Dr Alan Strathern

  • The long-term global history of religion
  • Sacred kingship and the relationship between religion and politics more broadly
  • Ethnic identity and origin myths

Current projects:  
Otherworldly Power: Sacred Kingship and Religious Conversion in Global History. Why does the religious map of the world today look the way it does? The voluntary conversion of kings has played a very important part in shaping this map, and this book sets out to explore how and why this happened. It is particularly concerned with why the rulers of some societies converted to monotheism and others did not? Why did large stretches of Asia remain immune to its allure? The main case studies are 16th to 17th century Central Africa, Japan, Thailand, island Southeast Asia, and early 19th century Hawaii, but I also draw on material across global history. While the core cases concern conversion to Christianity, in recent publications I also have begun to extend my work to Islam. My thinking and methodology are heavily influenced by anthropological scholarship and by the long-term historical sociology of religion reaching back to the first millennium BCE. The book therefore sets out to make a contribution to more theoretical questions regarding the nature of the relationship between religion and political legitimacy. The Early Modern World: Religion and State 1450-1750. This provisional title may sound similar to the one above, but the content will be quite different, both in geographical coverage and in its analytical objectives. The book is a response to the growing feeling among scholars that the whole world (and not just Europe) participated in an 'early modern period'. I am interested in pursuing the implications that this may have for the relationship between religion and state across Eurasia in particular.
Lastly, I am in the final stages of putting together an edited book with Zoltán Biedermann (UCL) on cosmopolitanism in Sri Lankan History over the long term: Sri Lanka at the Crossroads of History (UCL Press, forthcoming)

  • Sri Lanka at the Crossroads of History

  • Global Patterns of Ruler Conversion to Islam and the Logic of Empirical Religiosity

  • 'Thailand’s first revolution? The Ayutthaya rebellion of 1688 and global patterns of ruler conversion to monotheism'

  • Introduction: Querying the cosmopolitan in Sri Lankan and
    Indian Ocean history

  • The digestion of the foreign in Lankan history, c. 500– 1818

  • Religion and Empire

  • Vijaya and Romulus: Interpreting the Origin Myths of Sri Lanka and Rome

  • Drawing the veil of sovereignty: early modern Islamic empires and understanding sacred kingship

  • Sri Lanka in the Missionary Conjuncture of the 1540s

  • Immanence and Tolerance: Ruler Conversions to Islam and Christianity in Archipelagic Southeast Asia

  • More

Current DPhil Students

  • Bradley Blankemeyer
  • Callum Kelly
  • Natalie Cobo

I would be willing to hear from potential DPhil students regarding:

  • Early Modern Asian history
  • Portuguese expansion
  • Religious conversion
  • Sri Lankan history

I currently teach:


General History III (1450-1650) General History XVII
Approaches to History: Sociology and Anthropology Eurasian History 1450-1800
Optional Subject 10: Conquest and Colonization: Spain and America in the Sixteenth Century Disciplines of History

Why are Buddhist monks attacking Muslims?' for the BBC News Magazine 2 May 2013: www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22356306


‘Islamist Violence and the Role of Ideology’ A Fair Observer, 8 Sept 2015


‘Diary: A Report on Sri Lanka’, London Review of Books, Vol. 29, No. 21, 1 November 2007, http://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n21/alan-strathern/diary

List of site pages