UCL Anthropology


Cosmology, Religion, Ontology and Culture (CROC)

Cosmology, Religion, Ontology and Culture


Bringing together researchers who share an interest in cosmologically informed approaches to anthropology, CROC's research programme focuses on such topics as religion and ritual, mythical landscapes, indigenous knowledge, cosmologies of modernity, cosmopolitics, emergent imaginaries, and questions of ontological alterity. Run since 2005 as a fortnightly gathering of staff and students, CROC has established itself as one of the leading international centres for the anthropological study of cosmology, hosting regular seminars, major international events and collaborations, a series of on-going research projects, as well as fostering research-led teaching in the context of UCL Anthropology's degree programmes. For more information, contact Dr Allen Abramson (a.abramson@ucl.ac.uk) and/or Dr Martin Holbraad (m.holbraad@ucl.ac.uk) who run CROC together.

Research Projects

Martin Holbraad is currently on research leave directing Making Selves, Making Revolutions: Comparative Anthropologies of Revolutionary Politics (CARP), a 5-year project (2014-19) funded by a Consolidator Grant of the European Research Council. Based on close ethnographic studies in selected countries of the Middle East and Latin America, the project brings an anthropological study of the relationship between revolutionary and religious practices to bear on existing conceptions of revolution, statecraft, and subjectivity in political theory. Its ambition is to launch the comparative study of revolutionary politics as a major new departure for anthropological research. In addition to its association with CROC, the project contributes also to the SCI research cluster on Images of Democracy and Revolution. It builds on Holbraad's previous research on socialist ethics and religion in Cuba (funded by the British Academy, 2004-06) and his collaboration with the Centre for Advanced Security Theory, Copenhagen University, which explored the interface of anthropology and securitization theory in International Relations.

Jerome Lewis, and social anthropologists working in the cross-disciplinary Resilience Project are focusing their research on the range of ways that people make their cosmologies manifest - from ritual action, music and dance, to taboo and myth, language styles, the gendered division of labour, social organization and spatial arrangements. Through detailed ethnography we seek to illuminate the processes that enable cosmologies to be re-discovered by each new generation, and to be made manifest through activities and artifacts that construct persons in particular and distinctive ways.

Allen Abramson is currently researching the spatial and cosmological coordinates of 'extreme sports', 'outdoor activities' and adventure practice (including space journeying) in neo-liberal contexts. Together with post-doctoral students in the department he is working up two projects. One is on the metaphorical appropriation of 'extreme sports' by third-sector, state and commercial organisations. The other is on the locii of cosmology-production in contemporary UK society, a project that will include studies of amateur astronomers and astrologers, but also contemporary religiosities from e.g. The New Age, Pentecostalism, Quaker and Unitarian denominations.


In June 2015, we held a one-day workshop titled Cosmologies of Destiny: ethnographies of predestination, temporality and freedom, which sought to position destiny at the heart of our anthropological thinking by exploring it ethnographically in a variety of social and religious settings. What does it mean to live a life that has already been written? How does one understand the past and prepare for the future when superior forces mingle with human agency? Distinctly from notions of fortune and coincidence, we discussed,  'destiny' evokes conceptions of human lives and futures that are pre-determined, be it by high political powers, cosmic forces, or transcendental entities. For full details of the workshop programme click here.

In January 2015 we held two meetings in the wake of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, bringing together undergraduate and graduate students, as well as postdoctoral researchers and academic staff from across the department, to discuss these events in the light of relevant anthropological writings. Reflections on these meetings were published in our departmental journal, The Anthropolitan, in an article titled The Freedom of Thoughtfulness: What One Discussion about Charlie Hebdo Looked Like.

In 2013-2014, with the support of UCL's Grand Challenge of Intercultural Interaction (GCII), CROC organised the cross-Faculty initiative on Wonderments of Cosmos Following an initial workshop in June 2013, this initiative involved a sell-out seminar series held in the Engineering Department in February and March 2014, in which scholars from across UCL and beyond came together to debate the role of cosmological horizons in different disciplines - from physics to anthropology, ancient history to contemporary art. Read more about the initiative on the Wonderments of Cosmos blog.

In January 2013 CROC members came together for a 'Reading Day' devoted to Levi-Strauss's notorious Canonical Formula for the structural study of myth. During a day of collective reading, textual (and mythical) interpretation and debate, staff and students sought to decide whether this attempt mathematically to model myth was a cipher of Lévi-Strauss's genius or merely a case of misplaced scientism. Read a reflection on the day's deliberations in Anthropolitan (Issue 8, pp 4-5).

