Archive | News

JIAS agreement renewed

Prof Ihron Rensburg and Prof Bertil Andersson after signing the Memorandum of Understanding.


The UNIVERSITY OF JOHANNEBURG and Nanyang Technological University of Singapore have agreed to extend their collaboration on the JIAS initiative for another five years. The initial agreement establishing JIAS was signed in 2015. Professor Bertil Andersson, President of Nanyang Technological University, and Prof Ihron Rensburg, UJ Vice-Chancellor and Principal, signed the new agreement extending the life of the Institute at a ceremony at JIAS on 20 March 2017.

The ceremony was also attended by the Singapore High Commissioner to South Africa, H.E. Mr Chua Thai-Keong; Prof Tshilidzi Marwala, UJ Deputy Vice-Chancellor; Kristen Sadler of the President’s Office at NTU; Prof Peter Vale, Director of  JIAS; Prof Ronit Frenkel, Deputy Director of JIAS; Johnny Selemani, Academic Manager at JIAS; and the 2017 JIAS Writing Fellows.

From left to right are Prof Peter Vale; Prof Bertil Andersson; Prof Ihron Rensburg; H.E. Mr Chua Thai-Keong; and Prof Tshilidzi Marwala.

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Launch of Brain Matters seminar series

Participants in the JIAS Colloquium on ‘Why The Brain Matters’ have launched a follow-up in the form of an interdisciplinary seminar series entitled ‘Brain Matter Seminars: the past, present and future of neuroscience in southern Africa’.

The seminars are a joint initiative between JIAS and the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Human Development at the University of the Witwatersrand, with additional support from the Southern African Neuroscience Society and the Wits Cortex Club. Five bimonthly seminars will be held, from April to December 2017.

The seminar series were launched at Wits University on Thursday 23 March 2017. Among others, the launch was addressed by Prof Willem Hendrik Gispen of Utrecht University, the Colloquium convenor.

One of the organisers of the seminar series, Sahba Besharati of Wits University, has commented as follows on the motivation for this initiative:

‘In the past century, neuroscience has made significant progress in studying the brain, generating wide research on the genetic, biological and neural basis of mental functioning. However, it has been argued that advances specific to southern Africa have been limited by a lack of access to innovative neuroimaging techniques, a shortage of skill development, and stunted research innovation.

‘The colloquium on ‘Why The Brain Matters’ opened a unique space for discussions among local and international brain-science experts on historic, current and future research in the neurosciences. In doing so, it helped establish a precedent for the importance of advances of both clinical and more laboratory-based neuroscience research in southern Africa.

‘The purpose of the colloquium was to initiate academic thought around topics pertinent to the scientific study of the brain. The next step in trying to expand the scope and practice of neuroscience in the region is to gather experts from various disciplines to learn, discuss and critically evaluate how to advance the field. To this end, the seminar series will explore the past, present and future of neuroscience in southern Africa. It will cover topics that are locally relevant and internationally significant.

‘A primary focus of the series will be to stimulate interest and build capacity in neuroscience research among both young and established scientists. It will therefore attract enthusiastic students who are interested in pursuing postgraduate studies in the neurosciences. This will offer an excellent platform for students to explore research interests, meet potential supervisors and be encouraged to apply for post-graduate bursaries. These seminars will ultimately start the process of grooming young researchers in neuroimaging technologies, experimental design, and clinical neuroscience practice.’

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Prelude to decolonisation: call for expressions of interest

An interdisciplinary three-day conference entitled ‘The Prelude to Decolonisation: The Turning of the Tide’ will be held at JIAS from 30 August to 1 September 2017.

The organisers are David Boucher, Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg, and Dr Ayesha Omar, lecturer in politifcal theory at the University of Johannesburg. Prof Boucher is professor of political philosophy and international relations and director of the Collingwood and British Idealism Centre at Cardiff University.

The organisers have called for expressions of interest from potential contributors. These may be sent, with tentative titles and abstracts, to Dr Omar at, or Prof Boucher at

They have commented as follows on the purpose of the conference:

‘The conference is envisaged as a comparative analysis of justifications of and responses to colonialism from the colonised, with a primary, but not exclusive focus, on Africa. The project is at once designed to articulate clearly the circumstances of and justifications for colonisation, but more importantly to retrieve the voices of indigenous opposition prior to the crescendo and irresistible force of decolonisation and postcolonialism.’

The conference will be hosted by JIAS, which will provide participants with accommodation. Additional support has been provided by the University of Johannesburg and the NRF/British Academy Research Chair in Political Theory, Witwatersrand and Cambridge.


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Evening talk on the brain

On Wednesday 5 October 2016, Prof Frans Verstraten, a participant in the three-month JIAS colloquium entitled ‘Why The Brain Matters’, will deliver an evening talk at St John’s College in Houghton, Johannesburg.

Provocatively entitled ‘Pushing the brain in action: psychology is so much more than a client on a leather sofa …’, the talk is aimed at introducing members of the public to aspects of cognitive neuroscience.

