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Faculty of Divinity



Joseph Webster is Professor of the Anthropology of Religion, having first taken up his position in the Divinity Faculty in 2019.

Previous to this he held the position of Lecturer in Anthropology at Queen's University Belfast (2013-19), and Isaac Newton - Graham Robertson Research Fellow in Social Anthropology and Sociology at Downing College, Cambridge (2011-13).

His MA(Hons) in Sociology and Social Anthropology, and his MRes and PhD in Social Anthropology were all obtained at the University of Edinburgh (2003-12).

Professor Webster won a Philip Leverhulme Prize in 2020 to conduct new ethnographic research on 'The Morality of Millenarianism' (research leave from October 2021 until October 2023).

Professor Webster was named Teaching and Learning Fellow for 2021 by the British Association for the Study of Religion, awarded in recognition of his contribution to the innovation and transformation of the student learning experience. He was also elected to serve on the BASR Executive Committee in 2021.


Professor Webster's primary research interest concerns the Anthropology of Religion, with a particular focus on Protestantism in Scotland and the global north.

His first monograph, The Anthropology of Protestantism (2013), is an ethnography of apocalyptic sign searching within an Exclusive Brethren fishing community in Northeast Scotland. This book was featured on BBC Radio 4, in an episode of Thinking Allowed

His second monograph, The Religion of Orange Politics (2020), is an ethnographic account of ethno-religious nationalism within the Orange Order, Scotland's largest Protestant-only fraternity. This book was also featured on BBC Radio 4, in an episode of Thinking Allowed, as well as in New Humanist magazine.

His new research project, 'The Morality of Millenarianism' (Leverhulme Trust PLP-2020-015), examines the moral, hermeneutical, and eschatological commitments of Jehovah's Witnesses in the ethnographic context of post-Brexit Northern Ireland.


Professor Webster's specific research interests include:

• Protestant fundamentalism, millenarianism, apocalypticism

• Ethno-religious nationalism, unionism, loyalism, the Orange Order

• Personhood, fraternity, hate

• Sectarianism, football fandom, and debates about free speech

• North Atlantic, Britain, Scotland, Northern Ireland

• The relationship between Anthropology and Theology



Key publications: 



Webster, J. (2020; pb. 2022 ). The Religion of Orange Politics: Protestantism and Fraternity in Contemporary Scotland Manchester: MUP

Webster, J. (2013; pb 2015). The Anthropology of Protestantism: Faith and Crisis among Scottish Fishermen New York: Palgrave


Special Issues

Lynch, R., Sturm, T. and Webster, J. (2021). 'Apocalyptic futures: morality, health, and wellbeing at the end of the world'. Introduction to 'The Apocalypse and Other Crises' in Anthropology and Medicine 28(1): 1-12.



Webster, J. (2022). 'Nor Shadow of Turning: Anthropological Reflections on Theological Critiques of Doctrinal Change' in Australian Journal of Anthropology 33(3): 360-382.

Webster, J. (2022). 'From Scottish Independence, to Brexit, and Back Again: Orange Order ethno-religion and the awkward urgency of British unionism' in Social Anthropology 30(4): 18-36.

Webster, J. (2022). 'Anthropology-as-Theology: Violent Endings and the Permanence of New Beginnings' in American Anthropologist 124: 333-344.

Webster, J. (2022). 'Whose Sins Do the Brethren Confess? The Problem of Sin as the Problem of Expiation' in Ethnos 87(4): 679-695.

Webster, J. (2021). 'Dual Classification Revisited: Rodney Needham and Vertical Asymmetry aboard Scottish Trawlers in Maritime Studies 20: 371-385.

Webster, J. (2021). 'Embodied Apocalypse: Or the Native Cosmology of Late Modern Social Theory' in Anthropology and Medicine 28(1): 13-27.

Webster, J. (2020). 'Prosperity Pentecostalism as Theological Presentism' (Comment) in Current Anthropology 61(1): 71-72.

