Prof Bettina Schmidt
Prof Bettina Schmidt Dphil; PhD; MA
Professor in Study of Religions
Tel: +44 (0) 1570 424 912
- Chair of the Research Degree Committee
- Director of the Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre
- Director of Postgraduate (taught) degrees of the Faculty of Humanities and Performing Arts
- I also lecture on undergraduate (BA Religious Studies) and postgraduate level (MA Study of Religions) as well as supervise research students in areas such as anthropology of religion, religious experience, and study of religions.
My academic background is in Cultural Anthropology with a research focus on contemporary religions. I have studied Cultural Anthropology together with Religious Studies and African Languages at the University of Marburg in Germany where I also did my PhD and a post-doc degree (“Habilitation”), both in Cultural Anthropology with a research project focussing on religious communities.
My research interests are mainly in the area of anthropology of religion, in particular identity, migration/Diaspora, gender, and trance and spirit possession. I have extensive experience in empirical research in Latin America (e.g. Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Mexico), the Caribbean (in particular Puerto Rico) as well as in the USA among Afro-Caribbean and Christian religious groups, all based on qualitative research methods.
My research focus on Afro-American and Latin American religions shows that I am interested in hybridization and migration, crucial topics in the 21st century. My most recent research focused on spirit possession and trance. In my book (Bloomsbury 2016) I present information from my fieldwork conducted in Brazil.
My new research project is about the relationship between spirituality and health. I will examine ways how spirituality improves the quality of life and the place of spirituality in therapeutic context in Brazil and the UK.
After years of teaching anthropology, gender studies and study of religions in Germany, I teach now study of religions in the UK, first at Oxford University, then at Bangor University and now at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David in Lampeter and Carmarthen.
My teaching focus is on theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of religions as well as various aspects of contemporary religions (e.g. violence, sex/gender and rituals). In addition to undergraduate teaching I also contribute to the MA Study of Religions, the MRes Study of Religion and the MRes Religious Experience.
In addition to research and teaching I have taken on several external roles. I was Honorary Secretary of the British Association for Study of Religions (BASR) and represented the BASR in the International Committee of the International Association for History of Religions (IAHR) and of the European Association for the Study of Religions (EASR) as well as at numerous occasions in the UK.
I was part of the benchmark exercise for M level degrees in theology and religious studies and am currently involved in the revision of the national benchmark statement for undergraduate degrees in theology and religions studies. I am also Vice-President of TRS UK, a network of university departments and associations in the area of theology and religious studies in the UK.
I am also member of the Peer Review College of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, member of the advisory board for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion (Editor in Chief: John Barton, Oxford University) and panel member of the Research Excellence Framework 2014.
The external roles reach beyond the UK. I am, for instance, member of editorial boards of international academic journal (e.g. INDIANA, published in Berlin, REVERS, published in São Paulo, DIKSUS, published in the UK, and Eurasia, published in Moscow). As the Director of the Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre (located on the Lampeter campus) I also work with scholars worldwide on aspects of religious experience.
- British Association for Study of Religions (Secretary 2009-2015)
- European Association for the Study of Religions (EASR)
- European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA)
- Member of board of editors of the peer-reviewed journal INDIANA, a journal in the field of Latin American Studies, published in Berlin by the Ibero-American institute (since 2004)
- Member of the board of editors of the peer-reviewed journal DISKUS, published by the British Association for Study of Religions (since 2010)
- Member of the board of editors of the journal REVER, Revista de Estudos da Religião, São Paulo (since 2010)
- Member of the Board of editors of the journal Eurasia: National Spiritual Traditions, Moscow
- Member of the editorial board of the Journal for the Academic Study of Religion
My teaching focus is on theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of religions as well as various aspects of contemporary religions. On undergraduate level I teach the modules What is Religion? (level 4), Imagining the Other: Theories of Religion (level 5), Sex and Violence: Religions in the Modern World (level 6) and Exploring Ritual (level 6). I also contribute to modules on methodology and other aspects of contemporary religions
On postgraduate level I teach Theory and Methodology in the Study of religions (level 7) and Religious Experience Today (level 7) and contribute to other modules of the MA Study of Religions.
I have supervised in the past PhD students about New Age, Vodou, and various aspects in cultural anthropology. Currently I supervise research students with research projects ranging from a study of sacred space in the US, religious change and conversion, reverse mission and Brazilian Diaspora churches in the UK to religion and reconciliation.
One focus in my research activities is on the African diaspora, with empirical fieldwork in the Caribbean (my PhD thesis, published in 1995 in Germany, was about religion and identity in Puerto Rico), Latin America (my first post-doc research project was about religious festivals in Ecuador) and the U.S.A. (my habilitation research was conducted in New York City among migrants).
