Universiteit Leiden

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Peter Pels

Professor of Anthropology and Sociology of Africa

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

Short CV

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 is currently finishing a book on material culture, religion and the power of objects, and coordinates research into modern conceptions of the future, museums, and heritage.


Peter Pels is a specialist in the study of religion and politics in situations of colonial contact, the history of anthropology, the anthropology of magic, and social science ethics. He supervises research on religion and cyberculture, the comparative study of images of the future, colonial photography and cinematic representation, water conservation and natural heritage, brand advertising and nationalism, and is an advisor on religion and materiality to the Çatalhöyük Research Project, led by world-leading archaeologist Ian Hodder, since 2007. 

He is currently finishing a book entitled 'The Spirit of Matter. Religion, Modernity and the Power of Objects', and supervises a research project financed by the Dutch National Research Foundation entitled “The Future is Elsewhere: Towards a Comparative History of the Futurities of the Digital ®evolution” (2010-2014).

Inaugural lecture

PhD candidates

  • 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)


Relevant links


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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