The Spirit World

The Spirit World
Nat statues at Mount Popa, Myanmar


TAASA Monday Night Sydney Lecture Series

The 2019 Sydney lecture series promises to be a real highlight of the year, with fascinating topics and top quality speakers - see below. All lectures will again be at the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts, 280 Pitt St, Sydney, and will run from 6pm to 8pm. Drinks and refreshments will be served.

The cost per lecture remains at $20 for members and $30 for non-members. Bookings and payment for each individual lecture can be made on the event page on this website for that particular lecture.   Payment in advance is essential. No refunds.

Booking confirmation to: Chris Manning by email at, or call Chris on 0412 686 025.



Monday 4 March 2019

Love the Buddha, Fear the Nat

Dr Sally Bamford

Myanmar’s spirits, known as nats, have intervened in people’s lives for millennia. Feared for their capriciousness, the nats are placated with offerings ranging from flowers, coconuts and even whisky, lest they cause misfortune. In this month’s talk, art historian Sally Bamford will introduce the nats, many of whom were people known to history — and their images. These range from simple wooden statues to heavily costumed mannequins with dedicated ‘palaces’, spirit mediums, and festivals attracting devotees in their thousands.

Sally Bamford received her PhD from the Australian National University in July 2018.  She is currently revising her thesis Hidden in Plain Sight: the Nat Images of Myanmar for possible future publication and hopes to continue researching the history of these fascinating artworks and the spirits who inhabit them.


Monday 1 April 2019

Spirits and Djinn from the Islamic World

Julian Droogan

Arabia and its deserts are said to be the home of the Djinn, spirits of ‘smokeless fire’ created by Allah to be intermediaries between realms of the human and the angelic. However, as Islam spread throughout the ancient Near East and beyond, the Djinn adopted new characteristics, stories and material culture. This talk looks at the role Djinn play in the religion, spiritualism and arts of the Islamic world.

Dr Julian Droogan has a PhD in Comparative Religions from the University of Sydney, and is a Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Arts, Macquarie University.


Monday 6 May 2019

Jin and local lords of the earth

James Bennett

The belief in Jin and guardian spirits played a central role in the spread of Islam in Java in the 16th to 18th century. This talk discusses their historical identities in the face of changing Islam today.

James Bennett, Curator of Asian Art at the Art Gallery of South Australia, is curator for the upcoming exhibition No god but God: the art of Islam scheduled for June 2019.


Monday 3 June 2019 

Japanese Mountain Asceticism

John McBride

Shugendo is the ancient Japanese religion which links the power of nature and the mountains with the mundane world. Mountains are where spirits come to rest and are revered for supporting life, but are also places of great danger. The Shugendo mountain ascetics attempt to understand and receive power from these forces. In art they are often linked to the mythical creature, Tengu, which itself is perhaps related to Garuda.  John has a Shugendo license to guide in Japan's sacred mountains.

John McBride majored in classical Japanese literature at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, then obtained post-graduate degrees in international relations (Australian National University) and business (University of Melbourne). He worked in Japan for many years, and now leads walking tours of Japan that focus on Japanese culture, gardens, and nature.


Monday 1 July 2019      

Along the Mystical Path: Sufis in Persia

John Tidmarsh

Although repressed in Iran since 1979, Sufism has always played a pivotal role in Persian history and culture and, indeed, continues to do so. This talk will consider its origins and basic tenets before concentrating on the numerous superb monuments to Sufi sheikhs and poets that illuminate the Persian landscape.

John Tidmarsh is an archaeologist who has conducted excavations in Syria, Jordan, Greece, and Cyprus. He is currently Co-Director of the University of Sydney excavations at Pella in Jordan and also Co-Director of the Australian Mission to Jebel Khalid, Syria. He is a former President of the Near Eastern Archaeology Foundation at that university. John has a BA (Hons), MA (Hons) and PhD from the University of Sydney.


Monday, 1st April, 2019 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm