Jonathan Benthall

Jonathan Benthall

Downingbury Farmhouse, Pembury, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN2 4AD
Tel: +44 (0)1892 822815 or 822941
Email: jonathanbenthall@hotmail.com

Born in 1941 in Kolkata.

1968. MA, English Language and Literature, University of Cambridge.

1974-2000. Director, Royal Anthropological Institute. (Founding Editor, Anthropology Today, 1985-2000). 2015–current: Director Emeritus.

1993. Anthropology in Media Award, American Anthropological Association

2003-current. Honorary Research Associate, Department of Anthropology, UCL (1994–2003: Honorary Research Fellow).

1995-2012. Adviser on projects relating to Islamic charities, sponsored by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Bern.

2001. Patron's Medal, Royal Anthropological Institute.

1997-2003. Chair, International NGO Training and Research Centre (INTRAC), Oxford

2004-2012. Member, Publications Committee, RAI

2008-2010. Member, Advisory Group, Religions and Development Research Programme, School of Public Policy, University of Birmingham.

2009-current. Associate Fellow, Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute, University of Manchester


1993. Disasters, Relief and the Media. London: I.B. Tauris. Reprinted with a new Preface, 2010, Wantage: Sean Kingston Publishing

2002. The Best of 'Anthropology Today' (Editor). London: Routledge.

2003. The Charitable Crescent: Politics of Aid in the Muslim World (with J. Bellion-Jourdan). London: I.B. Tauris. Paperback edition with new preface, 2008.

2007.   'Les ambiguïtés du jihad dans la pratique des ONG musulmanes' in K. Rousselet, F. Mabille and B. Duriez, eds., Croyants et solidaires : l'action internationale dans les ONG confessionnelles, Paris: L'Harmattan.

2007.  'Islamic charities, faith-based organizations and the international aid system', in J. Alterman and K. van Hippel, eds., Islamic Charities, Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies.

2008. 'The Palestinian zakat committees 1993–2007 and their contested interpretations', Occasional Paper 1/2008. Geneva: Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Program for the Study of International Organization(s). Available online: www.isn.ethz.ch/isn/Digital-Library/Publications/Detail/?id=94618&lng=en

2008. Returning to Religion: Why a Secular Age is Haunted by Faith. London: I.B. Tauris.

2014. Gulf Charities and Islamic philanthropy in the ‘Age of Terror’ and beyond. Co-edited with Robert Lacey, Gerlach Press. Includes an Editors’ Introduction and Envoi, and one chapter, ‘The Islamic Charities Project (formerly Montreux Initiative)’.

2016. Islamic Charities and Islamic Humanism in Troubled Times. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

2017. ‘Charity’ in free online Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropologywww.anthroencyclopedia.com/entry/charity

Video interview: conducted by Professor Alan Macfarlane, December 2005, in his 'Anthropological Ancestors' series of interviews, accessible online in Cambridge University DSpace.

Full bibliography for publications since 1995 is also supplied (below)


Jonathan has studied the relationship between contemporary Islam and humanitarian aid since 1993, and has published widely on the topic. More broadly, his interests extend on the one hand to the international aid system (including its relationship with modern media), and on the other to the growth of new quasi-religious movements and their interactions with traditional religions.


He is continuing his studies of Faith Based Organizations with special reference to Islamic charities. He has also been retained by a number of legal teams, including the American Civil Liberties Union. From the study of Islamic humanitarianism he has gone on to consider the potential for an ‘Islamic humanism’, devised by Muslims in the light of the human sciences and consolidated in durable institutions throughout the Muslim world. More theoretically, he has explored how a 'polythetic' definition of religion can fruitfully be applied to a number of ideological movements that are in appearance wholly secular, and is also exploring how analytical concepts of ‘purity and danger’, derived from the work of Mary Douglas, can be applied comparatively to the understanding of many ideological systems, both ‘religious’ and ‘secular’.

Bibliography since 1995

1995. Foreword ‘From Self-Applause through Self-Criticism to Self-Confidence’ to Akbar S. Ahmed and Cris N. Shore (Editors), The Future of Anthropology: Its Relevance to the Contemporary World (London: Athlone Press).

1995. Missionaries and human rights. Anthropology Today 11:1. February.

1996. The religious provenances of anthropologists. Anthropology Today 12:4. August.

1996. Entry on Mass Media in Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology (Macmillan and HRAF) also served as member of the Editorial Advisory Board.

1996. 'Enlarging the context of anthropology: the case of Anthropology Today' [adapted version of 1990 French article] in Popularizing Anthropology, ed. J. MacClancy and C. McDonaugh (London: Routledge).

1997. Repercussions from the Eglise Saint-Bernard [on Undocumented migrants]. Anthropology Today. 13:4. August

1997. The Qur'an's call to alms. Times Higher Education Supplement 3 Jan. Reprinted in ISIM Newsletter.

1997. The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and Islamic Societies, with Special Reference to Jordan. British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 24(2), 157-177.

1999. Two takes on the Abraham story. Anthropology Today. 15:1, February.

1999. Financial Worship: the Quranic Injunction to Almsgiving. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 5:1, March, 27-42.

1999. The critique of Intellectual Property. Anthropology Today. 15:6. December.

1999. 'Our Genius for the Equivocal' / 'Notre génie de l'équivoque. Article in special issue of Diogenes / Diogene (UNESCO journal), no. 188, vol. 47: 4, on anthropology as a science, ed. Georges Guille-Escuret. Published in English and French.

2000. Middle East scenarios. Anthropology Today. 16:1. February.

2000. Civil society's need for de-deconstruction. Anthropology Today. 16:2. April.

2000. 'Loei 1993 - Karnataka 1998' [poem] in Anthropology and Humanism 25.1, 2000.

2000. 'Interpretando el movimiento islamico actual: el caso de la élite educativa de jóvenes británicos. pakistaníes'  in C. Lison Tolosana (ed.), Antropologi­a: horizaontes interpretativos (Granada: Universidad de Granada).

2001. Indigenism and Intellectual Property Rights. Anthropology News, April.

2001. 'Matea te urofa (with great friendship): a salutation to Sir Raymond Firth on his 100th birthday'. Anthropology Today. 17:2. April.

2001. Comment: 'Speculations on Islamic financial alternatives', Anthropology Today 17.3, June, 29.

2001. Guest editorial: `Time to look 'The Gift' in the mouth' [on academic research on charity] Anthropology Today 17:4, August, 1-2.

2001. Obituary, Julian Pitt-Rivers, The Independent, 25 August.

2001. Comment on article by Richard T. Antoun, 'Civil society, tribal process and change in Jordan: an anthropological view', International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 33.4, Nov., 668-70.

2002. The Best of 'Anthropology Today' (Editor). London: Routledge.

2002. 'Organized charity in the Arab-Islamic world: a view from the NGOs'. In Interpreting Islam, ed. H. Donnan (London: Sage Publications).

2002. 'Firstfruits in the Quran'. In Sacrifice in Religious Experience, ed. A. Baumgarten (Leiden: Brill).

2002. Guest editorial: 'Imagined civilizations?' [on Samuel P. Huntington] Anthropology Today, 18.6, December, 1-2.

2003. Chapter on 'Humanitarianism and Islam' in Monitoring Trends in Humanitarian Action: Humanitarian Action After September 11th, ed. J. Macrae and A. Harmer. London: Overseas Development Institute Humanitarian Policy Group. (Also a shorter briefing paper on the same subject.) Available online: www.odi.org.uk/hpg

2003. Commentary in American Anthropologist, June issue, on Mahmood Mamdani's article 'Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: A Political Perspective on Culture and Terrorism', September 2002.

2003. The Charitable Crescent: Politics of Aid in the Muslim World (with J. Bellion-Jourdan). London: I.B. Tauris. Paperback edition with new preface, 2008.

2003. 'When is a call for alms a call to arms?', Times Higher Education Supplement, 5 September, 20-1.

2003. 'The raising of the Red Crescent'. New Humanist, 118.4, November.

2003. 'The greening of Islam?' [Islam and environmentalism]. Anthropology Today, 19.6, December.

2004. Reprint of the ODI briefing paper referred to above, in International Development and Assistance: Where Politics Meets Economy, ed. A. Bolesta (Warsaw: Leon Kotminski Academy of Entrepreneurship and Management)

2004. 'Naturally divine: are 'universal' values a religious legacy?' Daily Star (Beirut), 29 May.