Webster, J. (2020). 'Denominations as (Theological) Institutions: An Afterward' in Anthropological Quarterly 92(4): 1123-1134.

Webster, J. (2017). 'Praying for Salvation: A Map of Relatedness' in Religion 47(1): 19-34.

Webster, J. (2013). 'The Eschatology of Global Warming in a Scottish Fishing Village' in Cambridge Anthropology 31(1): 68-84.

Webster, J. (2012). 'The Immanence of Transcendence: God and the Devil on the Aberdeenshire Coast' in Ethnos 78(3): 380-402.

Webster, J. (2008). 'Establishing the 'Truth' of the Matter: Confessional Reflexivity as Introspection and Avowal' in Psychology and Society 1(1): 65-76.


Book Chapters

Hickman, J. and Webster, J. (In Press). 'Millenarianism' in The Oxford Handbook of the Anthropology of Religion by Robbins, J. and Coleman, S. (eds.) Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Webster, J. (In Press). 'Approaches through Materiality' in The Oxford Handbook of the Anthropology of Religion by Robbins, J. and Coleman, S. (eds.) Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Webster, J. (2022). 'Geography as Eschatology: Prophecy Fulfilment on Land and at Sea' in Landscapes of Christianity by Bielo, J. and Ron, A. (eds). London: Bloomsbury.

Webster, J. (2021). 'Praying for Salvation: A Map of Relatedness' in The Social Life of Prayer: Anthropological Engagements with Christian Practice by Bandak, A. (ed.) London: Routledge.

Webster, J. (2018). 'The Exclusive Brethren Doctrine of Separation: An Anthropology of Theology in Theologically Engaged Anthropology by Lemons, D. (ed.) Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Webster, J. (2015). 'Objects of Transcendence: Scots-Protestantism and an Anthropology of Things' in Material Religion in Modern Britain by Jones, T. and Matthews-Jones, L. (eds.) New York: Palgrave.



Teaching and Supervisions



A6 - Understanding Contemporary Religion

D2b - Apocalypse

Part II - Social Anthropology-Religious Studies Joint track in Modern Religion Seminar

MPhil - Contemporary Religious Conflict: Ethnographic Approaches


Research supervision: 


Professor Webster would be interested in supervising doctoral students whose work uses ethnographic methods to research any of the themes listed above (see 'Research' tab).


Topics of current and past PhD students include:

• The 'belief curious' and evangelical conversion in England

• Mormon attitudes to climate change and climate change denial in the US and UK 

• The prosperity gospel and industrial capitalism in Northern Ireland

• Conflict, austerity, and community arts in Northern Ireland

• Symbols of Loyalism in Northern Ireland

• The impact of Troubles-related memories in Northern Ireland


Other Professional Activities

Submitted as a REF2021 Impact Case Study, connected to his research on sectarianism, Professor Webster has undertaken work on the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012. He acted as an expert witness to the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee, giving evidence in support of repeal.

This aspect of his research has been profiled in the media, including in the Times, Scotsman, Herald, Irish News, Sun, and Express newspapers, as well as on STV's Scotland Tonight. Examples include:

Times: Statues are worth both defending and vandalising (op-ed: 18/06/20)

Times: Whipping and coffins at lodge ritual (article: 18/06/20)

Times: Banning sectarian parades would only deepen the hatred (op-ed: 03/09/19)

Times: Banning parades after Govan violence 'deeply problematic' (article: 02/09/19)

Sun: 'Sectarian' singing bring fans together leading expert claims (article: 10/03/18) 

Most recently, Professor Webster has advised the Scottish Government Community Safety Unit on issues relating to sectarianism and parading in the context of the newly passed Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021.

Professor of the Anthropology of Religion
Fellow and DoS, Social Anthropology, Downing
Graduate Tutor, Downing
Dr Joseph  Webster

Contact Details

Email address: 
01223 763093
Takes PhD students
Available for consultancy