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Dr Timothy Jenkins

Dr Timothy Jenkins

Reader in Anthropology and Religion

European ethnography, particularly Britain & France

Anthropological theory

The anthropology of religion

Tim Jenkins will discuss applications from potential PhD students, but is on research leave at the Center of Theological Inquiry at Princeton for the next academic year (September 2016 to June 2017), and three years from retirement (2019).

Office Phone: 01223 339303

Subject area and speciality

Religious Studies specialists:
  • European ethnography, particularly Britain & France
  • Anthropological theory
  • The anthropology of religion
Study of religion specialists:
World Christianities specialists:
  • European ethnography, particularly Britain & France
  • Anthropological theory
  • The anthropology of religion


Jesus College:
Director of Studies

Research Interests

My research interests include ethnography, anthropological theory, and the anthropology of religion. These interests fall into three overlapping groups:

1. The history of anthropology and anthropological theory:

I have a long-established interest in Durkheim and Mauss and the Année Sociologique School, and their interactions with the history of British Social Anthropology. I am also interested in more recent sociological and theoretical writing, particularly in France. I have two books on ‘Mauss’ and ‘Magic’ in preparation. This interest in method informs my ethnographic work; it also includes engagement with various forms of psychological theory, including cognitive science approaches to the study of religion.

2. Nationalism and language:

I have worked on the Occitan regionalist movement in Paris, Toulouse and Béarn since the 1970s and recently published The Life of Property. House, Family and Inheritance in Béarn, South West France (2010) (for hyperlink, see bibliography below), which focuses on the enduring social forms controlling the transmission of property. I intend to develop this work in the direction of a study of the Occitan language movement over the twentieth century to the present, focussing on the always-tense relations between militants and linguists on the one hand and speakers of the dialects on the other. This interest in politics and language also shapes my third area of research.

3. Ethnographic and social historical approaches to religion:

A. I am interested in the contextual study of religious life, researching the intellectual, moral, political and other work that religious groups perform in the setting of ordinary life. Religion in English Everyday Life: An Ethnographic Study (1999)  contains two studies based on field research, both in Britain, one concerning Comberton, a satellite village near Cambridge, the other Kingswood, a working-class suburb of Bristol.

B. My current work concentrates upon excellent ethnographic and historical case studies which have appeared in recent years on North American and European religious movements. Topics include forms of modern religious life such as Adventism and Spiritualism, the moral and intellectual effects and employments of modern scientific and technological innovations in contemporary religious life, individualism and political aspects of the religious imagination, the forms of rejection and of opposition to contemporary religious ideas, and encounters between psychology and new religious forms. My most recent booklength publication, Of Flying Saucers and Social Scientists: a re-reading of When Prophecy Fails and of Cognitive Dissonance (2013) is a case study which explores these issues. I plan to publish a survey of these materials and the approaches they contain in the near future.

My most recent work focusses particularly on the expression of these long-standing patterns in such contemporary forms as transhumanism, machine intelligence, and the Search for Extra terrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

Research Supervision

I welcome enquiries from potential doctoral students in these areas, and particularly encourage those who might focus on a case study of a religious group or movement and undertake a period of fieldwork or archive research or both. Students taking the MPhil in Theology & Religious Studies would probably follow the ‘World Christianities’ pathway. Current or recent PhD topics include intentional communities in Western Canada, Pentecostal congregations and deliverance in Lagos, Nigeria, ‘indigo Children’ and their presence on the Internet, and Muslim engagement with civil society in London.


  • A6, Introduction to the Study of Religion
  • D2b, Religious Experince: Mesmerism, Spiritualism and Psychical Research


Key Publications

Research interests 1 – Anthropological theory:

‘Metaphor and religious language – review article’, Journal of Literature and Theology 3, 1989:219-39.

‘Fieldwork and the perception of everyday life’, Man 29, 1994:433-55.

‘Two sociological approaches to religion in modern Britain’, Religion 26, 1996:331-42.

‘Derrida’s reading of Mauss’, in Marcel Mauss: a centenary tribute, W.James & N.Allen (eds), Berghahn, New York & Oxford, 1998:83-94.

‘Sacred Persons’, in The Gestures of God: Explorations in Sacramentality, edited by Geoffrey Rowell & Christine Hall. Continuum 2004, pp. 57-72.

‘Why do things move people? A sociological account of idolatry’, in Idolatry. False Worship in the Bible, Early Judaism and Christianity, Stephen Barton (ed.), T&T Clark /Continuum, 2007: 287-301.  

‘Anthropology, religion and time. An anthropological perspective on Theology and Religious Studies’, in Theology and Religious Studies. An Exploration of Disciplinary Boundaries, edited by Maya Warrier & Simon Oliver, T&T Clark/Continuum 2008: 75-88.

‘Marcel Mauss’s essay On Prayer: an important contribution on the nature of sociological understanding’, the MAUSS web journal: 2008. 

‘One or Three: Issues of Comparison’, in The Social after Gabriel Tarde; debates and assessments, edited by Matei Candea, Routledge 2010: 102-9.

‘The Anthropology of Christianity: situation and critique’, Ethnos 77 (4), 2012: 459-476.

Research interests 2 – fieldwork in southern France:

The Life of Property. House, Family and Inheritance in Béarn, South West France, Berghahn, New York & Oxford, 2010.

‘Mariage, héritage et évolution sociale dans un roman gascon: Los tres gojats de Bòrdavielha de Simin Palay’, Ethnologie française XXXVI, 2006, 4: 713-22.

‘Bourdieu’s Béarnais Ethnography’, Theory, Culture & Society 23 (6) 2006: 45-72; special issue on Pierre Bourdieu (1930 – 2002), edited by Derek Robbins.

Research interests 3 – the study of religion:

A. British fieldwork:

Religion in English Everyday Life. An Ethnographic Approach, Berghahn, New York & Oxford, 1999.

‘Epistemological considerations in occult knowledge’, International Journal of Moral and Social Studies 7, 1992:43-56.  

‘Congregational Cultures and the Boundaries of Identity’, in Congregational Studies in the UK: Christianity in a Post-Christian Context, edited by Mathew Guest, Karin Tusting & Linda Woodhead. Ashgate 2004, pp. 113-123.

B. Contemporary topics in the study of religion:

Of Flying Saucers and Social Scientists: A Re-Reading of When Prophecy Fails and of Cognitive Dissonance, Palgrave Macmillan, New York & London, 2013.

‘Closer to Dan Brown than to Gregor Mendel: on Dawkins’ The God Delusion’, Scottish Journal of Theology  62 (3), 2009: 269-78.  

‘“A secular and religious world”: David Ford’s contribution to the secularization debate’, in The Vocation of Theology Today. A Festschrift for David Ford, edited T. Greggs, R. Muers & S. Zahl, Cascade Books, Eugene, Oregon, 2013: 163-177.

‘The cognitive science of religion from an anthropological perspective’, in Cognitive Approaches to the Evolution of Religion, edited by Fraser Watts and Léon Turner, Oxford University Press, 2014: 173-191.

‘Moral Employments of Scientific Thought’, in Reason and Belief in the Societies of Knowledge, edited by Carles Salazar and Joan Bestard, Berghahn, 2015: 87-103.

'Theology's contribution to anthropological understanding in T.M. Luhrmann's When God Talks Back (2012), in What Can Theology Contribute to Cultural Anthropology and Ethnography?, edited by Derek Lemons, in press with O.U.P.