Prof Verstraten is a professor of psychology at the University of Sydney in Australia and Utrecht University in The Netherlands, and one of numerous eminent scholars attending the colloquium.

The talk is open to members of the public. Should you wish to attend, please book via for catering purposes. Light refreshments will be served.

Time: 17h30 for 18h00.

Venue: Jeffrey Auditorium, St John’s College, St David Road, Houghton. Johannesburg.

How to get there: Drive south along Houghton Drive. Turn left into St David Road.

For the full invitation, click here.

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Public lecture on the brain

ON Monday 12 September, Prof Balázs Gulyás of Nanyang Technological University will deliver a public lecture entitled ‘The Brain-Mind Problem: Grand Challenges in Exploring the Human Brain’ at the University of Johannesburg (UJ).

Hosted by JIAS and the UJ Faculty of Health Sciences, the lecture will signal the start of the colloquium entitled ‘Why the Brain Matters’, to be held by JIAS from September until December.

The lecture will be held at the STH Protea Auditorium, Auckland Park Bunting Road Campus, and will start at 11h30.

Prof Gulyas is Professor of Translational Neuroscience and Scientific Director of the Neuroscience and Mental Health Theme at the Lee Kong Chiam School of Medicine of Nanyang Technological University.

Should you wish to attend, please respond to Ms Nomkhosi Banda by 8 September 2016 on

For the full invitation, click here.


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Seminar on origins of the brain

On 21 September, JIAS, the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits University, the Centre of Excellence for the Paleosciences, and the Royal Society of South Africa will hold a one-day seminar on ‘The Origins of the Brain – From Mammal-like Reptiles to Humans’. A limited number of seats are available. Those interesting in attending are requested to book by Friday 16 September. The full invitation appears below.

JIAS seminar on the brain

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Seminar on neoliberalism and feminism at SA universities

JIAS seminar on feminism

THE IMPACT of neoliberalism on the humanities and the teaching of feminism at South African universities were explored at a seminar held at JIAS on 2 March 2016.

The seminar, the first JIAS event of 2016, started with a presentation by Prof Desiree Lewis, lecturer in Women and Gender Studies at the University of the Western Cape, and a JIAS Writing Fellow.

Dr Danai Mupotsa, lecturer in African Literature at Wits University, acted as formal discussant. A lively discussion followed, among others on the perceived theory / practice divide in feminist scholarship.

The seminar was attended by other JIAS Writing Fellows, teaching staff and students from the University of Johannesburg, Wits University, and the University of Pretoria.

Prof Lewis’s presentation can be downloaded here.

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First Writing Fellows appointed

JIAS has selected its first intake of 11 Writing Fellows for its initial writing term that will run from mid-February to mid-April 2016. Each Writing Fellow will have access to a live-in suite at the JIAS complex in Westdene, and share in the community life of the Institute. The first intake comprises a broad spectrum of national and international scholars, writers and artists, active across a range of disciplines. They are:

  • Esther Akinlabi, Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering Science at the University of Johannesburg
  • Sylvester C Chima, Associate Professor and Head of the Programme of Bio and Research Ethics and Medical Law at the University of KwaZulu-Natal
  • David Coplan, Professor and Chair of Social Anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand
  • Fred Khumalo, journalist and author
  • Kim Gurney, artist, curator, researcher and writer
  • Desiree Lewis, lecturer in Women and Gender Studies at the University of the Western Cape
  • Harry Kalmer, author and playwright
  • Dr Michael Kasenbacher, researcher, speaker and author
  • Yewande Omotoso, author
  • David wa Maahlamela, poet and prose writer
  • Tabitha Mulyampiti, senior lecturer in women and gender studies at Makerere University

For longer biographical notes, click here.



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Special journal issue

PROF Peter Vale, director of JIAS, and Prof John Higgins of the University of Cape Town acted as guest editors of the February 2016 edition of Arts and Humanities in Higher Education (15:1), entitled ‘State of Urgency: The Humanities in South Africa’, which has gone online.

Among other things, it contains a thematic editorial by Vale and Higgins; an in-depth interview by Vale of Pam Maseko, lecturer in African languages at Rhodes University, entitled ‘The struggles over African languages’; an acticle by JIAS visiting fellow Vineet Thakur entitled ‘Reflections on dead theory in International Relations’; and an article by JIAS administrator Estelle Prinsloo entitled ‘The role of the Humanities in decolonising the academy’. Other noted authors include J M Coetzee, William Kentridge, Njabulo S Ndebele, and Achille Joseph Mbembe.

To access this issue on the Sage Publications website, click here.

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Visit from Prof Willem Hendrik Gispen

Prof Gispen and Prof ValePROF Willem Hendrik Gispen (left), biologist and neuroscientist and Rector Emeritus of Utrecht University, visited JIAS on 4 December 2015 to discuss the project entitled ‘Why The Brain Matters 2016’, due to be the topic session for the third JIAS term in 2016. On the right is Prof Peter Vale, Director of JIAS.

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