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Alan Strathern (Brasenose College, Oxford) ‘Unearthly Powers: Religious Change & Politics in World History’

October 30, 2018 @ 4:15 pm - 5:30 pm

Tuesday 30th October
Jessop West G:03
All welcome!

Dr Strathern’s research focuses on the global history of religious encounter and conversion in the early modern period, and his paper will discuss some of the main ideas in his forthcoming book Unearthly Powers: Religious and Political Change in World History (Cambridge 2019). Please see his abstract below for further information.


In this rather theoretical paper, I will introduce some of the main ideas advanced in a forthcoming work of comparative global history Unearthly Powers: Religious and Political Change in World History (Cambridge, 2019), which draws heavily on anthropology and historical sociology. Rather than telling some kind of comprehensive story, this sets out to identify certain patterns in the relationship between religion and politics over the global long term, and to suggest a set of analytical concepts that may help us to work at this scale. The book is particularly concerned with explaining the development of sacred kingship and the rise of the world religions – or what I refer to as ‘transcendentalisms.’ Indeed, the distinction between ‘transcendentalism’ and ‘immanentism’ lies at the heart of the project.  After explaining these phenomena and their inter-relationship over time, I will discuss their implications for kingship – for they generated distinct ‘righteous’ or ‘divinized’ forms. Lastly, I will suggest a model for explaining how and why rulers – from Anglo-Saxon kings to Fijian chiefs – have converted to religions such as Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, focussing particularly on the role of immanent power. This takes us some way towards explaining why the religious map of the world today looks the way it does.


October 30, 2018
4:15 pm - 5:30 pm
Event Category:


Jessop West G:03