Not available in 2024/25
AN490      Half Unit
Anthropology and Religion

This information is for the 2024/25 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Yazan Doughan, Dr Fenella Cannell and Prof Michael Scott

This course will first be available during the 2025/26 academic session.


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

Course content

This course covers current approaches to and reconsiderations of classic topics in the anthropology of religion, such as: myth, ritual, belief and doubt, supernatural experience, ethical self-cultivation, asceticism, sacrifice, authority and charisma. Students will be introduced to debates concerning the ways in which ‘religion’ is said to influence or shape personal experience and collective public life in both western and non-western contexts.

Students will explore some of the key concepts that inform contemporary understandings of religion as a force in the world, the history of these concepts, how they enter into various political and ethical projects, and the extent to which they predefine ‘religion’ as an object of anthropological study.

Specific areas of focus may include:

  • the relationship between ‘religion’ and ‘secularism’;
  • conceptions of ‘religious freedom’;
  • conversion;
  • inter-religious conflict;
  • the ethnography of religious minorities;
  • the anthropology of religious movements; and
  • the comparative anthropology of ‘religions’.


10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the AT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the AT.

Indicative reading

  • Talal Asad 2009, Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam;
  • Tomoko Masuzawa 2005, The Invention of World Religions: Or, How European Universalism Was Preserved in the Language of Pluralism;
  • Hussein A. Agrama 2012, Questioning Secularism: Islam, Sovereignty, and the Rule of Law in Modern Egypt;
  • Mayanthi Fernando 2014, The Republic Unsettled: Muslim French and the Contradictions of Secularism;
  • Webb Keane 2007, Christian Moderns: Freedom and Fetish in the Mission Encounter;
  • W. F. Sullivan, E. S. Hurd, et al. (eds.) 2015, Politics of Religious Freedom;
  • Courtney Bender 2010, The New Metaphysicals: Spirituality and the American Religious Imagination;
  • Leigh Eric Schmidt 2000, Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment;
  • S. J. Tambiah 1992, Buddhism Betrayed?: Religion, Politics, and Violence in Sri Lanka


Essay (100%, 4000 words) in the WT.

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2023/24: Unavailable

Average class size 2023/24: Unavailable

Controlled access 2023/24: 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

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