The power of academic community

12 July 2022

Throughout my PhD I encountered quite a few people who weren't supportive of my research - they either just didn't 'get' it or think my ideas were feasible. Throughout it all, Raihan was always there and never gave up on me.

Samuel Blanch will graduate with a PhD from the ANU Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies (CAIS) later this week. 

For Sam, his graduation is the result of many years of hard work, perseverance, and most importantly, the trust and support of colleagues and supervisors.  

"As an undergraduate, I knew I always wanted to do a PhD but didn't feel like I was disciplined enough," reflects Sam ahead of his graduation ceremony.  

Sam's academic journey began at ANU when he completed a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in 2012, focusing on Arab and Islamic Studies. 

That same year, he also completed a Juris Doctor.  

During his JD, Sam recalls a lecturer who inspired him to take the plunge and pursue a career in research.  

"I had an awesome lecturer in law school. He was teaching the Law and Society in South-East Asia course and he really inspired me to take my academic interests seriously," Sam says.  

Following his passion, Sam's interest in Islam and socio-legal studies then took him to King's College London where he completed a Master of Arts (Religion in Contemporary Society) in 2015. Sam cherished the rich, scholarly community in which he found himself.  

Returning to Australia in 2016, Sam commenced his PhD at ANU. 

Under the supervision of Dr Raihan Ismail, Sam's doctoral work explores how Muslim communities operate in the world and the ways in which they make ethical decisions in their day-to-day lives. He entitled his thesis, After subjectivity: A study of knowledge, ethics and art in Shia Islam. 

Whilst navigating the inevitable challenges of doctoral research, Sam credits Raihan for always believing in him. 

"She's had my back the whole time. Throughout my PhD I encountered quite a few people who weren't supportive of my research - they either just didn't 'get' it or think my ideas were feasible. Throughout it all, Raihan was always there and never gave up on me." 

The admiration for his supervisor is palpable and it's clear that the two sustained a productive working relationship.  

When asked about his personal highlights from his PhD, Sam explains how completing fieldwork in Western Sydney and Iran gave him valuable insights into the lived experiences of Muslim communities.   

"It was a privilege to be welcomed into the Sydney and Iranian communities by people who are different to myself and to encounter different aspects of their way of life," Sam says.  

"I am a Christian, with quite different beliefs to them, but we had relationships of mutual trust and respect." 

Reflecting on his time at CAIS, Sam remarks on the fun and diverse environment of the Centre, as its academics hail from a wide range of disciplines, from politics to economics to language studies.  

Upon his graduation, Sam is now working as a postdoctoral fellow and socio-legal scholar at the University of Newcastle's Centre for Law and Social Justice. In his new position, Sam will continue his doctoral work by exploring questions of law within multicultural settings.