School of Religion, Philosophy & Classics

UKZN Doctoral Cohort at Humboldt University in Berlin

Photos: Supplied

Academics and doctoral students from UKZN travelled to Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany to participate in the second annual gathering of the International Research and Training Group (IRTG) in Situated Religion and Transformation.

Professors Federico Settler and Beatrice Okyere-Manu (School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics) and Maheshvari Naidu (School of Social Sciences) were joined by PhD Fellows Ms Lerato Khumalo, Mr Sizwe Sithole, Ms Laureen Confait, Mr Thando Hlabisa and Mr David Elliot. The PhD Fellows are being supervised by the UKZN principal investigators (PIs) together with co-supervisors from Humboldt University.

The first interdisciplinary IRTG in 2022 was held at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). The “Summer School” brought together more than 60 PIs and doctoral fellows from UKZN, UWC, the University of Stellenbosch and Humboldt University.

The IRTG is jointly funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) which is the central self-governing research funding organisation in Germany for the sciences and humanities and the National Research Foundation (NRF) in South Africa.

This year’s Summer School hosted a diverse group of international keynote speakers as well as stimulating presentations by the doctoral fellows. ‘While the event was a space for creative exchange, it also brought to the fore embedded inequalities in the manner in which large intercontinental and inter-institutional collaborations are hampered and complicated by both funding asymmetries and bureaucratic structures,’ said Naidu.

‘Although the funding is generous, funding structures are unnecessarily complicated, meaning there are often long delays before students receive their funding. It is thus imperative that the various institutions have supplementary support from their research offices,’ she added.

Settler commented, ‘The IRTG is a unique opportunity to showcase our doctoral students’ research in diverse fields such as indigenous churches’ response to sexuality, the phenomenology of race, and invisible and unpaid labour in faith communities, to name but a few. We are particularly proud of those doctoral fellows who will undertake their three-month research stays to work on their theses alongside their German peers and professors.’ 

Khumalo, who is beginning her three-month research stay in Berlin said, ‘Despite encountering financial challenges during the planning phase, I am thrilled that I will participate in workshops and seminars that significantly contribute to my PhD project.’ One of two UKZN doctoral students in Berlin, she will use the time to write several chapters of her thesis, and enjoy the dynamic exchange of ideas and perspectives between the Global North and South.

Okyere-Manu commented, ‘The Summer School provided a platform for our students to engage in academic exchanges with their German counterparts and professors, fostering learning opportunities. Networking and interactions with peers significantly expanded our students’ academic perspectives.’