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Dr Patrick McKearney


Before starting my PhD at Trinity College and the Division of Social Anthropology, I studied for two degrees in Theology and Religious Studies in the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. During that time I became interested, and eventually specialised in, the Anthropology of Religion and the Anthropology of Ethics.

My doctoral project began with the aspiration to bring the concerns of these areas of anthropology into a rigorous and creative dialogue with work being done in mainstream theology and theological ethics. To this end, with the support of the Stanton Bequest from Trinity College, I conducted ethnographic research on a distinctive federation of Christian communities called L'Arche, where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together. I was particularly interested to see what I could make of L'Arche's hotly debated aspiration for people with and without disabilities to form mutual, life-giving relationships that go beyond the contractual.

I have now completed my doctorate based on over a year's fieldwork on one particular l'Arche community in the UK, as well as over 60 interviews with other members of other l'Arche communities and other care providers. My ethnographic work  led me to focus particularly on the moral complexities of the relationships between those with disabilities and those without in this community. In the dissertation, and in my published work, I think this through by exploring the themes of freedom, responsibility, care, welfare, disability, cognition, and belief in my field site.

My work speaks to conversations in the Anthropology of Religion, Christianity, Care, Disability, and Ethics. But working across a multiplicity of academic disciplines, and non-academic contexts, also enables my work to build bridges to moral philosophy, theological ethics, and broader discussions about the moral agency and dignity of those with disabilities, receiving care, and dependent on social welfare.

Research Interests

Social Anthropology of Religion; Anthropology of Ethics; Anthropology of Christianity; Ritual Studies

Christian Theology; Theology and Social Science; Moral Philosophy; Moral Theology; Religious Ethics

Disability; Care; Welfare; Intellectual Disability; Religious Communities; L'Arche

Research Supervision

Undergraduate Dissertations in Social Anthropology


SAN1 - Introduction to Social Anthropology: The Comparative Perspective

SAN2 - Comparative Social Analysis

SAN3 - Anthropological Theory and Methods: Schools and Styles of Anthropological Theory

SAN5 - Advanced Social Anthropology: Thought, Belief and Ethics

MPhil Paper 1: Production and Reproduction

MPhil Paper 2: Systems of Power and Knowledge

MPhil Research Methods Workshop

Faculty of Divinity. Topics in Christian Ethics: Christianity and the Bioethics of Reproduction.

Faculty of Divinity. Introduction to the Anthropology of Religion.

Key Publications

“The Genre of Judgment: Description and Difficulty in the Anthropology of Ethics” Journal of Religious Ethics. September, 2016

L’Arche, Learning Disability and Domestic Citizenship: Dependent Political Belonging in a Contemporary British City” City & Society. August 2017.

Under review. ‘Everyday Ethics’ in Lamb and Williams (eds.), Everyday Ethics: Moral Theology Meets Anthropology and the Social Sciences. Oxford University Press