Not available in 2016/17
AN221      Half Unit
The Anthropology of Christianity

This information is for the 2016/17 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Fenella Cannell OLD 6.07


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

Course content

The ethnography of local Christianities in the light of differing cultural and social situations including colonial conditions. The relationship between Christianity and the discipline of anthropology. The course will examine a number of anthropological and historical studies of local forms of Christianity, from a range including local forms of Catholicism, Mormonism, contemporary and historical Protestantisms including American Protestant forms and 'heretical' and other unorthodox Christianities. The course asks why anthropologists shied away from analysing Christianity long after studies of other world religions, such as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, had become widely established. It looks at the relationship between Christianity and the history of anthropological thought, and locates the place of Christianity in the writings of Mauss, Durkheim, Foucault and others, in order to defamiliarise the religion which Europeans and Americans especially often take for granted. Issues examined may include the nature and experience of belief, conversion and the appropriation of Christian doctrines by local populations, the problems of writing about religion, Christianity and the state, the nature of religious confession, Christian texts, and Scriptural reading practices, Christian objects and materialities, Christianity and women's religious and social experience (from Medieval women mystics to women priests), inquisitions and heretical beliefs, priests and alternative forms of mediation with divine power, miraculous saints, incorrupt bodies and 'non-eaters' and changing ideas about death, Heaven and Hell.  Where possible, the course will include a student fieldwork weekend and forms of reflection and reporting on that experience. Please check with the course teacher in any given year whether this is planned as part of the year’s programme.


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. Students are asked to participate in the fieldwork trip in years when this is available (please note that costs will be kept to a minimum and consideration will be given in any cases of financial hardship). Fieldnotes and other materials will be prepared by fieldtrip participants.

Indicative reading

M Bloch, From Blessing to Violence: History and Ideology in the Circumcision Ritual of the Merina of Madagascar; F Cannell, Catholicism, Spirit Mediums and the Ideal of Beauty in a Bicolano Community, Philippines (PhD thesis, University of London); W Christian, Person and God in a Spanish Valley (reprint 1988); J Comaroff, Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance; J de Pina Cabral, Sons of Adam, Daughters of Eve: the Peasant World View in the Alto Minho; R Ileto, Pasyon and Revolution: Popular Movements in the Phillippines, 1840-1910; J Nash, We Eat the Mines and the Mines Eat us: Dependency and Exploitation in Bolivian Tin Mines; M Taussig, The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America. Detailed reading lists are provided at the beginning of the course.


Essay (30%, 2500 words) in the LT.
Take home exam (70%) in the ST.

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2015/16: 24

Average class size 2015/16: 12

Capped 2015/16: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills