Professor James Cox (PhD)
Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies
I have particular interests in the study of Indigenous Religions, with emphases on Africa, the Arctic and Australia and in methodologies in the academic study of religions. My interest in approaches to the study of religions developed out of my first degree in philosophical phenomenology, but subsequently, following my PhD in the University of Aberdeen in 1977, I have applied theory to practice in field studies conducted in Zimbabwe, Alaska and Australia.
I became interested in Indigenous Religions while a student in Aberdeen, where I studied under Professor Andrew Walls. In 1981, I was appointed to a lectureship in Alaska Pacific University, which led to the publication of my first book dealing with Christian attitudes towards the Indigenous peoples of Alaska. After being appointed as Lecturer the University of Zimbabwe in 1989, I conducted numerous field trips to rural areas in close cooperation with colleagues from the Department of Religious Studies, Classics and Philosophy, and, in some cases, by invitation of my students to their home areas. From 1993, I directed the African Christianity Project in the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World (now the Centre for the Study of World Christianity) forging links with universities and research institutes in western and southern Africa. In 1999, I was appointed Reader in Religious Studies in the University of Edinburgh and was named to a Personal Chair in 2007. After my retirement from the University of Edinburgh in 2011, I was awarded the title of Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies by the University Senatus.
Responsibilities & affiliations
Adjunct Professor in the Religion and Society Research Cluster, School of Social Sciences, Western Sydney University
De Carle Distinguished Lecturer, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand (2011 – 2012)
Past President, British Association for the Study of Religions
Founding Editor, Bloomsbury's Advances in Religious Studies Series
Past General Secretary, African Association for the Study of Religions
Past Deputy General Secretary, European Association for the Study of Religions
Honorary Life Member, European Association for the Study of Religions
Honorary Life Member, British Association for the Study of Religions
Member, Editorial Board of the Journal, Indigenous Religious Traditions (Equinox)
Phenomenology of Religion
Theories and Application of Research Methods among Indigenous Communities
Current research interestsI have just published a book entitled A Phenomenology of Indigenous Religions: Theory and Practice (London and New York, Bloomsbury, 2022), which contains fourteen previously published articles organised thematically and set between a new Introduction and Conclusion. My recent articles in journals and books focus on issues surrounding the ‘ownership of knowledge’ and ‘Indigenous agency’, and are based largely on my research in Central Australia over the past decade. Currently, I am working on a special edition of the journal Indigenous Religious Traditions, which will discuss academic freedom and Indigenous ownership of knowledge from different perspectives and in a variety of contexts.
Past research interestsI have published widely on the phenomenology of religion and applied the principles obtained within phenomenological perspectives to my field research in Alaska, Zimbabwe and Australia. Publications that reflect this interest include: A Guide to the Phenomenology of Religion (Continuum, 2006); From Primitive to Indigenous: The Academic Study of Indigenous Religions (Ashgate, 2007); The Invention of God among Indigenous Societies (Acumen/Routledge, 2014); Restoring the Chain of Memory: T.G.H. Strehlow and the Repatriation of Australian Indigenous Knowledge (Equinox, 2018). In 2013, I conducted research with Professor Adam Possamai of Western Sydney University, which resulted in our edited volume, Religion and Non-Religion among Australian Aboriginal Peoples (Routledge, 2016).
I have worked closely with the Friends of the Strehlow Research Centre in Alice Springs, Australia, which is involved currently in a project on 'The Repatriation of Knowledge', with direct implications for the relationship between researchers and the communities on which they conduct research. Currently, I am exploring further work in Central Australia that will cooperate with scholars who are investigating the history of relations between German Lutheran missionaries stationed at the Hermannsburg mission in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and Indigenous groups, with a view to shedding light on contemporary issues confronting local communities in rural regions.
Affiliated research centres
2022. A Phenomenology of Indigenous Religions: Theory and Practice. London, New York and Sydney: Bloomsbury Academic.
2018. Restoring the Chain of Memory. T.G.H. Strehlow and the Repatriation of Australian Indigenous Knowledge. Sheffield and Bristol: Equinox.
2014. The Invention of God in Indigenous Societies. London and New York: Routledge (Originally, Durham: Acumen Publications).
2010. An Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religion. London and New York: T and T Clark (Continuum).
2007. From Primitive to Indigenous. The Academic Study of Indigenous Religions. Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate (Vitality of Indigenous Religions Series).