My research focuses on religion as part of the African diaspora. My last monograph (published in Berlin in 2002, a updated and shortened version was published in 2008 by Ashgate) presents the results of my research in New York City where I studied Caribbean religious communities, in particular Haitian vodou, Cuban/Puerto Rican santeria and shango from Trinidad and Tobago. I combined in this book my empirical research among these religious communities with the theoretical debate about hybridity and creolization in Latin America and the Caribbean.
After finishing this research I focused on editing special issues of academic journals about two different topics, one in the field of medical anthropology (for the journal ‘Curare’) and the other in the field of Latin American Studies (for the journal ‘Indiana’). My interest in medical anthropology goes back to my MA thesis (about traditional healing in Mexico) though my focus has switched to religious healing.
The volume for the journal Curare is about cultural approaches to AIDS and HIV patients worldwide. The volume of the journal Indiana focuses on African cultures in Hispano America. In addition to these research publications I wrote a new textbook for anthropology of religion (in German) for Reimer Verlag in Berlin.
My last research project was about the interpretation of spirit possession and trance. In 2010 I conducted fieldwork in Brazil. In addition to participant observations of possession rituals I interviewed people of various religious communities about their experience of being possessed. The outcome of the research is published in my new book “Spirits and Trance in Brazil: An Anthropology of Religious Experiences” (Bloomsbury 2016).
Previously I have organised a panel at the annual conference of the British Association for Study of Religions (at Edinburgh, 2007) and an international conference at Bangor University about new interpretations of spirit possession (in 2008). Selections of papers of both events are published (as special issue of the journal DISKUS and as an edited volume).
List of empirical researches:
- 02/2010 – 06/2010 The concept of incorporation (spirit possession) in Afro-Brazilian religions (partly funded by Santander and Bangor University)
- 05/2003 – 09/2004 Afro-Germans women (part time research, funded by the Ministry of Education, Hessen, Germany)
- 10/2002 – 01/2003 Peru (3 months, co-funded by the German Scientific Association and the German Academic Exchange Office)
- 02/98, 09/98 – 01/99, 09/99 New York City, among Caribbean migrants (7 months, funded by the Ministry of Education, Hessen, Germany and partly by the German Academic Exchange Office, DAAD)
- 08/1995 – 07/1996 Ecuador, Southern Sierra (12 months, funded by the German Scientific Association, DFG)
- 1991 - 1994 various field studies in Puerto Rico (co-funded by the universities of Marburg and Frankfurt)
- 07/1986 – 10/1986 Mexico, among the Purhépecha in Michoacan (3 months, self-funded)
My research about Afro-American religions has been disseminated through articles and public lectures, leading to enhanced public awareness of positive impact of these religions for the devotees. From the beginning of my career, I have been committed to communicating my work beyond the small academic field of anthropologists.
I was, for instance, involved in the German society of ethno-medicine, an organisation of academic and practitioners in public health and organised as member (later vice-president) conferences, public meeting and special issues of the journal (e.g., about AIDS/HIV in its wider cultural context) and published articles about my research among Caribbean immigrants in its journal. This led to interviews in local newspapers and radio, for instance about spiritism and Vodou.
Since moving to the UK in 2004 I spoke frequently at meeting organised by INFORM (Information Network Focus on Religious Movements) in London, for instance about the role of women in Caribbean religions, and contributed to publications of INFORM (e.g., about Vodou). In 2007 I was listed under the key figures of academics in Creole Studies. Recently I was asked to speak about Vodou at a fundraiser for Haiti in Bristol (Cube Cinema) as well as about Duvalier’s return to Haiti on TV.
The significance of my contribution to the understanding of Afro-American religions is recognised nationally and internationally. During my sabbatical in Brazil I have been invited to held a one-week workshop for students of psychiatry and health care in Recife as well as public lectures about Haiti, Vodou and other Caribbean religions in São Paulo, Londrina, Florianopolis and Porto Alegre.
The Faculty celebrated recently the launch of two new books published by Prof Bettina Schmidt.
Here is a link to the recording:
Selection of recent books:
- 2016, co-ed. with Stephen Engler, Handbook of Contemporary Brazilian Religions (Brill Handbooks on Contemporary Religion, vol. 13) DenHague: Brill.
- 2016, edited, The Study of Religious Experience: Approaches and Methodologies. Durham: Equinox.
- 2016, Spirits and Trance in Brazil: Anthropology of Religious Experiences. London: Bloomsbury.
- 2010, co- edited with Lucy Huskinson Spirit Possession and Trance: New Interdisciplinary Perspectives (Continuum Advances in Religious Studies series). London: Continuum
- 2008 Einführung in die Religionsethnologie: Ideen und Konzepte. [=An Introduction to Anthropology of Religion]. (Kulturwissenschaften) Berlin: Reimer Verlag.
