I joined King’s in 2013 and teach the anthropology of religion. In 2016, I launched the Religious and Ethnic Diversity in China and Asia Research Unit (REDCARU) at King’s, of which I am the Director.
I came to King’s from the University of Oxford, where I was a Research Fellow in Social Anthropology on two large research grants, first with the ESRC and then under the AHRC-ESRC’s Religion and Society programme. Before that, I held a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in Modern Chinese Studies at the University of Cambridge and taught as a Departmental Lecturer at the University of Oxford. I have a PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Cambridge and three separate BA degrees in Anthropology, Chinese, and Russian from the University of Utah.
My area of research is Inner Asia, where I focus on ‘animistic’ or ‘shamanic’ religions and the ‘anthropology of anthropology’. Having conducted fieldwork on innovative shamanic practices among Buryat Mongols for over a decade, since 2007 I have expanded my field of study into Southwest China, where I work among a Tibeto-Burman ethnic group called the Nuosu. I have also conducted fieldwork among the Deed Mongols of northern China.
Personal Webpage: www.swancutt.com
Religious and Ethnic Diversity in China and Asia Research Unit (REDCARU): https://redcaru.kcl.ac.uk
Research interests and PhD supervision
- The anthropology of dreams
- Shamanic and animistic religions
- Anthropological approaches related to the ‘ontological turn’
- Chinese anthropology, ethnography, and ethnology
- Innovative forms of religious or magical practices across Inner Asia
- Divination, games, the performing arts and other techne that are brought into dialogue with religious themes
- Ethnic minorities of China and Mongolia
My current research project focuses on dreams, sacred texts, and the ethnological studies carried out by the Nuosu of Southwest China. I have conducted multi-sited fieldwork for this project, travelling between Nuosu villages, a county town, and the city of Kunming, where I studied the dreams of Nuosu anthropologists, priests, shamans, laypersons, and members of ethnological teams who translate their animistic scriptures into Chinese. Nuosu dreams take a variety of forms, including night dreams, waking dreams, lucid dreams, priestly dreams, shamanic dreams, the ideal dream life, scholarly dreams, and more. I suggest that Nuosu dreams shape the ways they envision their cosmos, history, society, and culture.
Building on my study of Nuosu dreams and scholarship, I have undertaken further projects on ‘reflexivity’ and the making of anthropological knowledge within and beyond China (special issue of Social Analysis 2016 and article in Religion and Society: Advances in Research 2016). This research was also central to an ethnographic film that I produced with a Nuosu anthropologist and ethnological team during summer 2016. My upcoming research will build on the study of Nuosu scholarship, through a focus on the relationship between Nuosu animistic religion, ethno-politics, and conceptualisations of the local ‘ecology’.
Some main themes running throughout my work are the study of the human soul; freedom and irony; hospitality and slavery; economies of prestige and value; favours and anti-favours; the nature of challenges and ordeals; pedagogy and virtuosity; joking and the environment; the imagination and materiality; aesthetics and ideas; nostalgia and traditional mediation; reflexivity in fieldwork; and the study of the social sciences within China. I also have long-standing interests in concepts of fortune, luck and fate; heuristics of time and space; divination; games; conflict and witchcraft; and Buddhism.
I welcome enquiries from people interested in undertaking an anthropological PhD with a strong commitment to long-term ethnographic fieldwork in China or Mongolia. Students with other regional interests – and especially those whose research would focus on the anthropology of dreams, animism, or shamanism – are also welcome to contact me about potential PhD projects.
Please email me at email@example.com if you are interested in any of the events at the Religious and Ethnic Diversity in China and Asia Research Unit (REDCARU).
For more details, please see my full research profile.
I teach the anthropology of religion at all levels.
- 4AAT1009 Introduction to the Anthropology of Religion
- 5AAT2014 Religion in Ethnographic Perspective
- 6AAT3801 Anthropological Approaches to Religious Innovation and Questions of Being
- 6AAT3802 The Anthropology of Dreams, Visions, and Shamanism
- 7AATC825 The Anthropology of Ontology and Religious Innovation
- 7AATC826 Shamanism, Animism, Dreams and Religious Visions
Expertise and engagement
I organise events, including receiving foreign scholars and foreign delegations, for the Religious and Ethnic Diversity in China and Asia Research Unit.
Swancutt, K., 29 May 2020, (Accepted/In press) In : Inner Asia. 22, 2 Research output: Contribution to journal - Article
Swancutt, K., 19 Sep 2019, (Accepted/In press) In : Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (JRAI). 27, 3 Research output: Contribution to journal - Article
Swancutt, K. A., 25 Jun 2019, In : The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology. p. 1-17 17 p. Research output: Contribution to journal - Editorial. DOIs: https://doi.org/10.29164/19anim
Swancutt, K. A., 21 Jun 2018, In : The China Quarterly. 234, p. 587-588 2 p. Research output: Contribution to journal - Book/Film/Article review
Swancutt, K. A., Jun 2018, Who Are 'We'?: Reimagining Alterity and Affinity in Anthropology. Chua, L. & Mathur, N. (eds.). New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, p. 95-127 32 p. (Methodology & History in Anthropology). Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceeding - Chapter
Swancutt, K. (ed.) & Mazard, M. (ed.), Apr 2018, New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books. 158 p. (Studies in Social Analysis) Research output: Book/Report - Book
Swancutt, K. A. & Mazard, M., Apr 2018, Animism Beyond the Soul: Ontology, Reflexivity, and the Making of Anthropological Knowledge. Swancutt, K. & Mazard, M. (eds.). New York and Oxford, p. 1-17 17 p. (Studies in Social Analysis). Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceeding - Chapter
Swancutt, K. A., Apr 2018, Animism Beyond the Soul : Ontology, Reflexivity, and the Making of Anthropological Knowledge. Swancutt, K. & Mazard, M. (eds.). Berghahn Books, p. 74-91 23 p. (Studies in Social Analysis). Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceeding - Chapter
Swancutt, K. & Mazard, M., 1 Jan 2018, Animism beyond the Soul: Ontology, Reflexivity, and the Making of Anthropological Knowledge. Berghahn Books, p. 1-17 17 p. Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceeding - Foreword/postscript
Swancutt, K. A., 2018, (Accepted/In press) Routledge Handbook of Chinese Culture and Society. Latham, K. (ed.). Routledge, (Chinese Culture and Society). Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceeding - Chapter