Higher Education, Exclusion, and Belonging

Religious Complexity, Coping and Connectedness Among International Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Australia


  • Enqi Weng Deakin University
  • Anna Halafoff Deakin University https://orcid.org/0000-0003-4274-5951
  • Greg Barton Deakin University
  • Geraldine Smith University of Tasmania




international students, racism, discrimination, belonging, COVID-19 pandemic, exclusion, religion


Generations of migrants from Asia since the 1800s have endured challenges in locating their place and belonging in Australia due to systemic racism and discrimination against the cultural and religious ‘other’. These persistent issues have intensified during the pandemic, especially towards Chinese communities, including international students. This paper investigates the impact of the pandemic on Chinese, Indian and Russian international students in Australia. It reveals how, throughout the first year of the pandemic, international student, ethnic and religious community organizations implemented multiple and overlapping coping strategies to assist international students in Australia, who had been left vulnerable by a lack of government support and escalating geopolitical tensions in the Asia-Pacific region. By highlighting the religious dimensions of these strategies of connectedness and belonging, it contributes new insights in an under-explored aspect in studies on international students in Australia, pointing the way for further investigation.

Author Biographies

Enqi Weng, Deakin University

ENQI WENG, PhD, is a media scholar and sociologist of religion. She is a Research Fellow at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University. Her doctoral thesis investigated media representation of religions in Australia. Her research interests also include race and religion, cultural and religious diversity, religious literacy in journalism and decolonial approaches to the study of religion. She is the author of Media Perceptions of Religious Changes in Australia: Of Dominance and Diversity (Routledge, 2020). She has published in various media and religious studies journals such as the Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, Continuum, Australian Journalism Review and the Journal of Media, Religion and Digital Culture. Email: enqi.weng@deakin.edu.au

Anna Halafoff, Deakin University

ANNA HALAFOFF, PhD, is an Associate Professor in Sociology, and a member of the Alfred Deakin Institute at Deakin University. Anna’s current research interests include: religious diversity; young people and religion; preventing violent extremism; education about religions and beliefs; Buddhism and gender; and Buddhism in Australia. Her recent books include The Multifaith Movement: Global Risks and Cosmopolitan Solutions (Springer 2013) and Faiths and Futures: Teenage Australians on Religion, Sexuality and Diversity (Bloomsbury, 2021, co-authored with Andrew Singleton, Mary Lou Rasmussen and Gary D. Bouma). Email: anna.halafoff@deakin.edu.au

Greg Barton, Deakin University

GREG BARTON, PhD, is Professor of Global Islamic Politics, and is currently the Chair of Global Islamic Politics at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University. Greg has been active for the past thirty years in inter-faith dialogue initiatives and has a deep commitment to building understanding of Islam and Muslim society. The central axis of his research interests is the way in which religious thought, individual believers and religious communities respond to modernity and to the modern nation state. Greg also has a strong general interest in comparative international politics, and has undertaken extensive research on Indonesia politics and society, especially of the role of Islam. Since 2004 he has made a comparative study of progressive Islamic thought in Turkey and Indonesia. Greg also has a general interest in security studies and human security and a particular interest in countering violent extremism continues to research Islamic and Islamist movements in Southeast Asia and around the world. Email: greg.barton@deakin.edu.au

Geraldine Smith, University of Tasmania

GERALDINE SMITH, Ph.D. candidate, is in Sociology and Criminology at the University of Tasmania. Her major research interests are in material religion, embodiment and performativity. In particular, she is interested in how interreligious dialogue is performed through events, rituals, and relationships, the role of the multifaith movement in religiously diverse societies, the ephemeral role of atmospheres in creating multifaith spaces, how multifaith activists facilitate positive interreligious encounters, and how multifaith relations are performed in the public sphere. Email: geraldine.smith@utas.edu.au




How to Cite

Weng, E., Halafoff, A., Barton, G., & Smith, G. (2021). Higher Education, Exclusion, and Belonging: Religious Complexity, Coping and Connectedness Among International Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Australia. Journal of International Students, 11(S2), 38–57. https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v11iS2.3553