$760,000 to study religion!

The Dom Post reports:

A university professor who left the priesthood after a year has been awarded more than $760,000 of public money to study Kiwis’ spirituality and religious beliefs.

Joseph Bulbulia, of Victoria University, is one of 109 researchers who will receive a total of $59 million from the Marsden Fund over the next three years.

Professor Bulbulia said religion was “intensely important” to him, but “as for an afterlife, or God, I have no idea”.

I thought God and afterlife tended to be a fairly important part of religion!

Well except for Scientology, which is really a money making scam.

He migrated to Wellington from the United States in 2000, having left the priesthood earlier in his life and then had a daughter before he was married.

He hasn’t been to church for 20 years, other than to please his mother, but said research showed that some events, such as the Christchurch earthquakes, renewed people’s religious beliefs.

Do we need to spend $760,000 to research this?

The full list of Marsden Awards is here. The grant for a study of religious belief is one of the largest, which surprises me. Many of the other grants involve physical science which tends to be far more costly. Some of the more useful physical science ones include:

  • Does the southern edge of the Hikurangi Plateau control Otago tectonics?
  • Unraveling the magmatic processes responsible for phonolitic volcanism using the Mount Erebus lava lake and magmatic system
  • Reconstructing complex ground motion effects in Christchurch during the Canterbury earthquakes: what does this mean for future ground motion prediction?
  • Does investment into seed dispersal alter with plant height and island size?
  • UV-B radiation as a master regulator of photosynthetic performance and leaf organ development in sunlight
  • Improving radiotherapy outcomes: Chain release of drugs to kill refractory cancer cells and inhibit metastatic spread

All of the above awards (except the cancer one) are for less than the religion one. Other fairly dubious ones include:

  • The Crown: Perspectives on a Contested Symbol and its Constitutional Significance in New Zealand and the Commonwealth $604,000
  • Territorial Disputes and Civil Society in Northeast Asian Democracies

University staff can and do research in all sorts of varied areas, as is their right with academic freedom. But I would have thought with a relatively small pool of contestable grants for research beyond the normal, they would be prioritized towards things of more direct relevance for New Zealand.

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