Matthew E. Engelke

Matthew E. Engelke

Research Interest

Matthew Engelke is Professor and Chair of the Department of Religion and a member of the Executive Committee of the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society. From 2018-2024, he also served as Director of the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life. 

Trained as an anthropologist, Professor Engelke’s main research interests are on Christianity, secular humanism, media theory, materiality, and semiotics. He has conducted fieldwork in Zimbabwe and in Britain. He is currently working on a book about secularity and death, based on research among humanist funeral celebrants in London.

Before joining the Columbia faculty in 2018, Professor Engelke taught in the Department of Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science for 16 years. He received his BA from the University of Chicago in 1994 and his PhD from the University of Virginia in 2002.

The author or editor of several books, Professor Engelke has also published articles in many journals, including American Ethnologist, Comparative Studies in Society and History, South Atlantic Quarterly, Current Anthropology, and Annual Review of Anthropology. Beyond his ethnographic interests, these have covered a range of topics and authors, from Saint Augustine’s approach to reading and time to Alain Badiou’s work on number. In addition to his scholarly writing, Professor Engelke has written for Public Books, the Immanent Frame, the Guardian and Tate Modern.  

Professor Engelke has a longstanding interest in editing and publishing. He is the editor and publisher of Prickly Paradigm Press, co-founded in 2002 with the late Marshall Sahlins, and also publisher of Ode Books, an imprint and collaboration between Prickly Paradigm and the Seminary Co-Op Bookstores in Chicago. He was editor of the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute from 2010 to 2013, and has also been deputy editor of the Journal of Religion in Africa and a section editor for Anthropology and Religion at Public Books. 

Professor Engelke has served on the boards of trustees of the Royal Anthropological Institute and the London School of Economics, the Scientific Advisory Board of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, and as vice-chair of the LSE’s Ethics Policy Committee. At Columbia, he is on the board of the Society of Fellows/Heyman Center for the Humanities and has also been on the executive committee of the Center for the Study of Social Difference. 



Think like an Anthropologist, (London: Pelican Books/Penguin, 2017) Published in the US as How to Think like an Anthropologist, (Princeton University Press, 2018).

God’s Agents: Biblical Publicity in Contemporary England, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013).

A Problem of Presence: Beyond Scripture in an African Church, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007). Winner of the 2008 Clifford Geertz Prize for the Anthropology of Religion and 2009 Victor Turner Prize for Ethnographic Writing.