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Department of Social Anthropology



I am an anthropologist of religion, ethics, and cultural change whose research works to stimulate thinking about the role of values in anthropological theory. Regionally, my ethnographic fieldwork was among the Urapmin of Papua New Guinea. My current and future fieldwork focuses on religious education in a range of higher education settings. This project will focus on the intellectual aspects of religious life, particularly among religious elites. I have a longstanding interest in developing the anthropological study of Christianity and have an interest in continuing the comparative study of Christianity from anthropological perspectives and in furthering the dialogue between anthropology and theology.


I have broad interests in the anthropology of religion and anthropological theory. Much of my work to date has focused on working toward the development of the anthropological study of Christianity and on helping to construct theoretical models of radical cultural change. My primary fieldwork has been in Papua New Guinea among the Urapmin, a remote language group all of the members of which converted to charismatic Christianity in the late 1970s, and this despite never having been directly missionized by Westerners. The rapid and extensive changes in Urapmin culture and social life that followed their conversion—changes which included, for example, the abandonment of an elaborate traditional system of strict gender separation in almost all areas of life—set for me the question of how anthropology can construct theories that at once account for the highly structured nature of most of social life and at the same time its potential for radical transformation. Similarly, the intensity of Urapmin devotion to their new religion led me to work to theorize the relative absence of studies of Christianity in the anthropology of the past and to work with others to foster the developing anthropology of Christianity. I have also studied global charismatic and Pentecostal Christianity in comparative terms, and this is an area, along with the others I have just discussed, in which I have a continuing interest.

I also have a longstanding interest in the anthropology of values. As the anthropological study of ethics and morality have grown rapidly in recent years, I have come to focus on what the study of values can contribute in this area. More generally, I have been exploring the prospects for finding a central place for values in anthropological theorizing. At present, I am pursuing these linked interests by working on a project focused on what I have called “the anthropology of the good”—an anthropology focused on those things people strive to produce that would be attentive both to the ways values structure social life and the way people experience them as prompts for their emotions and desires. I have published a number of articles that take up issues related to the anthropology of values and I am currently working on a book focused on the anthropological study of values and the good.

I am also beginning to develop a new project focused on religious higher education. Vast numbers of people in the world who receive higher education do so in religious settings. We have some ethnographic studies focused on how knowledge is defined and taught in such settings, but in fact we know relatively little about the intellectual side of religion compared to its practical and emotional ones. We also know more about lay religious reasoning in many places than we do about elite versions. In my own research for this project, I plan to study Christian educational institutions, but I hope to secure funding to support others to study higher education in other religious traditions as well. My overall goal is to contribute to a comparative understanding of religious higher education and its place in the contemporary world against the backdrop of a wider understanding of the role of education and knowledge in shaping social processes more generally. At the same time, I have been part of a developing intellectual between anthropology and theology as disciplines both concerned with, among other things, the nature of human life.

Research interests

The anthropology of religion and ritual; the anthropology of Christianity; religious education; values; ethics; cultural change; material and verbal exchange; structuralism and semiotics; anthropology and theology.


For the full list of publications please see Joel Robbins' Publications


2004: Becoming Sinners: Christianity and Moral Torment in a Papua New Guinea Society. University of California Press.

Awarded the J.I. Staley Prize of the School of Advanced Research, 2011.

Chinese translation in progress.

25 published reviews: Am. Anthropologist 107(3); Anthropos 100(1); Anthro. Forum 15(2); Anth. of Religion Vol. 2 (In Chinese), Anth. Quarterly 77(3) (subject of review essay); Anthro. and Humanism 31(1); Archives de Sciences Sociales des Religions (148); Aust. J. of Anth 17(3); Books and Culture (Jan/Feb 06); Christian Schol. Review 34(3); Comp. Stud. Soc. and Hist. (48(1); Contemp. Pacific 17(2); Contemp. Soc. 34(5); Curr. Anth. 46(5); J. Anth. Res. 61(2); J. Contemp. Relig. 21(2); J. Relig. Africa 35(1); Ethnos 70(4); Pac. Affairs 78(2); Paideuma; Pneuma 28(2); Rel. Stud. Rev. 31(1-2); Rev. in Anthropology (subject of review essay with Robbins and Wardlow 2005 and two other books); Soc. Anthro. 13(3); TLS (June 3, 2005).

