College of Humanities

From left: Professors Federico Settler, Maheshvari Naidu and Simangaliso Kumalo, and Dr Beatrice Okyere-Manu.
From left: Professors Federico Settler, Maheshvari Naidu and Simangaliso Kumalo, and Dr Beatrice Okyere-Manu.

Humanities Academics part of international ground-breaking research project

Four academics from the College of Humanities, Professors Federico Settler, Maheshvari Naidu and Simangaliso Kumalo, and Dr Beatrice Okyere-Manu are part of a large transdisciplinary ground-breaking research project conceptualised by the International Research Training Group (IRTG). They aim to establish a transdisciplinary and transcontinental research dialogue on religion as a site of social transformation.

The Project was awarded funding of approximately R82 million by the South African National Research Foundation (NRF) and the German Research Community (DFG) over five years, starting in January 2022. It is the culmination of a prolonged period of application development and effort by the College of Humanities team and collaborators in Germany and South Africa.

This project is the second IRTG in the history of German-South African academic cooperation, and currently the only German IRTG in cooperation with an African country, as well as the first to focus on issues of religion.

For the next five years, the IRTG will present the opportunity for extended transdisciplinary research training of up to 54 doctoral candidates under the guidance of more than 20 interdisciplinary principal and associate researchers from a variety of academic disciplines through the cooperation of four academic institutions: three of which are South African,, namely, Stellenbosch University, the University of the Western Cape, UKZN and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (FRG). This research will be implemented in four thematic fields: nationalism, migration, development and healing.

Overall coordination of the project is managed by four chairpersons including Professors Torsten Meireis and Regina Römhild from Humboldt University, Professor Jeremy Punt from Stellenbosch University and UKZN’s Professor Federico Settler.

Settler explained that, ‘Starting in January 2022, the project will appoint a cohort of six doctoral researchers to join UKZN, with two further rounds of doctoral appointments due before 2025. Doctoral proposals will be accepted across four thematic areas: nationalism, development, migration and healing. To supervise these projects, the IRTG brings together 22 leading researchers from the four partner institutions to provide high-quality supervision and teaching at doctoral level. Every doctoral researcher will be supported through a series of seminars, supervision, and professional training and they will participate in a semester exchange to one of the partner institutions – all funded by the project grant.’

Dean and Head of the School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics Professor David Spurrett said, ‘This is a tremendous achievement, owing a great deal to the extraordinary work that went into preparing the application and steering it through the rounds of evaluation. I thank and heartily congratulate the College of Humanities team.’

Okyere-Manu commented that, ‘Since this is a collaborative work between four universities, candidates will have the opportunity to be supervised and mentored by a transcontinental and transdisciplinary team of researchers. I am particularly excited about the co-supervision and research collaboration opportunity that IRTG makes possible with both local and international academics.’

Naidu, one of the four Participating Researchers from UKZN said that the application process was protracted and extremely comprehensive and gave full credit to the intellectual strength and diverse expertise of the interdisciplinary team. ‘The recent successful announcement of the application is cause for celebration as it is a huge grant that will fund a large cohort of South African and German PhDs,’ she said.

Her collaboration is in the research area of religion and healing with her roots in South Asian religions, Anthropology of Religion and Gender and Religion. ‘The sub-focus on healing in African, Buddhist and Hindu contexts is exciting, especially as it allows a probing of varying situated interpretations of illness and health and local healing practices. Research projects within this area will explore the entanglements between healing concepts and processes, migration of people, materials and knowledge, nation-building, “morality” and religion in the contemporary world, focusing on Germany/Europe and South Africa,’ explained Naidu.

Kumalo said, ‘I am excited by this news and very grateful to my colleagues for the collaborative work we have done to get this substantial funding. I see this as an opportunity to train a substantial number of doctoral candidates for the next five years. Most importantly, for some of us at UKZN to be part of a cohort of well-respected internal researchers’ places UKZN on the map of leading international research institutions. As a Public Theologian I am looking forward to contributing to the production of situated knowledge which will be used as a resource for social transformation.’

For more information about the IRTG on Transformative Religion and doctoral applications, visit the project website at