Bettina Schmidt

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Prof Bettina E. Schmidt PhHabil; PhD; MA

Professor in Study of Religions and Anthropology of Religion 

Tel: +44 (0) 1570 424 912

I teach study of religions and anthropology of religion on undergraduate and postgraduate level including on the MRes Religious Experience. I also supervise research students and welcome inquiries in areas such as anthropology of religion, non-ordinary (religious/spiritual) experience, vernacular religions, and critical study of religions. 

Further roles at UWTSD are:

  • Director of the Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre in Lampeter 
  • Coordinator of Research in Humanities 

My academic background is in Cultural Anthropology with a special focus on the anthropology of religion. 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”).

In 2004 I moved from Germany to the UK and began teaching study of religions, first at Oxford University, then at Bangor University and now at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

In addition to research and teaching, I have taken on several external roles. I was President of the British Association for Study of Religions (BASR) and member of the Peer Review College of the Arts and Humanities Research Council. I was also Deputy Chair of the sub-panel Theology and Religious Studies of the Research Excellent Framework (REF) 2021.

Currently, I serve on boards of editors for everal book series published for instance by Bloomsbury and Kohlhammer, and also advise the research centre Religion and Transformation in Contemporary Society at the University of Vienna. 

  • British Association for Study of Religions (Secretary 2009-2015, President  2018-2021)
  • Member of the 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 journal REVER, Revista de Estudos da Religião,  São Paulo (since 2010)
  • Member of the editorial board of the Journal for the Academic Study of Religion.
  • Member of the board of editors of the book series “Die Religionen der Menschheit“ published by Kohlhammer Verlag, Stuttgart
  • Member of the board of editors of the book series “Critical Studies in Religion/Religionswissenschaft" published by Vandenhoek & Ruprecht Verlag, Göttingen (now Brill)
  • Member of the board of editors of the book series "Bloomsbury Advances in Religious Studies" 

My teaching focus is on theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of religions as well as various aspects of contemporary religions. On the undergraduate level I teach, for instance, the modules Anthropology of Religion (level 4), Living Ancestors and Talking Trees: Indigenous Religions Today (level 5/6), Exploring Religions in Latin America (level 5/6), Shamans, Visions, and Ghosts: Exploring Spiritual and Religious Experience (level 5/6) and others. 

On the postgraduate level, I teach Theory and Methodology in the Study of Religions, Religious Experience Today, Ritual and Religions, Fieldwork Methods in the Study of Religions and other modules.

I have supervised in the past PhD students about New Age, Vodou, various aspects in cultural anthropology as well as Brazilian Diaspora churches in the UK, religious change and conversion, and religion and reconciliation. Currently, I supervise research students with research projects ranging from a study of sacred space in the US and different aspects of religious and spiritual experience. I also supervise a range of dissertations of students of the MRes Religious Experience.

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),  the U.S.A. (my habilitation research was conducted in New York City among migrants) and Brazil (on spirit possession and trance).

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).

My current research interest is in the area of spirituality and wellbeing. I have conducted online surveys in Brazil and the UK in order to understand how people working in the medical sector and people identifying as religious or spiritual perceive wellbeing and the relationship between the two sectors. In 2018 I began with in depth interviews in Brazil. During the pandemic I collected information about spiritual experiences and Covid19.  

Public engagement

My research about African derived religions in the Americas has been disseminated through articles and public lectures, leading to enhanced public awareness of the 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).

Since moving to the UK in 2004 I spoke frequently at meeting organised by INFORM (Information Network Focus on Religious Movements) in London.  The significance of my contribution to the understanding of African derived religions in the Americas is recognised nationally and internationally. In recognition of my work I was elected Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales in 2022.

Selection of recent books:

  •  2020, co-ed. by Jeff Leonardi, Spirituality and Wellbeing: Interdisciplinary approaches to the study of religious experience and health. Sheffield: Equinox.
  • 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.