Edited Volumes

2017: Editor (with J. Sumiala) of Ritual Intimacy-Ritual Publicity: Engaging With Plurality.  Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society 41(4).

2014: Editor (with N. Haynes) of The Anthropology of Christianity: Unity, Diversity, New Directions.  Special Issue of Current Anthropology 55 (Supplement 10).  (I am lead editor of this issue and contribute a single-authored Introduction)

2014: Editor (with J. Siikala) of Dumont, Values, and Contemporary Cultural Change. Special Issue of Anthropological Theory 14(2).

2010: Editor (with M. Engelke) of Global Christianity, Global Critique.  Special Issue of South Atlantic Quarterly 109(4).

2008: Editor (with A. Rumsey) of Cultural and Linguistic Anthropology and the Opacity of Other Minds. Special Section of Anthropological Quarterly 81(2): 407-494 (2008).

2005: Editor (with H. Wardlow) of The Making of Global and Local Modernities in Melanesia: Humiliation, Transformation and the Nature of Cultural Change. Ashgate.

2003: Editor The Anthropology of Christianity.  Special Issue of Religion 33(3). (I contribute a single authored introduction and single authored article to this volume.)

2002:  Editor (with D. Murray) of Reinventing “The Invention of Culture.”  Special issue of Social Analysis 46(1).  (I contribute a co-authored introduction and single-authored chapter to this volume.)

2001:    Editor (with A. Strathern and P. Stewart) of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity in Oceania.  Special Issue of Journal of Ritual Studies 15(2).  (I am the first editor of this volume and contribute a single-authored introduction and a single-authored chapter to it.)

1999     Editor (with D. Akin) of Money and Modernity: State and Local Currencies in Contemporary Melanesia.  University of Pittsburgh Press.  (I contribute a co-authored introduction and a single-authored chapter to this book.)

1997    Editor (with S. Bamford) of Fieldwork Revisited: Changing Contexts of Ethnographic Research in the Era of Globalization.  Special Issue of Anthropology and Humanism 22(1).  (I contribute a co-authored introduction and a single-authored article to this volume.)


2017  “Keeping God’s Distance : Sacrifice, Possession, and the Problem of Religious Mediation.” American Ethnologist 44(3) : 464-475.

2017  “L'anthropologie entre l'Europe et le Pacifique: valeurs et perspectives pour une relation au-delà du relativisme" L'Homme 222: 131-154.

2017  “Ritual Intimacy-Ritual Publicity: Revisiting Ritual Theory and Practice in Plural Soceities” (with J. Sumiala). Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society 41(4): 1-5.

2017  “Ritual Pluralism and Value Pluralism: On Why One Ritual is Never Enough.” Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society 41(4): 6-13.

2017  “Can There Be Conversion Without Cultural Change?” Mission Studies 34 (1):29-52.

2016   “What is the Matter with Transcendence? On the Place of Religion in the New Anthropology of Ethics.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 22(4): 767-808. (Published with responses by M. Clarke, V. Das, B. Kapferer, M. Lambek, C. Scherz). 

2016  “Is the Future Beyond Culture (Review Article).” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 22(3): 707-711.

2015   “There is No Such Thing as the Good: The 2013 Meeting of the Group for Debates in Anthropological Theory” (with S. Venkatesan, V. Das, H. Al-Mohammad, and C. Stafford). Critique of Anthropology 35(4): 430-480. (I make contributions throughout; my prepared opening statement appears on pp. 440-445).

2015    “Onde no mundo estão os valores?  Exemplaridade, Moralidade e Processo Social.”  Sociologas 17(39): 164-196 (In Portuguese, English version under review).

2015   “On Happiness, Values, and Time: The Long and the Short of It (Special Issue Afterword).”  Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5(3): 215-233.

2015    “Dumont’s Hierarchical Dynamism: Christianity and Individualism Revisited.” Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5(1): 173-195.

2015    “Ritual, Value, and Example: On the Perfection of Cultural of Cultural Representations.”  Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 21 (S1): 18-29.  (Special Issue: The Power of Example).

2014    “Pluralismo Religioso E Pluralismode Valores: Ritual E A Regi;açaoda Diversidade Intercultural.” Debates do NER 15(26): 15-41; “Resposta Aos Comentadores” (pp. 111-126). (Article published with eight commentaries and my response.  English versions of the article, comments and response published by the journal online:

2014    “The Anthropology of Christianity: Unity, Diversity, New Directions: An Introduction to Supplement 10.” Current Anthropology 55 (Supplement 10): S157-S171.

2014: “How Do Religions End? Theorizing Religious Traditions from the Point of View of How They Disappear.” (Published with commentaries by A. Vilaça, S. Coleman, M. Nî Mhaonaigh, D. Seeman and my reply). Cambridge Anthropology 32(2): 2-15, 23-25.

2014: “Evangelical Conversion and the Transformation of the Self in Amazonia and Melanesia: Christianity and the Revival of Anthropological Comparison” (with B. Schieffelin and A. Vilaça). Comparative Studies in Society and History 56(3): 559-590.

2014: “Introduction – Hierarchy and Hybridity: Toward a Dumontian Approach to Contemporary Cultural Change” (with J. Siikala). Anthropological Theory. 14(2): 121-132.

2013: “Afterword: Let’s Keep it Awkward: Anthropology, Theology, and Otherness.” The Australian Journal of Anthropology 24 (3): 329-337.

2013: “On Kinship and Comparison, Intersubjectivity and Mutuality of Being (Comment on Sahlins, Marshall, 2013. What Kinship is – and Is Not. University of Chicago Press).  Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3(2): 309-316.

2013 : “Beyond the Suffering Subject: Toward an Anthropology of the Good.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute.  19: 447-462.

2013: “Monism, Pluralism and the Structure of Value Relations: A Dumontian Contribution to the Contemporary Study of Value.”  Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3(1): 99-115.

2012: “On Becoming Ethical Subjects: Freedom, Constraint, and the Anthropology of Morality.”  Anthropology of This Century 5.  Web Journal, no pagination, 7456 words.

2012: “Transcendence and the Anthropology of Christianity: Language, Change, and Individualism (Edward Westermarck Memorial Lecture).” Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society, 37(2): 5-23.

2012: “Spirit Women, Church Women, and Passenger Women: Christianity, Gender, and Cultural Change in Melanesia.” Archives De Sciences Sociales Des Religions. 157: 113-133.

2011: “The Constitution of Mind: What’s In a Mind?  Interiority and Boundedness.”  Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society 36(4): 15-17.

2011: “Transcendcia E Antropologia Do Cristianismo: Linuagem, Mudança E Individualismo.”  Religiao e Sociedade, Rio de Janeiro. 31(1): 11-31.

2011: “Crypto-Religion and the Study of Cultural Mixtures: Anthropology, Value, and the Nature of Syncretism.”  Journal of the American Academy of Religion 79(2): 408-424.

2010: “Afterword: Ambivalent and Resistant Christians and the Anthropology of Christianity.” Asia-Pacific Forum 48: 71-95.

2010: “On Imagination and Creation: An Afterword.” Anthropological Forum 20(3): 305-315.

2010: “Introduction” (with M. Engelke). Global Christianity, Global Critique.  Special Issue, South Atlantic Quarterly 109(4): 623-631.

2010: “Anthropology, Pentecostalism, and the New Paul: Conversion, Event, and Social Transformation.” South Atlantic Quarterly 109(4): 633-652.

2010: “On the Pleasures and Dangers of Culpability.” Critique of Anthropology.30(1); 122-128.

