Show/hide main menu

Academic staff

Dr Katherine Swancutt

Dr Katherine Swancutt (Lecturer in the Anthropology of Religion)Senior Lecturer in the Anthropology of Religion

Tel: 020 7848 2623
Address: Department of Theology & Religious Studies
King's College London
Room 3.29, Virginia Woolf Building,
22 Kingsway


I studied Anthropology, Chinese, and Russian at the University of Utah before completing my PhD in Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge. After a year’s time as a Departmental Lecturer in Social Anthropology at Oxford University, I took up a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in Modern Chinese Studies at the University of Cambridge, before returning to Oxford University as a Research Fellow in Social Anthropology on two large research grants with the ESRC and the AHRC-ESRC. I joined King’s College London in September 2013. 

My work has concentrated largely on ‘animistic’ or ‘shamanic’ religions (mixed with Buddhism or Daoism), with an especial focus on innovative magical practices across Inner and East Asia.  Two groups in particular have captured my imagination and been the focus of my long-term fieldwork: the Buryat Mongols of northeast Mongolia and China, and the Nuosu, a Tibeto-Burman group of Southwest China.  

Personal Webpage:

Research interests and PhD supervision
  • The anthropology of religion, with an especial focus on animistic traditions and newer approaches that fall under the heading of the ‘ontological turn’
  • The relationship between dreams, the imagination and reflexivity
  • The anthropological study of anthropology itself, particularly as it unfolds within China today
  • Divination, games, the performing arts and other techne that are brought into dialogue with religious themes
  • The makings of aesthetics, ideas, irony and freedom within the contingencies of religious life
My main fieldwork has been concentrated in two regions – the northeast of Mongolia and Southwest China – where I work on religion in contexts of rapid transformation. After completing my doctoral research on innovative shamanic practices, which led to my book Fortune and the Cursed: The Sliding Scale of Time in Mongolian Divination, I have since expanded my focus to Southwest China and brought a new host of themes within my compass, such as: the role of the ‘ethnographic dream’ in religious life, the relationship between notions of ‘priceless value’ and self-transformation, and the use of the imagination in communications with the divine.  

I am happy to discuss research proposals on any theme in the anthropology of religion with potential applicants for doctoral study.

For more details, please see my full research profile (forthcoming).

Selected publications
  • 2012. Fortune and the Cursed: The Sliding Scale of Time in Mongolian Divination. New York and Oxford: Berghahn.
  • 2012. ‘The Captive Guest: Spider Webs of Hospitality among the Nuosu of Southwest China’ in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 18(S1):S103-S116.
  • 2012. ‘Fame, Fate-Fortune and Tokens of Value among the Nuosu of Southwest China’ in Social Analysis. 56(2):56-72.
  • 2008. ‘The Undead Genealogy: Omnipresence, Spirit Perspectives, and a Case of Mongolian Vampirism’ in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 14(4):843-864.
  • 2007. ‘The Ontological Spiral: Virtuosity and Transparency in Mongolian Games’ in Inner Asia. 9(2):237-259.


  • 4AAT1009 Introduction to the Anthropology of Religion
  • 5AAT2014 Religion in Different Social and Geopolitical Contexts – Anthropological Perspectives
  • 6AAT3801 Anthropological Approaches to Religious Innovation and Questions of Being


  • 7AATC820 Religion in Contemporary Society
  • 7AATC821 World Religions and Modernity
  • 7AATC824 The Anthropology of Ontology and Religious Innovation
Expertise and engagement

Public Presentations

  • Invited talk in November 2011 on ‘Uncovering the Lynchpins to Anthropology’ at the Yunnan Health and Development Research Association (YHDRA), an NGO in China. The talk introduced health and development professionals in China’s public sector, NGOs, and academia to basic anthropological methods for studying the relationship between religion, illness, and poverty-alleviation among ethnic minorities in China.
Sitemap Site help Terms and conditions  Privacy policy  Accessibility  Modern slavery statement  Contact us

© 2018 King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS | England | United Kingdom | Tel +44 (0)20 7836 5454