2004. 'Waiting for a Muslim Gandhi? Islam and non-violence', Daily Star (Beirut), 21 August. (Reprinted in Islam and Muslim Societies (New Delhi), 1.1, 201-3).

2004. 'Religious NGOs in the ascendant: the Muslim case', Nouveaux Mondes no. 14 (special issue 'Les ONG au coeur de la mondialisation', Geneva: CRES).

2005. 'Confessional cousins and the rest: the structure of Islamic toleration'. Anthropology Today, 21.1, February.

2005. 'Universal' values in action - with their faith legacies, Islam and Muslim Societies (New Delhi), 1.1, 1-8.

2006. L'humanitarisme islamique', Cultures et Conflits, no. 60.

2006. Introduction, Summary of discussions and Conclusion to Religion, Politics, Conflict and Humanitarian Action : Faith-Based Organisations as Political, Humanitarian or Religious Actors, ed. S. R. Simkhada and D. Warner, Geneva: Graduate School of International Studies.

2006. 'Islamic aid in a north Malian enclave', Anthropology Today, August 2006, 22.4.

2006. 'Arch[aeology]. and anth[ropology]. as religioid movements', Anthropology Today, October 2006, 22.5.

2007. 'Animal liberation and rights', Anthropology Today, April, 23:2.

2007. Poem, 'Abrasion and ecstasy', Anthropology and Humanism, 32:1, 91-2.

2007. Obituary, Brownlee J. Kirkpatrick, Anthropology Today, August, 23:4.

2007. 'Les ambiguïtés du jihad dans la pratique des ONG musulmanes' in edited collection Croyants et solidaires : l'action internationale dans les ONG confessionnelles, ed. K. Rousselet, F. Mabille and B. Duriez, Paris: L'Harmattan, based on conference held in Paris by the Association de Sciences Sociales de Religion, February 2004.

2007. 'Oxford social anthropology since 1970: from schismogenesis to a new testament' in P. Rivière, ed., A History of Oxford Anthropology, New York and Oxford: Berghahn.

2007. 'Islamic charities, faith-based organizations and the international aid system', in J. Alterman and K. van Hippel, eds., Islamic Charities, Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies.

2007. 'The overreaction against Islamic charities', ISIM Bulletin, 20. Leiden: Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World. https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/bitstream/1887/12453/1/Review_20.pdf

2007. 'Islamic charities in southern Mali' in Islam et sociétés au sud du Sahara, 1 (new series). Paris : Les Indes savantes.

2008. 'Have Islamic aid agencies a privileged relationship in majority Muslim areas? The case of post-tsunami reconstruction in Aceh', Journal of Humanitarian Assistance (online), www.jha.ac, posted 26 June 2008.

2008. 'The disaster–media–relief nexus'. Anthropology Today, August, 24:4.

2008. 'The Palestinian zakat committees 1993–2007 and their contested interpretations', Occasional Paper 1/2008. Geneva: Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Program for the Study of International Organization(s). Available online: http://www.isn.ethz.ch/isn/Digital-Library/Publications/Detail/?id=94618&lng=en

Also available online in Arabic translation.

2008. Returning to Religion: Why a Secular Age is Haunted by Faith. London: I.B. Tauris.

2008. Reprint of  The Charitable Crescent: Politics of Aid in the Muslim World (with J. Bellion-Jourdan, 2003), with a new preface,  London: I.B. Tauris.

2008. Entries on 'Relief', 'International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement', 'Oxfam'. 'Médecins Sans Frontières' and 'Islamic Relief', for Dictionary of Transnational History, Palgrave Macmillan.

2009. ‘Beyond belief’, lead review (of five books on religion), Times Literary Supplement, 11 December.

2010. Reprint of Disasters, Relief and the Media (1993), with a new Preface, 2010, Wantage: Sean Kingston Publishing.

2010. ‘Powers of writing’, review of Jack Goody’s Renaissances: The one or the many?, Times Literary Supplement, 14 May.

2010. ‘Distress of nations’, lead review (of four books for and against ‘constructive engagement’ with the Islamic world), Times Literary Supplement, 13 August.