- 2008 Caribbean Diaspora in the USA: Diversity of Caribbean Religions in New York City. Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate (a revised and shortened English version of Karibische Diaspora in New York).
Selection of recent book chapters and journal articles:
- 'Die Geisterbesessenheit und die Ethnologie der Religiösen Erfahrung: Eine kritische Auseinandersetzung mit dem Konzept des Heiligen von Rudolf Otto'. In: 100 Jahre „Das Heilige“: Beiträge zu Rudolf Ottos Grundlagenwerk, (Theion, Studien zur Religionskunde), ed. by Wolfgang Gantke and Vlad Serikov. Peter Lang Verlag, 2017, pp. 197-211.
'Varieties of Non-Ordinary Experiences in Brazil – A Critical Review of the Contribution of Studies of ‘Religious Experience’ to the Study of Religion'. International Journal for Latin American Religion, Vol. 1. DOI 10.1007/s41603-017-0006-5
‘Mami Wata in Brazil – the (ongoing) creolization of the water goddesses Oxum and Iemanjá’. In: Anthropology and Cryptozoology: Exploring Encounters with Mysterious Creatures, ed. by Samantha Hurn. London: Routledge, 2016, pp. 157-170.
‘Spirit Possession’. In Handbook of Contemporary Brazilian Religions, ed. by Bettina E. Schmidt and Steven Engler (Brill Handbooks on Contemporary Religion, vol. 13) DenHague: Brill, 2016, pp. 431-447.
‘Provincializing Religious Experience: Methodological Challenges to the Study of Religious Experiences; A Brazilian Case Study’. In: The Study of Religious Experience: Approaches and Methodologies, ed. by Bettina E. Schmidt. Sheffield: Equinox, 2016, pp. 88-101.
‘Contemporary Religions in Brazil’. In: Oxford Handbooks Online, Editor-in-Chief Mark Juergensmeyer. New York: Oxford University Press. Online Publication Date: Jul 2016. DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199935420.013.50.
‘Körperwissen im Candomblé: Ein Einblick in die Geisterbesessenheit Brasiliens’. In: Paragrana: International Zeitschrift für Historische Anthropologie, Vol. 25 (1) (2016), pp. 299-312.
‘Spirit Mediumship in Brazil: The Controversy about Semi-Conscious Mediums’. In: DISKUS: The Journal of the British Association for the Study of Religions, Vol. 17 (2), 2015, pp. 38-53. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18792/diskus.v17i2.70
‘The Discourse about ‘Africa’ in Religious Communities in Brazil: How Africa becomes the Ultimate Source of Authenticity in Afro-Brazilian religions’. In: The Public Face of African New Religious Movements in Diaspora: Imagining the Religious ‘Other’, ed. by Afe Adogame. London: Ashgate, 2014, pp.29-44.
- ‘Spirit Possession in Brazil. The Perception of the (possessed) Body’. In: Anthropos Vol. 109 (1), 2014, pp. 135-147.
- ‘Mediumship in Brazil: The Holy War against Spirits and African Gods’. In: Talking With the Spirits: Ethnographies from Between the Worlds, ed. by Jack Hunter and David Luke. Brisbane: Daily Grail, 2014, pp. 206-227.
- ‘Animal Sacrifice as Symbol of the Paradigmatic Other in the 21st Century: Ebó, the Offerings to African Gods, in the Americas’. In: Sacrifice and Modern Thought, ed. by Johannes Zachhuber and Julia Meszaros. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013, pp. 197-213.
- ‘The Spirit White Feather in São Paulo: The Resilience of Indigenous Spirits in Brazil’. In: Critical Reflections on Indigenous Religions, ed. by James Cox. (Vitality of Indigenous Religions series). (London: Ashgate, 2013), pp. 123-141.
- ‘When the gods gives us the power of ashé’ –Afro-Caribbean Religions as Source for Creative Energy. In: Handbook of New Religions and Cultural Production, ed. by Carole M. Cusack and Alex Norman. (Brill Handbooks on Contemporary Religion series) DenHague: Brill, 2012, pp. 445-461.
- O espiritismo porto-riquenho como fundamento da identidade porto-riquenha. In: Espiritismo e Religiões Afro-Brasileiras: História e Ciências Sociais, ed. by Artur Cesar Isaia and Ivan Aparecido Manoel. São Paulo: UNESP, 2012, pp. 163-175.
- 'Anthropological Reflections on Religion and Violence', in: Blackwell Companion to Religion and Violence, ed. by Andreas Murphy. Oxford: Blackwell, 2011. pp. 66-75.
- ‘Possessed Women in the African Diaspora: Gender Difference in Spirit Possession Rituals’. In: Spirit Possession and Trance: New Interdisciplinary Perspectives (Continuum Advances in Religious Studies series), ed. by Bettina E. Schmidt and Lucy Huskinson. London: Continuum, 2010, pp. 97-116.
