Not available in 2019/20
AN221      Half Unit
The Anthropology of Christianity

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Fenella Cannell OLD 5.07


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.


This course is intended for second and third year anthropologists,  therefore students normally have at least one year's  foundational anthropology.  External students are welcome to join the course and often do so;   depending on disciplinary background, external students may benefit from some additional contextual reading ( please consult the course teacher.)

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 MT.

There will be a reading week in Week 6 of the MT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce one essay in the MT. 

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 (100%, 4000 words) in the LT.

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2018/19: 16

Average class size 2018/19: 9

Capped 2018/19: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills