Dr Alan Strathern

Unearthly Powers: Transformations of Religion and Politics in World History (Cambridge 2019). 

‘Religion and Empire’, Encylcopedia of Empire, ed. John MacKenzie (Wiley-Blackwell, 2016).

  • Religious Conversion
  • Ethnic Identity
  • Global Comparative History

Current projects:  

I work in the global history of religious encounter. I have recently completed a book drawing on anthropology and historical sociology to offer a new theoretical understanding of religion and its relationship with politics across premodern history: Unearthly Powers: Transformations of Religion and Politics in World History (Cambridge 2019). A companion volume will look at why the rulers of some societies converted to Christianity and others did not: Converting Kings: Kongo Hawaii, Thailand and Japan c. 1450-1850 (Cambridge, forthcoming).  Underlying both books is a large question: Why does the religious map of the world today look the way it does? Why, for example, did large stretches of Asia remain immune to monotheism? In two or three publications, I have also begun to extend this line of thinking to the expansion of Islam.

Much of my primary research has concerned those parts of the world that came into contact with European seaborne expansion in the early modern period (1500-1800). In particular, I first specialised in Sri Lankan history, as is reflected in my first monograph, Kingship and Conversion in Sixteenth Century Sri Lanka: Portuguese Imperialism in a Buddhist Land (Cambridge 2007), and articles on such themes as origin myths, source criticism, sacred kingship, and the development of ethnic consciousness. More recently I have co-edited a book with Zoltan Biedermann ranging across all of Lankan history before 1850: Sri Lanka at the Crossroads of History (UCL Press, 2017): available free here http://www.ucl.ac.uk/ucl-press/browse-books/sri-lanka-at-the-crossroads-of-history. In the past ten years, however, my research has increasingly taken a comparative, inter-disciplinary and global approach. Longer-term research projects now include a general overview of religion and state in the early modern world, and a global investigation of so-called apotheosis interpretations in moments of first encounter.

  • OUP accepted manuscript

  • 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 andIndian 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

  • More

Current DPhil Students

  • Bradley Blankemeyer
  • Callum Kelly
  • Natalie Cobo
  • Javier Takamura
  • Shamara Wettimuny

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

  • Early Modern Asian history
  • History of Sri Lanka
  • Global comparative early modern history                            

I currently teach:


FHS Masters

European and World History III: 1400-1650

European and World History VIII: Eurasian Empires, 1450-1800.

Global and Imperial History: Themes and Concepts

Approaches to History: Sociology and Anthropology

Further Subject 11: The Iberian Global Century, 1550-1650

Global and Imperial History: DPhil Training Seminar

Optional Subject 10: Conquest and Colonization: Spain and America in the Sixteenth Century Disciplines of History

Dawn of the Global World, 1450-1800


The Last Sacred Kings, Aeon magazine, 4 October 2017


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

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

‘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