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Social Anthropology:


Jacob Copeman

Jacob Copeman
Dr Jacob Copeman
Senior Lecturer
3.17 18 Buccleuch Place Edinburgh UK EH8 9LN
+44 (0)131 6506860
Research Interests
South Asia, Gurus, Blood Donation, Tissue Economies, Social Reform, Media, Technology and society, India, Medical Anthropology, Names and Naming, Secularism

Guidance and Feedback Hours

  • Currently on research leave


PhD, University of Cambridge, 2007; MPhil (by Research), University of Cambridge, 2003; BA (Hons), Lancaster University, 2001.


Background information

I am a social anthropologist working in the areas of medical, linguistic and religious anthropology, and South Asian studies more broadly. Most of my ethnographic research has been conducted in north India, focussing on biological exchange and blood economies, atheism and non-religion, the politics of personal names and naming practices, and varieties of spiritual leadership. My PhD investigated the many facets of blood donation in India, enabling me to link classic discussions of gift theory to newer debates in the anthropology of the body. From my work on blood, I developed an interest not only in contemporary gurus, but in their apparent antithesis, non-religious activists, and this interest has led me to participate in the recent emergence of the growing field of the anthropology of secular non-religion.

My most recent monograph Hematologies: The Political Life of Blood in India (Cornell U. P. 2019), co-authored with Dwaipayan Banerjee, explores the relation between blood’s utopian flows and political clottings as it moves through time and Book coverspace, conjuring new kinds of social collectivities while re-animating older forms -- it seeks, through a focus on substantial-political flows, to develop a new approach to Indian political life. My first monograph -- Veins of Devotion: Blood Donation and Religious Experience in North India – was published in 2009 (Rutgers U. P. / Routledge India). Drawing on extensive ethnographic research, the book combined medical and religious anthropology to index how new forms of devotional worship enable and produce the contexts of mass biological transfers. Some reviews are available here.

I have been fortunate to participate in a number of enriching collaborations in the form of both visiting fellowships and the editing of journal special issues and books. I have held visiting fellowships at Japan’s National Museum of Ethnology (Osaka), Le Centre d'Études de l'Inde et de l'Asie du Sud (Paris) funded by a Caledonian Research Foundation/Royal Society of Edinburgh European Visiting Research Fellowship coveraward, India’s National Law University (New Delhi) and The Open University. My most recent co-edited collection, Fake: Anthropological Keywords (full text available open access), grew out of both my Honours course ‘Fake: The Anthropology of Counterfeit, Imitation and Disguise’ and L’Homme/HAU’s Annual Debate on Anthropological Keywords. My other edited collections have explored global socialities of blood donation and transfusion (Blood Donation, Bioeconomy, Culture, 2009) and other forms of region-specific biological exchange (South Asian Tissue Economies, 2013); modes and varieties of the guru (The Guru in South Asia, 2012, with Aya Ikegame); Strathernian social theory (Social Theory after Strathern, 2014, with Alice Street); and names and naming practices (On Names in South Asia: Iteration, (Im)propriety and Dissimulation, 2015, with Veena Das). I was Review Editor of Contemporary South Asia from 2013-2017; I now serve on its editorial board and the editorial boards of HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory and The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute.


I am currently working on the following projects:

1. I am PI on an ERC Consolidator Grant, 'Religion and Its Others in South Asia and the World' (2019-2024), which examines the forms in which individuals and communities raise, in the open or in more hidden transcripts, questions over the dominant religious norms in South Asia. While this project is ethnographically grounded in South Asia, it also extends beyond this region to examine global implications of critical debates and actions that are taking place there. 

2. ‘Names and (Dis)identity: A New Approach to Indian Secularism’. Funded first by an Independent Social Research Foundation Early Career Fellowship (2013-2014) and subsequently by a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship (2017-2018), this project takes up social and political questions of naming that are often overlooked in studies of inequality or exclusion. What if Indian personal names ceased to automatically categorise their bearers according to their caste and/or religion so that identities are deliberately blurred? For more information, please visit the research blog and the SAMAJ special issue website.

3. ‘Gurus, Anti-gurus, and Media in North India’. Funded by a Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant (2019-2022), this interdisciplinary collaboration with Dr Arkotong Longkumer, which also involves a PhD studentship and Postdoctoral Fellowship, builds on my previous ethnographic studies of the modern Indian spiritual guru and the anti-superstition movement, applying methods from religious and media studies to understand how visual media has become a site of intense interaction between gurus and the anti-superstition movement.

4. ‘Blood Group’. This collaboration with Stephanie Sodero, Morteza Hashemi and others who work on the social lives and vital mobilities of blood is in association with Edinburgh University’s Centre for Medical Anthropology. It runs a series of knowledge exchange and research activities on this and related themes, e.g. as part of the Being Human festival of the humanities it will stage a ‘Bloodscape’ Scavenger Hunt in Edinburgh in November 2018. If you would like to be involved in this or any other Blood Group activity, please get in touch.