2006. A Guide to the Phenomenology of Religion: Key Figures, Formative Influences and Subsequent Debates. London and New York: Continuum.
2000, 3rd printing; 1996, 2nd revised edition; 1992. Expressing the Sacred. Harare: University of Zimbabwe Publications.
1998. Rational Ancestors. Scientific Rationality and African Indigenous Religions. Cardiff: Cardiff Academic Press (Religions in Africa Series of African Association for the Study of Religions).
1993. Changing Beliefs and an Enduring Faith. Gweru: Mambo Press.
1991. The Impact of Christian Missions on Indigenous Cultures. The ‘Real People’ and the Unreal Gospel. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press.
2016. Religion and Non-Religion Among Australian Aboriginal Peoples. (James L. Cox and Adam Possamai, eds). London and New York: Routledge.
2014. New Trends and Recurring Issues in the Study of Religion. (Abraham Kovacs and James L. Cox, eds). Paris and Budapest: L’Harmattan.
2013. Critical Reflections on Indigenous Religions. Aldershot: Ashgate.
2003. Uniquely African? African Christian Identity from Cultural and Historical Perspectives. (James L Cox and Gerrie ter Haar, eds). Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press.
1998. Rites of Passage in Contemporary Africa (James L Cox, ed.). Cardiff: Cardiff Academic Press.
1996. The Role of Christianity in Peace, Development and Reconstruction: Southern Perspectives (Isabel Phiri, Kenneth Ross, and James L Cox, ed.). Nairobi: All Africa Conference of Churches.
1996. The Study of Religions in Africa: Past, Present and Prospects (Jan Platvoet, James Cox, and Jacob Olupona, eds). Cambridge: Roots and Branches.
1993. ‘Rewriting’ the Bible: The Real Issues (Isabel Mukonyora, James L Cox, and F J Verstraelen, eds). Gweru: Mambo Press.
Articles in Books and Journals
2021. ‘Indigenous Religions of Oceania: Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific Islands’. In G. N. Devy and Geoffrey V. Davis (eds). Environment and Belief Systems (Key Concepts in Indigenous Studies, Vol. 1), pp. 91-114. London and New York: Routledge.
2021. ‘What Makes an Experience “Religious”? The Necessity of Defining Religion’, Journal for the Study of Religious Experience 7 (3): 73-90.
2019. ‘Religion as the Transmission of an Authoritative Tradition: The Significance of Timothy Fitzgerald’s Critique of Religious Studies for a Socially Embedded Definition of Religion’, Implicit Religion: Journal for the Critical Study of Religion 22 (3-4); 331-348.
2017. ‘Kinship and Location: In Defence of a Narrow Definition of Indigenous Religions’, in C. Hartney and D.J. Tower (eds.). Religious Categories and the Construction of the Indigenous. Leiden: Brill, 38-57.
2016. ‘The Study of Religion and Non-Religion in the Emerging Field of “Non-religion Studies”: Its Significance for Interpreting Australian Aboriginal Religions’, in J.L. Cox and A. Possamai (eds). Religion and Non-Religion among Australian Aboriginal Peoples. London: Routledge, 25-43.
2016. with Adam Possamai. ‘Introduction: The Australian Census, Religious Diversity and the Religious “Nones” among Indigenous Australians’, in J.L. Cox and A. Possamai (eds). Religion and Non-Religion among Australian Aboriginal Peoples. London: Routledge, 3-23.
2016. with Adam Possamai. ‘Religion, Cultural Hybridity and Chains of Memory’, J.L. Cox and A. Possamai (eds). Religion and Non-Religion among Australian Aboriginal Peoples. London: Routledge, 179-203.
2016. ‘Foreword: Before the “After” in “After World Religions” – Wilfred Cantwell Smith on the Meaning and End of Religion’, in C.R. Cotter and D.G. Robertson (eds). After World Religions. Reconstructing Religious Studies. London and New York: Routledge, xii-xvii.
2015. ‘Indigenous Religions’, in R.A. Segal and K. von Stuckrad (eds). Vocabulary for the Study of Religion, vol 2, F-O. Leiden: Brill, 240-44.
2015. ‘Insider/Outsider’, in R.A. Segal and K. von Stuckrad (eds). Vocabulary for the Study of Religion, vol 2, F-O. Leiden: Brill, 255-59.
2014. ‘Phenomenological Perspectives on the Social Responsibility of the Scholar of Religion’, in A. Kovacs and J.L. Cox (eds). New Trends and Recurring Issues in the Study of Religion. Paris: L’Harmattan, 133-51.
