Symposium program preview

AAH News Symposium, Academy

Professor Bronwen Neil FAHA, co-convenor of the Australian Academy of the Humanities’ 49th Symposium Clash of Civilisations? Where are we now? previews the event, to be held 15-16 November 2018, Sydney.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of ‘The Clash of Civilisations?’ — the question posed by Samuel P. Huntington (1927-2008) in a Foreign Affairs article (1993), and in his 1996 book of the same name. An American political scientist, Huntington suggested that the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War era would be people’s religious and cultural identity. This would lead to wars between ‘civilisations’ over competing ideologies, rather than between kings or nation states for economic gain, expansion of territory or similar motives (1993: 22-23). Huntington saw the ‘great wars of the past’ as wars within western civilisation, and predicted that in the new phase – as the West began to develop a better understanding of the cultural fundamentals underlying other civilisations – western civilization and its values would cease to be regarded as ‘universal’. This has certainly proved to be the case.

This Symposium provides an opportunity to reflect on and reassess Huntington’s question in light of recent global developments and historical inquiries, and considers how the concept of ‘the clash of civilisations’ has been used as an enduring rhetorical device for explaining divisions between groups and across time and place. It will explore modern and ancient cross-cultural encounters and their contemporary implications in the spheres of history, politics, and religion, as well as their cultural expressions in literature, film, and the arts.

Free public lectures

Co-recipient of the Academy’s Crawford Medal, Dr Raihan Ismail will present the 8th Hancock Lecture Photograph courtesy of Dr Ismail.

Professor Julianne Schultz AM FAHA will present the 49th Academy Lecture Photograph courtesy of Professor Schultz








The Academy’s 8th Hancock Lecture will be given by Dr Raihan Ismail from the ANU Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies on Hybrid civilisations or Clash of civilisations? Re-visiting the Muslim Other. Dr Ismail is the joint recipient of the Academy’s 2018 Max Crawford Medal.

The 49th Academy Lecture will be given by Professor Julianne Schultz AM FAHA on Turning the Level of Civilisation Up: A twenty-first century vision. Professor Schultz is Professor of Media and Culture at Griffith University’s Centre for Social and Cultural Research, publisher and Founding Editor of Griffith Review.

Program highlights

The theme of Session 1 of the Symposium is Talking Up Strife: The Rhetoric of Clash of Civilisations. The panel – Dr Shakira Hussein (University of Melbourne), Dr Randa Abdel-Fattah (Macquarie University) and Rory O’Connor (Yugambeh Museum) – will discuss the role the media has played in reinforcing divisive rhetoric in Australia and beyond, especially between European and non-European cultures and religions.

Session 2, Culture Wars: Where are we now?, brings together different points of view on the western canon. Speakers  include Simon Haines (CEO of the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation) on value clashes in western civilisation, Professor Mark McKenna FAHA (University of Sydney) on the debates arising on the 250th anniversary of James Cook’s landing at Botany Bay, Dr Natalie Doyle (Monash University) on philosopher Marcel Gauchet’s argument to redirect from clashing civilisations to globalisation, and Dr Jumana Bayeh (Macquarie University) on the intervention made by Arab diaspora writers in challenging Huntington’s thesis.

In Session 3, Ancient conflicts: past meets present, ancient, medieval and modern historians discuss representations of conflict and manipulation of the historical record. Former diplomat and archaeologist Dr Ross Burns FAHA (Macquarie University) will speak on the recent legacy of destruction in the Syrian city of Aleppo, for centuries a flourishing model of multiculturalism. He is joined by Professor Han Baltussen FAHA (University of Adelaide) presenting a case study to illustrate one aspect of the early tensions between pagans and Christians, and Professor Louise D’Arcens (Macquarie University) on author and activist Tariq Ali’s staging of interfaith encounter and conflict in the historical novels known as the Islam Quintet.

Session 4, Identity Politics, focuses on the politics of identity, whether ethnic, cultural, religious, or racial. How has this complicated Australian multi-culturalism over the course of its history? Our three panellists present case-studies of contemporary identity politics: two in Australia – Professor Marion Maddox FAHA (Macquarie University) presents a comparative public policy approach to how Australia and France have reshaped their formal curriculum and education policy in religious diversity, and Professor Bronwyn Carlson (Macquarie University) on who counts as Aboriginal in contemporary Australia – and one in the Republic of China: Professor Roland Boer (Renmin University of China) on Marxist approaches to human rights.

In Session 5, we talk about the role of language and the arts in portraying conflict and developing creative collaborations arising out of perceived conflict. The perspectives of film and music studies will be brought to bear on this question. The panel features Professor Linda Barwick FAHA (University of Sydney) on performance as a frame for pluriculturality, Professor Cliff Goddard FAHA (Griffith University) on the contemporary linguistic meanings and discourse uses of ‘civilisation’ and Professor Joseph Lo Bianco AM FAHA (University of Melbourne) on conflict and language rights in multiethnic societies. In this session, award winning filmmaker Dr Tom Murray (Macquarie University) – recently shortlisted for the State Library of NSW’s Digital History Prize –will show excerpts of his documentary film on Douglas Grant, an Indigenous refugee of the Frontier Wars.

Early Career Researchers

A key feature of the Symposium will be poster presentations by eleven postgraduates and Early Career Researchers showcasing some of the most dynamic and innovative research by the next-generation of humanities scholars.

Open to all

The Symposium is open to the public and full details are on our website.

Registrations are now open. Please join us!

Symposium convenors 

This year’s program convenors are:

Professor Bronwen Neil FAHA, Professor of Ancient History at Macquarie University, and director of the Macquarie University Ancient Cultures Research Centre.

Professor Catriona Mackenzie FAHA, Professor of Philosophy, Director of the Macquarie University Research Centre for Agency, Values and Ethics (CAVE), and Associate Dean of Research in the Faculty of Arts at Macquarie University.

The Advisory Group supporting the convenors include Professor Alastair Blanshard FSA FAHA, Professor Bridget Griffen-Foley FAHA, Professor Constant Mews FAHA, Ms Frances Muecke FAHA and Professor Ingrid Piller FAHA.


We are very grateful to the following institutions for their generous sponsorship and support for this year’s Symposium:

Principal Sponsor—Macquarie University

Venue Sponsor—State Library of New South Wales

Associate Sponsors— University of New England, University of Sydney, University of Wollongong, UNSW Sydney, UTS and Western Sydney University.

About the image

The Academy is grateful to artist Xu Zhen (MadeIn) 徐震 and Sydney’s White Rabbit Gallery for their permission to use European Thousand-Armed Classical Structure as this year’s Symposium image.