My Edinburgh Research Explorer listing can be accessed here.

My Academia profile can be accessed here.



I have taught on the following courses: ‘Social Anthropology 1A: The Life Course’, ‘Keywords in South Asian Public Culture’, ‘Fakes: The Anthropology of Counterfeit, Imitation and Disguise’, ‘Consumption, Exchange, Technology: The Anthropology of Economic Processes’ and various courses in South Asian Studies. 


Current Phd students

John Hagstrom 

Neerja Pathak

Neelabh Gupta

Youssef Al Hahiri 

Annabel Turner Saade 


Supervisees who have recently graduated with PhDs include Resto Cruz (‘Memories of Becoming: Kinship and the ascent to middle-classness in the Central Philippines’) and Michael Heneise (‘The Life and Landscape of Dreams: Personhood, Reversibility and Resistance among the Nagas in Northeast India’).

I also supervise Stephanie Sodero’s postdoctoral project on ‘Circulating Blood: Medical Supply Chains and Infrastructure Disruption’. I previously worked with Heid Jerstad on her ESRC/GCRF postdoctoral project on weather and infrastructure in north India and beyond and Nicole Rigillo on her postdoctoral project on ‘Open Sourced Governance: An Ethnography of Citizen Engagement on Online Platforms in Bangalore’. 





· 2019. Hematologies: The Political Life of Blood in India. Cornell U. P. (with Dwaipayan Banerjee).

· 2009. Veins of Devotion: Blood Donation and Religious Experience in North India. Rutgers U. P. / Routledge India.


Edited books and journal special issues

· 2018. Fake: Anthropological Keywords. Full text available open access. Chicago U.P./HAU Books. (with G. da Col).

· 2015. On Names in South Asia: Iteration, (Im)propriety and Dissimulation. Special issue of South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal (SAMAJ). (with Veena Das).

· 2014. Social Theory after Strathern. Double special issue of Theory, Culture & Society. 31, 2-3. (with Alice Street).

· 2013. South Asian Tissue Economies. Special issue of Contemporary South Asia. (published as a Routledge book in 2014).

· 2012. The Guru in South Asia: New Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Routledge. (with Aya Ikegame).

· 2009. Blood Donation, Bioeconomy, Culture. Special issue of Body & Society 15, 2.


Articles and book chapters

· Forthcoming. ‘Anonymity and Transgression: Caste, Social Reform, and Blood Donation in India’ in The Book of Anonymity, edited by Anon Collective. Earth: punctum books, forthcoming 2020. (with Dwaipayan Banerjee)

· 2020. 'Actual and potential gifts: Critique, shadow gift relations, and the virtual domain of the ungiven'. Anthropological Theory (with Dwaipayan Banerjee).

· 2019. ‘Awakening Hindu Nationalism Through Yoga: Swami Ramdev and the Bharat Swabhiman Movement’. Contemporary South Asia (with Bhuvi Gupta).

· 2018. ‘Contemporary Religiosities’. In Critical Themes in Indian Sociology, edited by Sanjay Srivastava, Janaki Abraham and Yasmeen Arif, 44-61. Delhi: Sage. (with Johannes Quack). (commemorates 50 years of the journal Contributions to Indian Sociology).

· 2018. ‘Exposing Fakes’. In Fake: Anthropological Keywords, edited by J. Copeman and G. da Col. Chicago UP /HAU Books.

· 2018. ‘The Absence of the Divine’. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 8 (1) 87-91. (with J. Hagstrom).

· 2018. ‘Ungiven: Philanthropy as Critique’. Modern Asian Studies 52(1): 1-26 (with Dwaipayan Banerjee).

· 2018. ‘Blood’. In Wiley-Blackwell International Encyclopedia of Social Anthropology, edited by Hilary Callan. Blackwell.

· 2015. ‘Secularism’s Names: Commitment to Confusion and the Pedagogy of the Name’. South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal (SAMAJ) 12: 2-22.

· 2015. Introduction: On Names in South Asia.’ South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal 12: 2-21 (with Veena Das).

· 2015, ‘“Godless people” and Dead Bodies: Materiality and the Morality of Atheist Materialism’. Social Analysis 59, 2: 40-61. (with J. Quack).

· 2015. ‘Religion, Risk and Excess in the Indian Blood Donation Encounter.’ In Johanne Charbonneau, André Smith (eds) Giving Blood: The Institutional Making of Altruism. London: Routledge, 129-150.