Book Chapters

2017:   “In What Does Failure Succeed? Conceptions of Sin and the Role of Human Moral Vulnerability in Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity” (with L. Williams Green). In Straying From the Straight Path: How Senses of Failure Invigorate Lived Religion, D. Beekers and D. Kloos, eds. New York: Berghahn. Pp. 21-36.

2017:   “Anthropological Perspectives on World Christianity.” In Relocating World Christianity: Interdisciplinary Studies in Universal and Local Expressions of the Christian Faith, J. Cabrita et al., eds. Leiden: Brill. Pp. 238-257.

2017:   “Anthropology in the Mirror of Theology: Epistemology, Ontology, Ethics (an Afterword).” In On Knowing Humanity: Insights from Theology for Anthropology. London: Routledge. Pp. 222-240.

2016:   “How Long is a Longue Durée? Structure, Duration, and the Cultural Analysis of Cultural Change. In A Practice of Anthropology: The Thought and Influence of Marshall Sahlins, A. Golub et al., eds. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press. Pp. 40-62.

2016:   “Comments to Part 3: Christian Renewal and Change in Regional Development.” In Christianity, Conflict, and Renewal in Australia and the Pacific. F. Magowan and C. Schwarz, eds. Leiden: Brill. Pp. 207-214.

2015:    “Engaged disbelief: problematics of detachment in Christianity and in the anthropology of Christianity.” In Detachment: Essays on the Limits of Relational Thinking. T. Yarrow et al., eds.  Manchester: Manchester University Press.

2015:    “Afterword: The Anthropology of Global Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism.” In The Anthropology of Global Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism.  S. Coleman and R. Hackett, eds. New York: New York University Press.  Pp. 243-252.

2015:    “Afterword: Reflections on Making Analysis.” In Qualitative Analysis in the Making, D. Kuzmanovic and A. Bandak, eds. New York: Routledge.  Pp. 192-201.

2012: “Why is There No Political Theology among the Urapmin? On Diarchy, Sects as Big as Society, and the Diversity of Pentecostal Politics.” In Christian Politics in Oceania, M. Tomlinson and D. McDougall, eds. New York: Berghahn.  Pp. 198-210.

2012: “Cultural Values.” In A Companion to Moral Anthropology, D. Fassin, ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.  Pp. 117-132.

2012: “Some Things You Say, Some Things You Dissimulate, and Some Things You Keep to Yourself: Linguistic, Material and Marital Exchange in the Construction of Melanesian Societies.” In The Scope of Anthropology: Maurice Godelier’s Work in Context, L. Dousset and S. Tcherkézoff, eds. New York: Berghahn. Pp. 25-45.

2012: “On Enchanting Science and Disenchanting Nature: Spiritual Warfare in North America and Papua New Guinea.” In Nature, Science, and Religion: Intersections Shaping Society and the Environment, C.M. Tucker, ed. Santa Fe: School for Advanced Research Press.  Pp. 45-64.

2011: “On Messianic Promise.” In Echoes of the Tambaran: Masculinity, History and the Subject in the Work of Donald F. Tuzin, D. Lipset and P. Roscoe, eds. Canberra: ANU E Press.  Pp. 183-194.

2011: “The Obvious Aspects of Pentecostalism: Ritual and Pentecostal Globalization.” In Practicing the Faith: The Ritual Life of Pentecostal-Charismatic Christians, M. Lindhardt, ed. New York: Berghahn Books.  Pp. 49-67.

2010: “If There is No Such Thing as Society, Is Ritual Still Special?  On Using The Elementary Forms after Tarde.” In The Social after Gabriel Tarde: Debates and Assessments, M. Candea, ed.  London: Routledge.  Pp. 93-101.

2010: “Anthropology of Religion.” In Studying Global Pentecostalism: Theories and Methods, A. Anderson et. al., eds.  Berkeley: University of California Press.  Pp. 156-178.

2010: “Recognition, Reciprocity and Justice: Melanesian Reflections on the Rights of Relationships.” In Mirrors of Justice: Law and Power in the Post-Cold War Era, K. Clark and M. Goodale, eds. New York: Cambridge University Press.  Pp. 171-190.

