The Anthropology of Religion

This information is for the 2013/14 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr George St Clair OLD 6.08 and Dr Matthew Engelke OLD 6.10


This course is compulsory on the BA in Social Anthropology and BSc in Social Anthropology. This course is available on the BA in Anthropology and Law. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.


Students should have a substantial background in Social Anthropology.

Course content

This course covers selected topics in the anthropology of religion, focusing upon relevant theoretical debates. In the Michaelmas term, the focus will also be on understanding through specific ethnographic and empirical case-studies, the ways in which lived religious practice, and the understanding of religion, may differ radically inside and outside ‘Western’ and modern contexts. We will also pay attention to cases in which (as in all post-colonial settings, and in relation to so-called fundamentalisms) ‘Western’ and the ‘non-Western’ definitions are emerging in interplay with each other, including their relation to understandings of modernity and the secular. Some classic topics in the anthropology of religion are also considered, such as ritual, belief, and sacrifice. The Lent term continues the focus on core and classic topics.Contemporary ethnography will be approached keeping in mind themes developed in the Michaelmas term.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT.

Formative coursework

Students are expected to prepare discussion material for presentation in the classes and are required to write assessment essays. Anthropology students taking this course will have an opportunity to submit a tutorial essay for this course to their personal tutors. For non-Anthropology students taking this course, a formative essay may be submitted to the course teacher.

Indicative reading

H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (eds.) 1946 (and later editions), From Max Weber: essays in sociology; E. Durkheim 1915 (and later editions), The elementary forms of the religious life; E. B. Tylor 1871 (and later editions) Primitive Culture; E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic among the Azande; T. Asad 2003, Formations of the secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity; M. Lambek 2002, A Reader in the Anthropology of Religion; W. Keane 2007, Christian Moderns; R. Rappaport 1999, Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity; M. Bloch 1986, From Blessing to Violence; S. Mahmood 2005, Politics of Piety; J. Milbank 1990, Theology and Social Theory; T. Masuzawa 2005, The Invention of World Religions; R.A. Orsi (ed.) 2012, The Cambridge Companion to Religious Studies; F. Cannell, (ed.) 2006, The Anthropology of Christianity; C. Taylor 2007, A Secular Age.


Exam (70%, duration: 3 hours) in the main exam period.
Essay (15%, 2500 words) in the MT.
Essay (15%, 2500 words) in the LT.

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2012/13: 37

Average class size 2012/13: 12

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information