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Dr Katherine Swancutt
Katherine Swancutt

Dr Katherine Swancutt

  • Academics
  • Affiliates
  • Supervisors

Reader in Social Anthropology

Research subject areas

  • Religion

Contact details


I am a social anthropologist with longstanding interests in the anthropology of religion and I am Project Lead of the ERC synergy grant ‘Cosmological Visionaries: Shamans, Scientists, and Climate Change at the Ethnic Borderlands of China and Russia’ from 2020-2026 (grant number 856543).

I joined King’s in 2013 and founded the Religious and Ethnic Diversity in China and Asia Research Unit (REDCARU) at King’s in 2016, of which I am the Director. I have since established additional network branches for REDCARU at Yunnan Normal University and Yunnan Minzu University in Kunming, China.

I came to King’s from the University of Oxford, where I was a Research Fellow in Social Anthropology on two large research grants that I authored, 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 have conducted fieldwork on animistic and shamanic religions for upwards of two decades. I have worked among the Buryats of north-east Mongolia and China, the Deed Mongols of northern China, and the Nuosu of Southwest China.

Personal Webpage:

Cosmological Visionaries Webpage:

Religious and Ethnic Diversity in China and Asia Research Unit (REDCARU) Webpage:

Research interests and PhD supervision

  • Inner Asia, especially the ethnic minorities of China and Mongolia
  • The Anthropology of Religion
  • Cosmology and Ecology
  • Shamanism and Animism
  • Climate Change
  • The Anthropology of Dreams

My ERC ‘Cosmological Visionaries’ project is the first to document and foster the new joint visions of animistic priests, shamans, rural persons, and their own ethnologists, anthropologists, and natural scientists, in order to address climate change in Southwest China and Siberia. It is a joint research project with the University of Manchester.

As Project Lead, I and my team are throwing new light on the relationship between cosmology and ecology, which varies dramatically across Asia, and yet is subject to the geopolitical and policy-based initiatives that crosscut it. We are expanding the understanding of what ‘cosmology’ is by researching the anthropological, moral, ethical, philosophical, and natural scientific approaches to climate change-related visions.

The ideas behind ‘Cosmological Visionaries’ build upon my previous research on shamanic innovations, interpersonal rivalries and conflict, and the ways that these have shaped moral life and change in Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, and northern China, where there are different and yet comparable experiences of history, citizenship, political life, economies, environments, and notions of well-being. I also have drawn upon my work on imagination, material culture, art, and media, which I have explored from such diverse angles as the translations of priestly scriptures, state-sponsored competitive pageantry, shamanic and animistic exorcisms, dreams, storytelling, ethnographic filmmaking, divination, and games.

I welcome enquiries from people interested in undertaking an anthropological PhD with a strong commitment to long-term ethnographic fieldwork in Inner Asia, and especially among the ethnic minorities of China or Mongolia. Students with other regional interests – and especially those whose research would focus on animism, shamanism, cosmology, ecology, climate change, or dreams – are also welcome to contact me about potential PhD projects.

For more details, please see my full research profile.


I teach the anthropology of religion at all levels. I am on research leave from 2020-2026.

Undergraduate Modules

  • 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

Postgraduate Modules

  • 7AATC825 The Anthropology of Ontology and Religious Innovation
  • 7AATC826 Shamanism, Animism, Dreams and Religious Visions

Expertise and engagement

Please email me at if you are interested in any of the events at the Religious and Ethnic Diversity in China and Asia Research Unit (REDCARU).

Selected publications

  • It’s Scientific!”: Play, Parody, and the Para-Ethnographic in Southwest China’. 2021. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 27(3): 559-578.
  • ‘The Chicken and the Egg: Cracking the Ontology of Divination in Southwest China’. 2021. Social Analysis. 65(2): 19-40.
  • Crafting Chinese Memories: The Art and Materiality of Storytelling. Scheduled for October 2021. New York and Oxford: Berghahn.
  • Animism Beyond the Soul: Ontology, Reflexivity, and the Making of Anthropological Knowledge. Edited with Mireille Mazard. 2016. Social Analysis (volume 60, issue 1), updated edition published in 2018 by Berghahn.
  • Fortune and the Cursed: The Sliding Scale of Time in Mongolian Divination. 2012. New York and Oxford: Berghahn.