2014. ‘Can Christianity Take New Forms? Christianity in New Cultural Contexts’, in P. Hedges (ed.). Controversies in Contemporary Religion. Education, Law, Politics and Spirituality. Volume 3: Specific Issues and Case Studies. Santa Barbara: Praeger, 195-222.
2014. with Adam Possamai. ‘Religion, “Non-Religion” and Indigenous Peoples on the 2011 Australian National Census’. DISKUS (The Open-Access Journal of the British Association for the Study of Religions) vol 16 (4) (www.basr.ac.uk)
2014. ‘Religious Memory as a Conveyor of Authoritative Tradition’, Journal of the Irish Society for the Academic Study of Religions’, 2 (1) 5-23.
2013. ‘The Transmission of an Authoritative Tradition: That without which Religion is Not Religion’, in A. Adogame, M. Echtler and O. Freiberger (eds). Alternative Voices: A Plurality Approach for Religious Studies. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 304-19.
2013. ‘Reflecting Critically on Indigenous Religions’, in James L. Cox (ed.). Critical Reflections on Indigenous Religions. Aldershot: Ashgate, 3-18.
2012. ‘Methodological Views on African Religions’, in Elias Kifon Bongmba (ed.). The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to African Religions. Chichester, England: John Wiley and Sons Ltd, 25-40.
2010. ‘The Invention of the Christian God in Africa: Geoffrey Parrinder and the, 304-19. Study of God in African Indigenous Religions’, in Charles Guittard (ed.). Le Monothéisme. Diversité, Exclusivisme ou Dialogue? Paris: Societé Ernest Renan, 315-28.
2010. ‘La Persistente Influencia de las Religiones Indigenas en los Acontecimientos Sociopoliticos en Zimbabue’ in Daniel Gutiérrez Martinez (ed.). Religiosidades y Creencias Contemporáneas. Diversidades de lo Simbólico en el Mundo Actual. Zinacantepec, Mexico: El Colegio Mexiquense, A.C., 361-89. (Original article translated from English by Daniel Gutiérrez Martinez.)
2009. ‘The Globalization of Localized African Religions: The Case of Kwame Bediako’, in Stephen R. Goodwin (ed.), World Christianity in Local Context. Vol 1. London and New York: Continuum, 56-65.
2009. ‘Towards a Socio-cultural, Non-theological Definition of Religion’, in Darlene L Bird and Simon G Smith (eds). Theology and Religious Studies in Higher Education: Global Perspectives. London and New York: Continuum, 99-116.
2008. ‘Community Mastery of the Spirits as an African Form of Shamanism’, DISKUS: The Journal of the British Association for the Study of Religions, volume 9 (www.basr.ac.uk).
2008. ‘Religious Studies Sui Generis: The Debate between Theological and Scientific Approaches to the Study of Religion’, in Maya Warrier and Simon Oliver (eds). Theology and Religious Studies: Exploring disciplinary Boundaries. London and New York: T and T Clark, 45-57.
2007. ‘Secularizing the Land: The Impact of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act on Indigenous Understandings of Land’, in Timothy Fitzgerald (ed.) Religion and the Secular: Historical and Colonial Formations. London: Equinox, 71-92.
2007. with Steven Sutcliffe. ‘A Case of Decontextualization: A Reply to the Department of Religious Studies in the University of Stirling’, Religion, 37: 338-41.
2006. with Steven Sutcliffe. ‘Religious Studies in Scotland: A Persistent Tension with Divinity’, Religion, 36: 1-28.
2005. ‘The Land Crisis in Zimbabwe: A Case of Religious Intolerance?’ Fieldwork in Religion 1 (1), 35-48.
2004. ‘From Africa to Africa: The Significance of Approaches to the Study of Religions at Aberdeen and Edinburgh Universities from 1970 to 1998’, in Frieder Ludwig and Afe Adogame (eds). European Traditions for the Study of Religion in Africa. Harrassowitz Verlag, 303-14.
2004. ‘Separating Religion from the “Sacred”: Methodological Agnosticism and the Future of Religious Studies’, in Steven J. Sutcliffe (ed.). Religion: Empirical Studies. Aldershot: Ashgate, 259-64.
2003. ‘Contemporary Shamanism in Global contexts: “Religious” Appeals to an Archaic Tradition? Studies in World Christianity. The Edinburgh Review of Theology and Religion 9 (1), 69-87.