Translations and Reprints in Edited Books

2016:   “On Happiness, Values, and Time: The Long and the Short of It (Special Issue Afterword).” In Values of Happiness: Toward an Anthropology of Purpose in Life, I. Kavedzija and H. Walker, eds. Chicago: Hau Books. Pp. 293-315.

2016:   “Dumont’s Hierarchical Dynamism: Revisiting Christianity and Individualism.” In Puissance et Impuissance de la Valeur. Barroud, C., et al Eds. Paris: CNRS Editions. Pp. 117-140.

2014: “Mezi reprodukcí a změnou: Morálka, hodnoty a radikální kulturní změna” Biograf 59. (Czech translation of “Between Reproduction and Freedom: Morality, Value, and Radical Cultural Change.”)

2014: “Deontology and Consequentialism,” abridged version of “On the Pleasures and Dangers of Culpability.” In Moral Anthropology: A Critical Reader, D. Fassin and S. Lézé, eds. New York: Routledge. Pp. 118-123.

Published Comments and Blog Posts

2017:   (with A. Pickles) “Trump Wins by Accelerating Time – Fight Back by Slowing Down.” Published on The Conversation.  Republished on The New Statesman website.

2017:   “The Mysterious Power of Arrogance.” Published on Sapiens (sponsored by Wenner-Gren). Republished on the University of Colorado Press Blog; edited version published by Aeon .

2014:    “Sad Stories of the Lives of Things: A Comment on Chris Gregory’s ‘On Religiosity and Commercial Life.” Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 4(3): 69-72.

2014:    Comment on E. Meneses et. al., “Engaging the Religiously Committed Other.” Current Anthropology 55(1): 98-99.

2011:    Comment on R. Marshall’s Political Spiritualities: The Pentecostal Revolution in Nigeria as part of “Author meet Critics” section.  Religion and Society 2: 143-145.

2010:    “Melanesia, Christianity, and Cultural Change: A comment on Mosko’s ‘Partible Penitents.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 16(2): 241-243.

2010:    Invited Post, “Global Christianity, Global Critique.”  (with M. Engelke). Appears on the SSRC website “The Immanent Frame: Secularism, Religion, and the Public Sphere.”

2010:    Invited Contribution, “Working on Individualism” – a discussion of C. Bender’s book The New Metaphysicals: Spirituality and the American Religious Imagination.  Appears on the SSRC website “The Immanent Frame: Secularism, Religion, and the Public Sphere.” 


2008:    Donald Francis Tuzin (1945-2007). (With S. Leavitt).  American Anthropologist 110(2): 277-279.

Book Reviews

2017:    Review Forum, S. Gudeman, Anthropology and Economy. Current Anthropology 58(4): 548-549.2015    Review of T. Larson, The Slain God: Anthropologists and the Christian Faith. Books and Culture Pp. 11-12.

2015:    Review of T. Larson, The Slain God: Anthropologists and the Christian Faith. Books and Culture Pp. 11-12.

2013:    Review of L. Chua, The Christianity of Culture: Conversion, Ethnic Citizenship, and the Matter of Religion in Malaysian BorneoAnthropology News.

2013:    Review of P. Gifford, Ghana’s New Christianity: Pentecostalism in a Globalizing African Economy. Anthrocybib.  Posted May 13.

2012:    Review of H. Gooren, Religious Conversion and Disaffiliation: Tracing Patterns of Change in Faith Practices. Pneuma 34: 138-139.

2010:    Review of J-P Deranty, Beyond Communication: A Critical Study of  Axel Honneth’s Social Philosophy. Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society 35(4): 67-70.

Op-Ed Article

1999:    “Return of the Native: ‘Last Primitive’ Goes Global.” Newsday (Long Island).  May 9. Pages B4, B15.

Teaching and Supervisions

Sigrid Rausing Professor of Social Anthropology
Fellow, Trinity College
Office hours: appointment by email
Professor Joel  Robbins

Contact Details

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