Dunedin praised as conference venue

Dunedin has captured the heart of a Danish academic who heads an international organisation studying religion.

It comes as the University of Otago looks forward to hosting 600 academics for a conference on religion in 2020.

Dunedin was successful last year in bidding for the 22nd Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions, expected to bring 600 delegates to the city and inject $1million into Dunedin's economy.

One man behind that bid, Otago University lecturer in religion John Shaver, said hosting the academics would raise the profile of his department, and the university internationally.

Dr Shaver, who was at conference tourism trade show meetings in Auckland yesterday, said it could also help attract undergraduates and postgraduates to the city.

The city has already impressed the president of the International Association for the History of Religions, Assoc Prof Tim Jensen.

The University of Southern Denmark academic was in Dunedin earlier this year.

He said the city's bid was convincing because of the quality of the hosting association, and the quality of the local scholars who would constitute the local organising committee.

He was also impressed by the support shown by the university, the city of Dunedin and Tourism New Zealand.

Dunedin had the facilities needed for the world congress, and Assoc Prof Jensen was impressed with the ''plentiful, marvellous nature'' close at hand.

He said New Zealand's reputation for tolerance also set it apart as a conference destination.

''New Zealand must be said to have a relatively good record as a place of religious toleration and diversity.''

Dr Shaver said he was involved in putting the bid together, with the help of Tourism New Zealand and Enterprise Dunedin.

The congress was held every five years. The first was in Paris in 1900.

He said the association was primarily a European organisation, and 2020 would be the first time the congress had been held in this part of the world.

Enterprise Dunedin helped with the mechanics of the bid, including budgeting and anticipating delegate numbers.

The bid did not involve going overseas; instead the university mailed its application.

He understood there were also bids from South America and Europe.

The collaboration with Tourism New Zealand, which put together a supporting book featuring photographs and information about Dunedin, and explaining what delegates could do in New Zealand, was important in winning the congress.

Hosting the congress would raise the profile of Otago's religion programme internationally, putting it on par with other major international departments capable of running the field's biggest conference.

''We're saying 'Hey, we are a player in the international scene'.''

It would do the same for the university as a whole.

It would also show quality scholarship was taking place outside traditional arenas, such as 500-year-old German universities.

Dr Shaver said he was also chasing another conference for the Otago region which he hoped to hear about soon.


Academics will contribute to the local economy. Any stern theologians from Northern Europe would be unlikely to splash out a mil on Mammon (nice though that would be).