· 2014. ‘The Image After Strathern: Art and Persuasive Relationality in India’s Sanguinary Politics’. Theory, Culture & Society 31, 2-3: 185-220. (with A. Street).

· 2014. ‘Social Theory After Strathern: An Introduction’. Theory, Culture & Society 31, 2-3: 7-38. (with A. Street).

· 2013. 'The Art of Bleeding: Memory, Martyrdom, and Portraits in Blood'. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 19, S1, S149-S171. Reprinted in in Blood Will Out (ed. Janet Carsten, Wiley-Blackwell).

· 2013. 'Introduction: South Asian Tissue Economies'. Contemporary South Asia 21, 3, 195-213.

· 2013. ‘Portraits of Substance: Image, Text and Intervention in India’s Sanguinary Politics’. Contemporary South Asia 21, 3, 243-259.

· 2012. 'The Mimetic Guru: Tracing the Real in Sikh-Dera Sacha Sauda Relations'. in J Copeman & A Ikegame (eds), The Guru in South Asia: New Interdisciplinary Perspectives. London: Routledge, 156-180.

· 2012. 'Protest Re-embodied: Shifting Technologies of Moral Suasion in India'. in K Rebay-Salisbury & ML Sorensen (eds), Embodied Knowledge: Historical Perspectives on Belief and Technology. Oxford: Oxbow, 77-87.

· 2012. 'The Multifarious Guru: An Introduction'. in J Copeman & A Ikegame (eds), The Guru in South Asia: New Interdisciplinary Perspectives. London: Routledge, 1-45. (with A. Ikegame).

· 2012. 'Guru Logics'. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 2, 1: 289-336. (with A. Ikegame).

· 2012. 'The Didactic Death: Publicity, Instruction, and Body Donation'. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 2, 2: 59-83. (with D. Reddy).

· 2011. 'The Gift and Its Forms of Life in Contemporary India.' Modern Asian Studies 45, 5, 1051-1094.

· 2011. 'Excessifs dons de sang: Dévotion et ascétisme en Inde'. Terrain 56, 106-119.

· 2009. 'Gathering Points: Blood Donation and the Scenography of “National Integration."' Body & Society, 15, 2, 71-99.

· 2009. 'Introduction: Blood Donation, Bioeconomy, Culture'. Body & Society 15, 2, 1-28.

· 2008. 'Violence, Non-Violence, and Blood Donation in India'. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 14, 2, 278-296.

· 2006. 'Cadaver Donation as Ascetic Practice in India'. Social Analysis 50, 1, 103-126.

· 2006. 'Blood, Blessings and Technology in India' Cambridge Anthropology 25, 3, 39-51.

· 2005. 'Veinglory: Exploring Processes of Blood Transfer Between Persons'. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 11, 3, 465-485.

· 2004. 'Blood Will Have Blood: A Study in Indian Political Ritual'. Social Analysis 48, 3, 126-148.

· 2004. 'The “Hybrid” in Anthropology'. The Eastern Anthropologist 57, 3-4, 285-302.



· 2017— ‘What’s in An Indian Name’. Research blog.

· 2017. ‘Devotion of Attractions’. India Today XLII (42): 60-63.

· 2016 'Tod Hartman, 1978-2016'. Obituaries. Royal Anthropological Institute, 31 August 2016. (available on-line: (with Madeleine Reeves)

· 2014. ‘Surprise, as Usual: Reflections on Five Months of Fieldwork on Personal Names and Renaming in Delhi’ ISRF Bulletin 3, 7-13.

· 2014. ‘La théorie sociale après Strathern: une introduction’ dans le numéro Hors-Série n°14 de la revue Tracés, 235-253. (with A. Street).

· 2012. 'La protestation réincorporée: mutation des techniques de pression morale en Inde'. in J Charbonneau & N Tran (eds), Les enjeux du don de sang dans le monde: Entre altruisme et solidarites, universalisme et gestion des risques. Presses de l’EHESS, 195-217.

· 2011. 'A Look at Blood Donor Motivation in the UK' The Gift of Blood. July-September, 104, 1, 5-7.

· 2009. 'Blood, Blessings and Technology in India' The Gift of Blood. July-September, 102, 1-3.

· 2008. 'Sangue, benedizioni e tecnologia in India'. in F Dei, M Aria & GL Mancini (eds), Il dono del sangue. Per un'antropologia dell'altruismo. Pacini, 113-125.

Topics interested in supervising

I welcome enquiries from students interested in pursuing projects that relate to my broad interests in tissue economies/biological exchange, medical anthropology, technological cultures and radical social reform movements; and in aspects of South Asian society, especially caste and communal politics, 'guru cultures', and the politics of names and naming.

If you are interested in being supervised by Jacob Copeman, please see the links below for more information:

PhD in Social Anthropology; PhD in South Asian Studies