Matt of Many Hats

17th April 2021

He’s an academic, anthropologist and researcher who wears many different hats, and since his return to Canberra recently—from a long stint away in Norway—Associate Professor Matt Tomlinson plans continue down the path of versatile multitasking.

In addition to teaching and his latest research projects, Matt has recently been appointed Associate Dean, Research (ADR). Effective 19 April 2021, Matt will lead the research portfolio for the College of Asia & the Pacific (CAP), promoting a culture of research development, excellence and productivity.

We caught up with Matt recently to congratulate him on the latest feather in his CAP (pun completely intended) and also got chatting about his plans for the future with regard to his own research, as well as his vision for the College research mission in the years to come.

What does your current portfolio of work look like?

I'm doing a bit of everything at the moment. My research project on Australian Spiritualism is almost finished in terms of the fieldwork, and I am actively writing up the results. I'm teaching the PhD course in theory for Anthropology. Hopefully, I will be doing a bit more with ANU Press—I've been editing the Monographs in Anthropology series and am now also Jim Fox's deputy on a committee overseeing the Asia-Pacific editorial boards. There’s also something fun coming up in the next few weeks for all CHL students—a trivia tournament that I am organising. It’s all about research conducted at CHL. And now I've taken on the Associate Dean (Research) role, so it looks like it is going to be a pretty busy few years.

What is your current research focus?

I continue to study religion and politics in the Pacific Islands, especially Protestant Christianity in Fiji and Samoa. My most recent work has been an Australia-focused project on social engagement and ritual practice in the religion of Spiritualism. Happily, this has been a collaborative project, and I've been working with a sociologist based at Deakin, Andrew Singleton, to make it an interdisciplinary venture. In all of these projects, I'm usually paying close attention to the social life of language, especially how people act politically by speaking and how they attempt to engage with invisible forces dialogically.

Where do you see research at ANU currently?

ANU research is fantastic. Like everyone else, we are facing the challenge of rethinking how to conduct responsible field-based research during the pandemic. But I think we are building on a remarkably strong foundation in terms of expertise and motivation.

What are the top two or three priorities for research, in your opinion?

I will probably revise my view as I begin the Associate Dean role and learn how things really work! But my initial impression is that we are excellent at designing great projects—ground-breaking work that can be truly transformative. I suspect we could get better at receiving research funding from a wider range of international agencies. And I think we can always improve in terms of our dissemination—not only publishing actively, but for those who can do it, being in the media. I have to admit, I'm not good at that myself.

Besides research and teaching, what makes you tick?

I love walking—nothing ambitious, just short local day hikes, or walking by Lake Burley Griffin, especially the less popular parts. Mount Majura is such a wonderful place. When I'm there on a sunny day, I sometimes run into a shingleback lizard on the trail and count my lucky stars, because growing up in New Jersey I never saw any creature that looked anything like that. My family is a close-knit one, so the greatest happiness just comes from being home with them and watching our sons grow up.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I've been fortunate to work in friendly universities. I've had friends and colleagues overseas who have worked in difficult academic environments, and I always feel a bit guilty to have it so good at ANU...and I don't want to take it for granted. I look forward to my new additional responsibilities and hope to do them the greatest justice possible!

Here’s wishing Matt all the very best as ADR, and we will be sure to catch up with him some time in the future to hear about his most experiences as ADR and also with his ongoing research projects.

Congratulations, Matt, and all the best!

Updated:  7 July 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, Culture, History & Language/Page Contact:  CHL webmaster