AsPr Matt Tomlinson


Research activity per year

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Personal profile


I am a sociocultural anthropologist who studies the relationship between language, politics, and religious ritual. At the heart of my work is the question of how people organise themselves to communicate with 'extrahuman' figures (including God, ancestors, and spirits) and what social effects such ritual communication has. After completing my PhD in Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania in 2002, I have taught at Bowdoin College, Monash University, the University of Oslo, and the ANU (since 2012).

Research interests

Oceania, Fiji, Samoa, Australia, language, culture, religion, ritual, theology, Christianity, Spiritualism

Researcher's projects

Australian Research Council Discovery Project, #DP170100563

'Social Engagement in Spiritualism'


Co-investigator, A/Prof Andrew Singleton, Deakin University

Project Description:

This is a unique, three-year investigation of the sociological, anthropological, and historical dimensions of Spiritualism in Australia, a small but highly influential religious movement. Ideas about the afterlife that Spiritualism introduced to Australia in the 19th century have shaped many citizens’ beliefs that individual personality survives death in a family-centered spirit realm.

Sociologically, the project aims to discover how Spiritualism articulates with the wider Australian religious context. Anthropologically, it aims to examine ritual forms in which Spiritualists attempt to speak with the dead. Taken together, the researchers plan to innovatively map the production and effect of belief on family, civic participation and ethics.


Australian Research Council Future Fellowship, #FT110100524

'Divine Power in Indigenous Christianity: Translation, Theology, and Pacific Politics'


Project Description:

This project examines the theological basis of political action in Oceania in innovative and distinctive ways. It focuses on missionary activities throughout the region and theological education in New Zealand, Samoa and Fiji. It analyses how terms for divine power have been translated and used in theological arguments in both the past and present. The project deepens our understanding of the political consequences of Indigenous Christian projects in Oceania. It builds and extends collaborative engagements between the ANU, the National University of Samoa, the Pacific Theological College in Suva, and the University of Auckland, and contributes to the goal of Safeguarding Australia by increasing our understanding of our region and the world.


BA (Rutgers), PhD (University of Pennsylvania)

Expertise Areas

  • Linguistic Anthropology
  • Social and Cultural Anthropology


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Network (past 5 years)

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