Not available in 2022/23
AN419      Half Unit
The Anthropology of Christianity

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Fenella Cannell OLD 5.07


This course is available on the MSc in Anthropology and Development, MSc in Anthropology and Development Management, MSc in Social Anthropology and MSc in Social Anthropology (Religion in the Contemporary World). This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

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 examines 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 15 hours of seminars in the LT.

This year, some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of virtual lectures, classes and online interactive activities. The contact hours listed above are the minimum expected. There will be a reading week in Week 6 of the LT.

Formative coursework

Students are expected to prepare discussion material for presentation in the seminars. Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the LT.

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.


Exam (100%, duration: 2 hours) in the summer exam period.

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2021/22: Unavailable

Average class size 2021/22: Unavailable

Controlled access 2021/22: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

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