Dr. Nathaniel Roberts

Dr. Nathaniel Roberts


Fon: +49 (551) 4956 - 234

Fax: +49 (551) 4956 - 170


Nathaniel (“Nate”) Roberts is a socio-cultural anthropologist who received his PhD from Columbia in 2008. He joined Max Planck in January 2011. Prior to this he was an ESRC postdoctoral fellow in anthropology at the London School of Economics, and has taught anthropology to undergraduates at Columbia University, and anthropology, south asia studies and religion to PhD students at the New School for Social Research and the University of Pennsylvania. Currently Nate is organizing a new study of Tamil Pentecostals in Mumbai, in conjunction with Peter van der Veer and Arjun Appadurai’s Comparative Study of Urban Aspirations in Mega-Cities, and will be supervising PhD researchers in Mumbai;also under the rubric of Peter and Arjun’s Urban Aspirations project. Nate’s major research interests are in the anthropology of religion (esp. Christianity) and secularism, the relationship between national elite and subaltern subpopulations, and in the cultural logic of political representation and “democracy.”; He approaches these topics comparatively, and draws on work in the history of political thought and in postcolonial and subalternist historiography. His principal disciplinary framework, however, is anthropological and ethnographic. Nate is currently completing a book manuscript entitled The Power of Conversion and the Foreignness of Belonging. This work focuses primarily on the conversion of Dalit women to Pentecostal Christianity, and is based on on twenty months of ethnographic field research in an urban slum in northern Chennai. Another ongoing project examines the history and intellectual basis of anti-conversion laws within India’s avowedly secular constitutional set up, and traces the evolution of judicial, legislative, and elite public sphere discourse in India on the topic of religious conversion, since roughly 1931.



[2012] “Is conversion a ‘colonization of consciousness’?” in Anthropological Theory, 12(3), pp. 272-294.

[2010] “Language, Violence and the State: Writing Tamil Dalits” in SAMAJ: South Asian Multidisciplinary Academic Journal, January 2010, available on line at: http://samaj.revues.org/index2952.html.

[2010] “Pentacostē Matamāṟṟamum Talit Ilakkukaḷum” in Putiya Kōṭāṅki, January 2010. (in Tamil)

[2008] “Caste, Anthropology of” in International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 2nd edition, ed. William S. Darity, vol. 1, pp. 461–463. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2008.

Book reviews

[2015] Setting caste back on its feet. Review of "Beyond caste: identity and power in South Asia, past and present" by Sumit Guha, Anthropology of this Century 13, May 2015.

[2011] Tamil Oratory and the Dravidian Aesthetic: Democratic Practice in South India by Bernard Bate, in American Ethnologist 38 (2), May 2011.

[2011] The Politics of Heritage from Madras to Chennai by Mary E. Hancock, in American Anthropologist 113 (1), March 2011.

[2009] The South Indian Pentecostal Movement in the Twentieth Century by Michael Bergunder, in Itinerario: International Journal on the History of European Expansion and Global Interaction 33 (1), pp. 119-21, Spring 2009.

[2007] Untouchable Citizens: Dalit Movements and Democratisation in Tamil Nadu by Hugo Gorringe, in Pacific Affairs 80 (3), pp. 538-9, Fall 2007.