PhD course and research workshop: Magic, Spirits and Power

PhD School at the Faculty of Theology and the Centre of African Studies, University of Copenhagen: "Magic, Spirits and Power: Transgressing the Religious / Secular Divide"

Since the early pioneering studies by Evans-Pritchard in the 1930s, the study of witchcraft has been a prominent theme in anthropological and African studies. The classical legacy has been challenged and developed by later generations of scholars such as Peter Geschiere, Harry West, Isaak Niehaus, Adam Ashforth. Others, such as Florence Bernault have discussed witchcraft and the fetish from a historical perspective, looking particularly into the how witchcraft was part of the colonial lexicon. From a different context, Nils Bubandt has argued against perceiving witchcraft as a system of belief that people draw on in order to explain the world. On the contrary, in the context of an Indonesian island, Bubandt argues that witchcraft is more about doubt and confusions than about explanation.

In this Ph.D. course and research workshop, we will address the question of how to approach and understand magic and spirits and their relationship to power. It is widely recognised (in anthropology, religious studies and African studies) that in African societies for instance there is a strong linkage between the political and the spiritual spheres. Spirits are part of the world people inhabit and they have agency. This course addresses both methodological and theoretical questions of how to understand magic and spirits. How do we on the one hand avoid using pejorative and exotisising terms (implying that we are studying something irrational) and on the other hand move beyond a particular culturally informed analysis? The analysis of magic and spirits has for long been closely related to analytical categories of belief and specific religious ideas. In this course, we wish to open up such debates and examine other ways of analysing and understanding spirits. Moreover, we seek to question the underlying oppositional categories of the religious and the secular by indicating that magic and spirits in a broad sense is part of how people perceive and act in the world.

The course will be organized as a one-day course (lunch-to-lunch), with presentations from invited key notes speakers and workshops with paper presentation from Ph.D. students and other participants.

The themes of the course include (but are not limited to):
• witchcraft and the categories of religion and secularity
• witchcraft and rationality
• withcraft, belief and doubt
• witchcraft, insecurity and uncertainty
• witchcraft as practice and discourse
• social science on and as witchcraft

Keynote speakers: Florence Bernault, Professor of African history, Sciences Po, Paris.
  Nils Bubandt, Professor of Anthropology, University of Aarhus.
ECTS:  2.25 ECTS
Registration: Interested PhD students should apply by sending an e-mail to Niels Kastfelt ( AND Karen Lauterbach ( The registration deadline is 20 September 2018. The e-mail should include: Name, institutional affiliation, paper title and a paper abstract of maximum 200 words.
Course preperation: Participants must submit a paper of maximum 6,000 words by 1 November 2018. It is expected that all participants read each other's papers . Moreover, there will be required reading as preparation for the course.
Course capacity:  Maximum 15 participants
Format:  The course will consist of a combination of keynote lectures and workshops with paper presentations.