2010. ‘Mainstreaming religion in development: FBOs ride the wave’, ontrac (INTRAC newsletter), 46, September, p.3

2011.  ‘Holy neurons’, review of David Lewis-Williams’s Conceiving God: The Cognitive Origin and Evolution of Religion, Times Literary Supplement, 21 January.

2011. ‘Islamic humanitarianism in adversarial context’, in Forces of Compassion, Humanitarianism Between Ethics and Politics, edited by Erica Bornstein and Peter Redfield. Santa Fe: SAR Press.

2011.  ‘Clash theory’, lead review of books by Olivier Roy and Eliza Griswold, Times Literary Supplement, 1 April.

2011.  ‘Building trust with a research – intervention – research cycle’, AnthroNews no. 3, UCL Department of Anthropology Newsletter.

2011. ‘An unholy tangle: Boim versus the Holy Land Foundation’ UCLA Journal of Islamic and Near Eastern Law, vol. 10, 2010-11.

2011. ‘Moving targets, review of Emmanuel Terray, Combats avec Méduse, Times Literary Supplement, 14 October.

2011. ‘Asset strippers’, review of three books on religion, Times Literary Supplement, 9 December.

2012. ‘Islam and the West’, review of seven books on Islam and Islamophobia, Times Literary Supplement, 18 January.

2012. Two short poems in French, French Literary Review, 17, April, 16-17.

2012. ‘Désastres–médias–aide humanitaire : la stabilité du système’, concluding article in Réfugiés, sinistrés, sans papiers : politique de l’exception, ed. Michael Agier, Paris : Editions Téraèdre, collection of papers from conference ‘Terrains d’Asile’, Paris, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, 19 September 2008.

2012.  ‘Diapraxis rules OK’, guest editorial on mediation, Anthropology Today, 28.1, February, 1-2.

2012. ‘“Cultural proximity” and the conjuncture of Islam with modern humanitarianism’, in Sacred Aid: Faith and Humanitarianism, Oxford University Press, ed. Michael Barnett and Janice Stein, based on two workshops held in Geneva in 2009 and 2010.

2012. ‘Splits at the seams’, review of Tariq Ramadan, The Arab Awakening: Islam and the new Middle East, Times Literary Supplement, 12 October.

2012. ‘A bigger splash’, review of Timothy Radcliffe, Take the Plunge: Living baptism and confirmation, Times Literary Supplement, 2 November.

2012. ‘Charity’, in A Companion to Moral Anthropology, ed. Didier Fassin, Wiley-Blackwell.

2012. ‘Charity plus’, guest editorial on recent publications on humanitarianism, Anthropology Today, 28.6, December, 1-2.

2013. ‘Against chaos’, review of  books on religion by Emile Perreau-Saussine and Roger Trigg, Times Literary Supplement, 31 May.

2013. ‘Faith and seminal reason’, review of Andrew M. Sharp, Orthodox Christians and Islam in the Post-Modern Age, Times Literary Supplement, 5 July.

2013. ‘Foregrounding the Muslim periphery’, guest editorial on Akbar Ahmed’s The Thistle and the Drone, Anthropology Today, 29.4, August.

2014. ‘Abraham’s children’, review of Mona Siddiqui, Christians, Muslims, and Jesus, Times Literary Supplement, 31 January.

2014. ‘Scientology’s winning streak’, guest editorial, Anthropology Today, 30.1, February.

2014. ‘Charity’ and ‘Yusuf Al-Qaradawi’, Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics. Oxford University Press.

2014. Gulf Charities and Islamic philanthropy in the ‘Age of Terror’ and Beyond. Co-edited with Robert Lacey, Berlin: Gerlach Press. Includes an Editors’ Introduction and Envoi, and one chapter, ‘The Islamic Charities Project (formerly Montreux Initiative)’.

2014. ‘Critical realist’, review of David Martin, The Education of David Martin, Times Literary Supplement, 21 February.

2014. ‘Always with us’, review of Pauperland by Jeremy Seabrook, Times Literary Supplement, 4 April.

2014. ‘After Trondheim’, review of two books on Malthus, Times Literary Supplement, 13 June.

2014. ‘Social work, poverty, inequality and social safety nets: voluntary welfare organizations’ in Modern Islamic Thinking and Activism: Dynamics in the West and in the Middle East, ed. E. Toguslu and J. Leman, Leuven: Leuven University Press.

