the Foundation for Religious Sciences in Bologna (FSCIRE).

Led by Yona Gilead. This project investigates Australian faith-based schools (Jewish/Catholic/Anglican/Islamic) whose educational mission’s multifaceted commitment to religious, spiritual, and pastoral care is to ensure students’ emotional, social and physical wellbeing. The project has been funded in part by Thomas Hassel Anglican College.

Led by Dr Yu Sang. Humanistic Buddhism (renjian fojiao 人間佛教) is the integration of Buddhist teachings into our daily life.

It was a significant part of the Buddhist revival in modern China and has been greatly developed in the Greater China region (in particular Taiwan) since the second half of the twentieth century.

This project aims to provide a comprehensive study of Humanistic Buddhism, examining its philosophical underpinnings and institutional expression within the Greater China region.

Led by Professor Iain Young. This project compares the major ancient witnesses to Daniel, in Hebrew/ Aramaic, the two translations in Greek, Syriac, and Latin.

Led by Associate Professor Xiaohuan Zhao. The scriptural source for the Ghost Festival in East Asia is the Yulanpen Sūtra, which, however, is overwhelmingly considered apocryphal in modern scholarship.

This book project challenges this widely held belief by demonstrating that the sūtra is a Chinese creative translation rather than an indigenous Chinese composition.

Our people

  • Dr Mark Allon, Asian Studies
    • Early Buddhist literature
    • Buddhism in South, Southeast Asia and Central Asia, with a special interest in ancient Gandhara
    • Indic languages used by Buddhist communities

  • Dr Ali Aldahesh, Arabic Studies
    • Qur'an studies and translation
    • Gender and sexuality in Arab and Muslim societies
  • Associate Professor Francesco Borghesi, Italian Studies
    • Jesuit Translations of the Confucian Classics
  • Dr Yona Gilead, Hebrew, biblical and Jewish Studies
    • Modern Hebrew pedagogy
    • Contemporary Israeli culture
  • Dr Chiew Hui Ho, Asian Studies
    • socio-cultural history of Buddhism in China, particularly during the medieval period
  • Professor Yixu Lu, Germanic Studies
    • Jesuit Translations of the Confucian Classics
  • Professor Vrasidas Karalis, Modern Greek and Byzantine Studies
    • Byzantine and New Testament Studies
    • Greek Philosophy After the Greeks
  • Dr Sean Moores, Asian Studies
    • Chinese Philosophy
    • Confucianism
  • Dr Jim Rhiengans, Asian Studies
    • Indo-Tibetan Buddhism
    • Literature in Tibetan languages
    • Buddhist meditative traditions
  • Dr Yu Sang, Chinese Studies
    • Chinese philosophy & religion
    • modern Chinese intellectual history
    • Buddhism
    • Confucianism

  • Dr Matthew Stavros, Japanese Studies
    • history of religious buildings and spaces in Japan between the 8th and 16th centuries, including the examination of temples, monasteries, pagodas, and concepts of sacred space primarily related to Buddhism.
    • building techniques, symbolism, patronage, art, and geographic contexts
    • parallels in the monumentalism and symbolism of Japan and Southeast Asia between the 11th
    • and 14th centuries.
  • Dr Yoko Yonezowa, Japanese Studies
  • Associate Professor Ian Young, Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies
    • language of the Hebrew Bible, especially linguistic dating of biblical books
    • textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible
    • canonization of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament
  • Associate Professor Xiaohuan Zhao, Chinese Studies
    • Chinese folk religion and ghostlore