Selection of recent book chapters and journal articles:

  • Living with Spirits: Spirituality and Health in São Paulo, Brazil. In: Other Worlds, Other Bodies: Embodied Epistemologies and Ethnographies of Healing, ed. by Emily Pierini, Alberto Groisman and Diana Espírito Santo. Oxford: Berghahn, 2023, pp. 73-91.
  • 'The Entanglement of Spirituality, Wellbeing and ‘Spiritual Economy’ in Brazil: The Shift from ‘Living well together’ to ‘Leading a good life’'. In: New Spiritualities and the Culture of Well-being (Religion, Spirituality and Health: A Social Scientific Approach, Vol. 6), ed. by Geraldine Mossiere. Frankfurt/New York: Springer, 2022, pp. 117-133.
  • The silence around non-ordinary experiences during the pandemic, with Kate Stockley. Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review, Vol. 13 (1) (2022). DOI  10.5840/asrr20226889
  • ‘Incorporation does not exist’: The Brazilian rejection of the term ‘possession’ and why it exists nonetheless. In: Spirit Possession: Multidisciplinary Approaches to a Worldwide Phenomenon, ed. by Éva Pócs and András Zempléni. Budapest, Vienna, New York: Central European University Press, 2022, pp. 75-92.
  • Alister Hardy: a naturalist of the spiritual realm, together with Alexander Moreira-Almeida and Marta Helena de Freitas.  Religions Vol. 12 (2021), DOI: 10.3390/rel12090713.
  • Spiritual Healing in Latin America. In: Handbook of Religion, Medicine and Health, Editors: Dorothea Lüddeckens, Pamela Klassen, Justin Stein and Philipp Hetmanczyk. London: Routledge, 2021, pp. 113-125. DOI: 10.4324/9781315207964-10
  • 'The Experience of Seeing: Spirit Possession as Performance'. In: Religion and Sight, ed. by Louise Child and Aaron Rosen (Religion and the Senses series).  Sheffield: Equinox, 2000, pp. 122-140.
  • 'Narratives of Spirituality and Wellbeing: Cultural Differences and Similarities between Brazil and the UK'. In: Spirituality and Wellbeing: Interdisciplinary approaches to the study of religious experience and health, ed. by Bettina Schmidt and Jeff Leonardi. Sheffield: Equinox, 2000, pp. 137-157.
  • 'Sabedoria e o significado da vida: uma crítica antropológica', in: Sapientia:uma arqueologia de saberes esquecidos, ed. by Christoph Wulf and Norval Baitello Junior. São Paulo: Edições SESC, 2018, pp. 61-83.
  • '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.
  • ‘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.
  • ‘Körperwissen im Candomblé: Ein Einblick in die Geisterbesessenheit Brasiliens’. In: Paragrana: International Zeitschrift für Historische Anthropologie, Vol. 25 (1) (2016), pp. 299-312.

Selection of other publications:

  • ‘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:
  • ‘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.
  • ‘Meeting the Spirits: Espiritismo as Source for Identity, Healing and Creativity’. Fieldwork in Religion Vol. 3.2 (2009), pp. 178–195.
  • Caribbean Diaspora in the USA: Diversity of Caribbean Religions in New York City. Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate, 2008.

Panel member

  • 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

Peer review

  • REF2021 Sub-Panel Theology and Religious Studies, Deputy chair of Sub-panel 31 (TRS)
  • REF 2014 Sub-Panel Theology and Religious Studies
  • AHRC Peer Review College

Visiting Professor

  • 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. 23 research degrees theses examined for universities in the UK, Germany, Austria and Australia. 

Conference organisation

  • Organisation of the 50th anniversary conference of the Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre in Lampeter, in 2019
  • Organization of the annual conferences of the Religious Experience Research Centre, 2014-2017
  • Organization of an 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)

Invited lectures

  • Invited lecture at the University of Bern, Switzerland in 2018
  • Keynote lecture at the conference “Contemporary Religion in Historical Perspective: Publics and Performances”, Open University in 2018
  • Keynote Lecture at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo to celebrate 40th anniversary of study of religions at the university in 2018
  • Invited lecture at the 2017 conference of the German Association for Study of Religions in Marburg
  • Keynote lecture at the Universidade Cátolica de Brasil, in Brasilia, to open the new academic year, 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
  • 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 and 2018
  • invited papers at research seminars in the UK and Germany (e.g., Edinburgh, St Andrews, SOAS, Cardiff, Oxford, Durham)

A selection of recent invited lectures and conference papers

February 2018: 'The contentious field of the study of religious experience: The challenging influence of Rudolf Otto, Andrew Lang and other founding fathers', Open University.

September 2017: 'Anthropology of Religious Experience: a deictic approach to the study of mediumship', Cologne.

August 2016: ‘Anthropology and the study of religious experience. Spirit possession and wellbeing in Brazil’, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, in Florianopolis, Brazil.

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.