In November 2012 CROC hosted a panel in the  Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) in San Francisco, on the theme Moving Scales and Scales of Movement: Cosmologies of Borders and Crossing. Building on a workshop held at UCL on this theme in June 2012 (see below), the panel was chaired by Alice Elliot, and included papers by Alice Elliot, Tobia Farnetti, Martin Holbraad, and Antonia Walford, with Morten Axel Pedersen as discussant.

In June 2012 CROC research students Alice Elliot, Tobia Farnetti, Alison Macdonald and Antonia Walford organised the two-day workshop Moving Scales and Scales of Movement: Cosmologies of Borders and Crossings. Exploring how questions of movement and scaling creatively intersect at the level of ethnography, analysis and methodology, the workshop brought together researchers from the anthropology departments of UCL, LSE, Goldsmiths, Cambridge, Bergen, Aarhus and Copenhagen. In addition to graduate students from these departments, participants included Allen Abramson, Joanna Cook, Annelin Eriksen, Martin Holbraad, Morten Nielsen, Morten Pedersen, Knut Rio, Michael Scott, Marilyn Strathern and Brit Winthereik.

In May 2011 CROC organised a major international workshop on Contemporary Cosmologies and the Cultural Imagination, with speakers including Marshall Sahlins, Gregory Schrempp, Caroline Humphrey, Don Handelman, Stephan Feuchtwang, Morten Axel Pedersen, Knut Rio, Michael Scott, Soumhya Venkatesan, and Daniel Miller among others. An edited volume based on this event is currently under consideration by Manchester University Press (see below).

Teaching activities

Emerging out of the research activities of CROC, a course in Cosmos, Society and the Political Imagination is co-taught annually at UCL Anthropology since 2012 by Allen Abramson and Martin Holbraad at BSc and MSc level, and involves guest lectures by Professor Bruce Kapferer.

Selected Publications

Abramson, Allen & Martin Holbraad (eds.). 2014. Framing Cosmologies: The Anthropology of Worlds. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Lewis, Jerome. (2013) A Cross-Cultural Perspective on the Significance of Music and Dance on Culture and Society, with Insight from BaYaka Pygmies. In Michael Arbib (ed) Language, Music and the Brain: A mysterious relationship. Strüngmann Forum Reports, vol. 10. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Tassi, Nico and Diana Espirito Santo (eds.). 2013. Making Spirits: Materiality and Transcendence in Contemporary Religions. London: I.B. Tauris Publishers

Abramson, Allen & Martin Holbraad. 2012. Contemporary cosmologies, critical re-imaginings. Religion and Society: Advances in Research, Vol. 3: 35-50

Holbraad, Martin. 2012. Truth in Motion: The Recursive Anthropology of Cuban Divination. Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press

Marc Brightman, Vanessa Elisa Grotti, and Olga Ulturgasheva (Eds) 2012 - Animism in Rainforest and Tundra. Personhood, Animals, Plants and Things in Contemporary Amazonia and Siberia, Berghahn Press, Oxford

Cook, Joanna.  2010.  Meditation in Modern Buddhism: Renunciation and Change in Thai Monastic Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Abramson, Allen. 2009. "The Lie of the Land: Suturing the Jural and the Ritual in Fiji, Western Pacific". In: Freeman, MDA and Napier, D. (eds.) Law and Anthropology. Pp. 269-291. New York: Oxford University Press:

Sneath, David, Martin Holbraad and Morten A. Pedersen. 2009. Technologies of the imagination: An introduction. Special Issue on Technologies of the Imagination, M. Holbraad & M.A. Pedersen (eds.), Ethnos 74(1): 5-30

Lewis, Jerome 2008. Ekila: Blood, Bodies and Egalitarian Societies. In Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 14:2: 297-315

Abramson, Allen. 2006. Worlds of knowledge, cosmologies of skills: ethnography outdoors in a neo-liberal university. LATISS Learning and Teaching in the Social Sciences 3(1): 5-28.

Amiria Henare, Martin Holbraad, Sari Wastell (eds.) 2006 - Thinking Through Things Theorising Artefacts Ethnographically, London: Routledge

Abramson, A and Theodossopoulos, D, (eds.) 2000 Land, Law and Environment: Mythical Land, Legal Boundaries. Pluto Press: London.