Passion for development paves way for PhD and UN internship

PhD candidate in Religious Studies Hanyang (Star) Ge has volunteered in developing countries throughout his university career and his continued passion has led him to focus his PhD research on New Zealand’s humanitarian aid interventions and refugee resettlement programmes.

A male in a suit stands in front of a large window with flags along it
Star at the UN office in Peru.
“Being a volunteer in Sri Lanka, Egypt, Peru, Kenya, and India, I have witnessed extreme poverty in slums, and gender and racial inequality in marginalised communities. What I have experienced in the field as a volunteer is that our contemporary society is facing significant challenges especially among displaced communities like refugees,” says Star.

Star’s research examines the place of religious considerations in New Zealand’s aid interventions and refugee resettlements, which often focus on material and monetary aid.

Emphasis on New Zealand’s secularity has led to research that focuses quite narrowly on areas such as citizenship processes, education, and political participation: “These types of purely secular interpretation of humanitarian thoughts and actions that downplay their religious origins are deep-seated within sociological and anthropological understandings,” he explains.

While completing his PhD, Star is interning with the United Nations Secretariat’s Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs. This internship work includes research and media analysis of peacekeeping missions and offers practical application of Star’s research into religious refugees and resettlement actors through assisting with Needs Assessment Missions. The Needs Assessment Mission evaluates the political, electoral, and security situation, and the feasibility and impact of the UN’s assistance.

“Being part of the UN’s assessment mission gives me first-hand experience on how the role of religion is negotiated throughout the phases of the UN’s intervention and assistance.

“It better prepares me to be a humanitarian worker in the future. I have met many practitioners who have spent years contributing to disaster relief and global crises and the lessons learned from them is something I can hardly learn from the academic setting alone.”

Religious Studies programme director Associate Professor Geoff Troughton praises Star’s initiative and success in securing the internship with the United Nations, not least during a time of global pandemic.

“His internship enables close-up exploration of the dynamic, and often vital, roles religion plays in humanitarian and peacebuilding efforts around the world. These insights can only enrich his research on New Zealand, which is equally innovative and exciting,” says Associate Professor Troughton.