- ‘Meeting the Spirits: Espiritismo as Source for Identity, Healing and Creativity’. Fieldwork in Religion Vol. 3.2 (2009), pp. 178–195.
- QAA working group to develop the national benchmark statement for Master level degree programmes in Religious Studies and Theology
- QAA working group to revise the national benchmark statement for undergraduate degree programmes in Religious Studies and Theology
- REF 2014 Sub-Panel Theology and Religious Studies
- AHRC Peer Review College
- Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo, Department of Religious Studies, São Paulo, Brazil
- City University of New York, Brooklyn College, Department of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies, New York, USA
- Universidad Nacional de San Antonio Abad, Departamento de Antropología, Cusco, Peru
- Universidad Complutense, Departamento Historia de América II, Antropología de América, Madrid, Spain
Research degrees examined:
Since 2008 app. 15 research degrees theses examined
- Organization of the annual conferences of the Religious Experience Research Centre, 2014-2017
- Organization of a international conference on the Interpretation of Spirit Possession at Bangor University in 2008,
- Organisation of the annual conference of the British Association for Study of Religions (BASR) at Bangor University in 2009 (as the local conference organiser)
- Organisation of the annual conference of the BASR at Birmingham in 2010 and Winchester 2012 (as the secretary of the BASR) currently member of the conference organisation team to organise the BASR/EASR conference at Liverpool Hope in 2013 (the BASR will host the annual conference of the European Association for Study of Religions)
- Invited opening lecture at the Universidade Cátolica de Brasil, in Brasilia, Brazil in 2016
- Invited lecture at the Ibero-American Institute (IAI), Berlin, Germany in 2016
- Invited speaker at the conference Sabedoria in São Paulo, Brazil in 2015
- Invited lecture at the College of Religious Studies, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand in 2014
- Invited lecture at the conference ‘Spirit Possession: European contributions to comparative studies’, Hungarian Research Academy, Pecs, Hungary in 2012
- Invited lecture at the International Conference on the Comparative Study of Religious Experience in Contemporary Taiwan, Graduate Institute of Religious Studies, National Chengchi University, Taiwan in 2011
- Invited keynote lecture at the seminar ‘Religions afro-américaines et dynamique transnationales’, Paris X – Nanterre in 2008
- Invited series of lectures at FIR - ESTACIO, in Recife, Brazil in 2010
- Several invited lectures in Brazil (at the Universidade Estadual de Londrina, in Londrina, at the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, in Florianopolis, at the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sur, in Porto Alegre, at the Unidersidade de São Paulo, in São Paulo and at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo, in São Paulo) in 2010
- Invited keynote lecture at the workshop “Trans-Kulturation” at the University of Cologne, Germany in 2011
- Invited lecture at the University of Marburg, in 2012 as well as several invited papers at research seminars in UK universities (e.g., Edinburgh, St Andrews, SOAS, Cardiff, Oxford, Durham)
A selection of recent Conference papers
August 2016: ‘Anthropology and the study of religious experience. Spirit possession and wellbeing in Brazil’, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, in Florianopolis, Brazil
September 2014: ‘How to study Spirit Possession? Reflection from the ethnographic field in Brazil’, BASR conference in Milton Keynes
August 2013: ‘The Trouble with Spirit Possession in Brazil’. 17th World Congress of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, Manchester
September 2013: ‘The shifting religious landscape of Brazil: Problems with the national census data’, European Association for Study of Religions, Liverpool Hope
September 2012: ‘Incorporation does not exist’ – the Brazilian rejection of the term ‘possession’ and why it exists nonetheless’. At the Conference ‘Spirit Possession: European contributions to comparative studies’, Pecs, Hungary
May 2011: 'The Discourse about "Africa" in Candomblé communities in Brazil: How Afro-Brazilian religions create African space.' at the INFORM Seminar, London, LSE
June 2011: 'The Discourse about Mediumship, Trance and Spirit Possession in Brazil', at the International Conference on the Comparative Study of Religious Experience in Contemporary Taiwan, Graduate Institute of Religious Studies, National Chengchi University, Taiwan
June 2011: 'The "Re-Africanisation" of the Brazilian Religion Candomblé and the Holy War against the African Orixás (gods) in Brazil', at the CESNUR Conference, Taiwan
July 2011: 'The Discourse of being ‘possessed’ in Brazil: speaking about mediumship, trance and possession in Afro-Brazilian religions'. at the Afterlife Research Centre workshop, University of Bristol
September 2011: '"Incorporation does not exist": Contributions to the Brazilian Discourse of being "possessed".' At the conference of the European Association for Study of Religions, Budapest, Hungary
Former Research Projects
August 2010: 'Spirit Possession and Trance in Afro-American religions: Different States or one Condition?' At the Congress of International Association for History of Religion, Toronto, Canada