2014. CA Comment on Michael Jindra, ‘The dilemma of equality and diversity’, Current Anthropology, 55.3, June.

2014. ‘Times of violence’, lead review of Michael Cook, Ancient Religions, Modern Politics, and Akeel Bilgrami, Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment, Times Literary Supplement, 12 September.

2014. ‘Poplars in the marsh’, review of David Martin, Religion and Power, and Karen Armstrong, Fields of Blood, Times Literary Supplement, 12 December.

2015. ‘L’action caritative des monarchies du Golfe: entre obligation islamique et financement du radicalisme’, Moyen-Orient, January–March, no. 25.

2015. ‘Building a reform movement: could Muslims emulate nineteenth century Judaism’, e-International Relations online magazine, posted 16 March 2015, www.e-ir.info/2015/03/16/building-a-reform-movement-could-muslims-emulate-nineteenth-century-judaism/

2015. ‘Religion and humanitarianism’, in The Routledge Companion to Humanitarian Action, ed. Roger MacGinty and Jenny H. Peterson, Routledge.

2015 ‘William Fagg the seer’, guest editorial, Anthropology Today, 31.3, June.

2015. ‘Survivors’, review of Timothy Larsen, The Slain God: Anthropologists and the Christian faith, Times Literary Supplement, 7 August.

2015. ‘This life only’, review of Roger Trigg, Religious Diversity: Philosophical and political dimensions, and James R. Lewis and J. A Petersen, Controversial New Religions, Times Literary Supplement, 11 September.

2015. ‘Crossroads’, review of Maurizio Albahari, Crimes of Peace: Mediterranean migration at the world’s deadliest border, and Michel Agier (ed.) with Clara Lecadet, Un monde de camps, Times Literary Supplement, 2 October.

2015. ‘Drops and buckets’, review of Philippe Buc, Holy War, Martyrdom, and Terror: Christianity, violence and the West, and Jonathan Sacks, Not in God’s Name: Confronting religious violence, Times Literary Supplement, 18 & 25 December.

2016. Islamic Charities and Islamic Humanism in Troubled Times. Manchester University Press.

2016Charity, modern period’, in Encyclopedia of Islam, Third Edition, Brill.

2016. ‘Yehudi Menuhin und Deutschland’, in Festschrift for the Centenary of Yehudi Menuhin, Konzerthaus, Berlin.

2016. ‘The word of dog’, review of Donovan O. Schaefer, Religious Affects: Animality, evolution, and power, Times Literary Supplement, 17 June.

2016.  ‘The Order of Malta and humanitarian aid: in memory of John de Salis (1947–2014)’, Activity Report 2016, Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, pp.42–45.

2016.   Interview: ‘Anthropology, anti-racism and schools in the 1970s’, conducted by David Mills. Teaching Anthropology vol. 6, published 13 November.

2016.  ‘Losing our religion’, review of Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, Beyond Religious Freedom: The new global politics of religion, Times Literary Supplement, 14 December.

2017.  ‘Church and state’, review of David L. Gosling, Frontier of Fear: Confronting the Taliban on Pakistan’s border, Times Literary Supplement, 4 March.

2017.  ‘Experto crede: A legal and political conundrum’ in If Truth be Told: The politics of public ethnography, ed. Didier Fassin. Durham: Duke University Press.

2017.  ‘Technological art and Studio International’s eclectic vanguardism’, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, special issue on ‘The experimental generation’, edited by Bronać Ferran and Elizabeth Fisher, 42: 1-2, pp.79–92.

2017.  ‘Blanc ou noir’, review of two books by Didier Fassin on prisons and punishment, Times Literary Supplement, 4 October.

2017. ‘Just the ordinary God’, review of Grace Davie, Religion in Britain: A persistent paradox, Times Literary Supplement, 12 December.

2017. ‘Charity’ in free online Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropologywww.anthroencyclopedia.com/entry/charity

2018. Forthcoming. ‘Humanitarianism as ideology and practice’, in The International Encyclopedia of Anthropology, ed. Hilary Callan, Wiley-Blackwell.

2018.  Forthcoming. ‘Mary Douglas and the diversity of purity frameworks’, Anthropology Today.