Universiteit Leiden

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Peter Pels

Professor of Anthropology and Sociology of Africa

Prof.dr. P.J. Pels
+31 71 527 3458

Peter Pels (1958) is Professor in the Anthropology of Africa at the University of Leiden since 2003. He graduated from the University of Amsterdam in 1993 on a study of interactions between missionaries and Africans in late colonial Tanganyika, and has since continued to work on the construction of differences of culture and power in human relationships. He was the editor of  Social Anthropology between 2002 and 2007. He just published The Spirit of Matter, a book on material culture, religion and the power of objects. Peter coordinates research into modern conceptions of the future, museums, and heritage.

More information about Peter Pels


Peter Pels is a specialist in the study of religion and politics in situations of colonial contact, material culture studies, the history of anthropology, the anthropology of magic, and social science ethics. He supervised PhD research on African religion, global cyberculture, modern constructions of the future, colonial photography and cinematic representation, water conservation and natural heritage. He edited Social Anthropology between 2003 and 2008, and was an advisor on religion and materiality to the Çatalhöyük Research Project, led by archaeologist Ian Hodder between 2007 and 2015. He is currently working on heritage and colonial collections in the Netherlands and abroad,  with a special emphasis on collections of African art.

His book The Spirit of Matter. Modernity, Religion, and the Power of Objects will appear with Berghahn Books in 2023, as will Museum Temporalities. Time, History, and the Future of the (Ethnographic) Museum (Routledge; co-edited and introduced with Wayne Modest). His current research and PhD supervision focuses on the methodology of critical studies of race and heritage, in transatlantic Africa and Europe in particular.

Autobiography of an anthropological career on film


List of  Publications Peter Pels (2022)

Open-access articles: 

PhD candidates

  • Willem van Wijk, “Museums of diversity and their audiences” (co-supervision with Dr. Jasmijn Rana; At Home Otherwise project, NWO funding, 2023-2028).
  • Simay Çetin, “Everyday home-making as heritage: allotment gardens and diversity” (co-supervision with Dr. Jasmijn Rana; At Home Otherwise project, NWO funding, 2023-2028).
  • Esther van de Camp, “Transformations and sustainability in Artisanal Small-scale Gold Mining in Busia (Uganda)” (Gold Matters project, NORFACE and Belmont Forum funded, co-supervision with Dr. Sabine Luning, 2019-2023)
  • Nina Adriaanse, “Het verborgen leven van labels. De werking van classificaties op de onderwijsloopbaan van studenten aan de lerarenopleiding maatschappijleer” (NWO Promotiebeurs leraren, 2018-2023).
  • Fang-I Chu, “Tales of the haunting victims: The commemoration of traumatized memories and religious belief about negative heritage in Taiwan’s offshore islands” (Taiwan Ministry of Education grant, 2018-2022)
  • Zane Kripe, “Emerging futurities in Muslim Southeast Asia: Science fantasy, digital development and the urge for moral technology” (NWO “Cultural Dynamics” grant, 2010-2015)

  • Johannes Ullrich Merz, “Semiotics and Materiality of Christian Films in Benin” (funded by Summer Institute of Linguistics, Benin, 2010-2014)

  • Marlous van den Akker, “Facing Mount Kenya: The Global Debate about Natural “World Heritage” (Research profile “Global Interactions”, University of Leiden; 2010-2014)

  • Andrea Cerda Pereira, “Branding Chile. Advertising the Nation in a Global World” (Chilean Government Grant, 2009-2013)

  • Christoph Rippe, “Repatriating Photographs? Towards a Social Analysis of the Re-presentation of a Collection of South African Missionary Photographs” (NWO/MaGW grant, 2009-2013)

  • Richard Fraser, “Eco-tourism, Sustainable Development, and Survival Skills Amongst the Darkhad of Northwest Mongolia” (NWO Toptalent grant, 2008-2012)

  • Maarten Onneweer, “The Social Life of Springs: Researching a Landscape of Spirits and Development in Kitui District, Kenya” (CNWS research project, 2006-2011)

  • Metje Postma, “Representing the Rashaayda” (CA/OS Research project, 2006-2010)

  • Lotte Pelckmans, “Remembering Slavery: Travelling Hierarchies of Fulbe Societies in Mali and France” (with Prof. Dr. M. de Bruijn; NWO/WOTRO grant, 2005-2009; degree granted 22 Sep. 2011)

  • Dorien Zandbergen, “Silicon Valley New Age” (NWO grant, 2004-2008, degree granted 25 May 2011)

  • Tryfon Bampilis, “Greek Whisky: The Localisation of a Global Commodity” (IKY [Greek National Research Fund] grant, 2004-2008, degree granted 10 February 2010)

  • Martijn Wienia, “Ominous Calm: Autochthony and Sovereignty in Nanumba-Konkomba Peace and Violence, Ghana” (CNWS research project, 2004-2008; degree granted 15 December 2009)

  • Robert Akoko, “Ask and you shall be given. Pentecostalism and economic crisis in Cameroon” (with Prof. P.L. Geschiere; degree granted 26 June 2007)

  • Ibrahim Mouiche, “Autorités traditionelles et processus de démocratisation au Cameroun » (with Prof. P.L. Geschiere; degree granted 2 November 2005)

  • Philip Havik, “Silences and Soundbytes. The gendered dynamics of trade and brokerage in the pre-colonial Guinea Bissau region” (with Prof. P.L. Geschiere; degree granted 10 June 2004)

Professor of Anthropology and Sociology of Africa

  • Faculteit der Sociale Wetenschappen
  • Culturele Antropologie/ Ontw. Sociologie

Work address

Pieter de la Court
Wassenaarseweg 52
2333 AK Leiden
Room number 3A31




  • Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Vienna, Austria member, International Advisory Board, Faculty of Social Sciences
  • Research Centre for Material Culture, National Museum of World Cultures advies en coordinatie onderzoek
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