2003. ‘Preface. Setting the Context: The African Christianity Project and the Emergence of a Self-Reflexive Institutional Identity’, in James L Cox and Gerrie ter Haar (eds). Uniquely African? African Christian Identity from Cultural and Historical Perspectives, 1-9.
2003. ‘African Identities as the Projection of Western Alterity’ in James L Cox and Gerrie ter Haar (eds) Uniquely African? African Christian Identity from Cultural and Historical Perspectives. Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press, 25-37.
2001. ‘Missionaries, the Phenomenology of Religion and “Re-presenting” Nineteenth Century African Religion: A Case Study of Peter McKenzie’s Hail Orisha!’ Journal of Religion in Africa 23 (3), 336-53.
2000. ‘Spirit Mediums in Zimbabwe: Religious Experience in and on behalf of the Community’. Studies in World Christianity. The Edinburgh Review of Theology and Religious Studies 6 (2), 190-207.
2000. ‘Characteristics of African Indigenous Religions in Contemporary Zimbabwe’, in G. Harvey (ed.). Indigenous Religions: A Companion. London and New York: Cassell, 230-42.
1999. ‘Intuiting Religion: A Case for Preliminary Definitions’ in Jan G Platvoet and Arie L Molendijk (eds). The Pragmatics of Defining Religion: Contexts, Concepts and Contests, Leiden: Brill, 267-84.
1998. ‘Religious Typologies and the Postmodern Critique’, Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, vol. 10, 244-62.
1998. ‘Ritual, Rites of Passage and the Interaction between Christian and Traditional Religions’, in James L Cox (ed.) Rites of Passage in Contemporary Africa. Cardiff: Cardiff Academic Press, vii-xxv.
1996. ‘Methodological Considerations Relevant to the Truth of African Traditional Religions’, in Jan Platvoet, James Cox, and Jacob Olupona (eds). The Study of Religions in Africa: Past, Present and Prospects. Cambridge: Roots and Branches, 89-107.
1996. ‘The Classification “Primal Religions” as a Non-empirical, Christian Theological Construct’, Studies in World Christianity: The Edinburgh Review of Theology and Religion 2 (1), 55-76.
1996. ‘Review Article: Achiel Peelman’s Christ is a Native American and Mercy Oduyoye’s Daughters of Anowa’, Studies in World Christianity: The Edinburgh Review of Theology and Religion 2 (2), 223-29.
1996. ‘Review Article: Religion in Africa edited by Blakely, van Beek and Thomson’, International Review of Mission 85 (335), 559-62.
1996. ‘Significant Change and Religious Certainties’, Zimbabwean Review 2 (1), 8-9.
1995. ‘Ancestors, the Sacred and God: Reflections on the Meaning of the Sacred in Zimbabwean Death Rituals’, Religion 25 (4), 339-55.
1995. ‘Review Article: John Cumpstey, Religion as Belonging: A General Theory of Religion’, Journal for the Study of Religion 8 (2), 117-19.
1994. ‘Religious Studies by the Religious: A Discussion of the Relationship between Theology and the Science of Religion’, Journal for the Study of Religion 7 (2), 3-31.
1993. ‘Not a New Bible but a New Hermeneutics: An Approach from within the Science of Religion,’ in I. Mukonyora, J L Cox, and F J Verstraelen (eds). Re-writing the Bible: The Real Issues. Gweru: Mambo Press, 103-23.
1989. ‘Karma and Redemption: A Religious Approach to Family Violence’, Journal of Religion and Health, 28 (1), 16-25.
1984. ‘The Harvest Field Controversy: The Roots of Mission and Christian Unity at Edinburgh 1910’, Missiology, 12 (2), 147-54.
1982. ‘A.G. Hogg and the Theology of Non-Christian Faith’, Bulletin of the Scottish Institute of Missionary Studies, n.s. (1), 18-24.
1981. ‘Jerusalem 1928: Its Message for Today’, Missiology, 9 (2), 139-53.
1981. ‘Health and Salvation as the Ethical Ideal’, Journal of Religion and Health, 20 (4), 307-16.
1980. ‘The Influence of A.G. Hogg over D.G. Moses: A Missionary Message for India’, Religion and Society, 27 (4), 66-79.
1979. ‘Faith and Faiths: The Significance of A.G. Hogg’s Missionary Thought for a Theology of Dialogue’, Scottish Journal of Theology, 32, 241-56.