Nils Ole Bubandt


Nils Ole Bubandt
See relations at Aarhus University



Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet  The Empty Seashell: Witchcraft and Doubt on an Indonesian Island      Democracy, Corruption and the Politics of Spirits in Contemporary Indonesia      Ethnos      Experiments in Holism - Theory and Practice in Contemporary Anthropology      Varieties of Secularism in Asia: Anthropological Explorations of Religion, Politics and the Spiritual      Imagining Nature: Practices of Cosmology and Identity


Just published:


Demokrasi, Korupsi dan Makhluk Halus Dalam Politik Indonesia Kontemporer (Yayasan Obor, 2017)

  • An Indonesian language translation of "Democracy, Corruption and the Politics of Spirits in Contemporary Indonesia" (Routledge, 2014). The book traces the contested importance of the spirit world for the understanding and practice of democracy, corruption, Islam, and politics in Indonesia after the fall of the authoritarian regime of Suharto in 1998. 

The Empty Seashell. Witchcraft and Aporia on an Indonesian Island (Cornell University Press) 

  • A book about witchcraft as doubt and modernity as hope. Based on over three years of fieldwork in Halmahera - the largest of the renowned Indonesian 'Spice Islands' – the book is a critique of conventional notions of witchcraft as explanation, function, and belief. For people on Halmahera the suanggi (witches) are at once real and impossible, and skepticism rather than faith characterizes their relationship to witchcraft. Based on an analysis inspired by Jacques Derrida’s concept of aporia or paradox the book traces the over one hundred-year engagement of people on Halmahera with the modern world in a desperate but so far unsuccessful attempt to liberate themselves from the impossible reality of witchcraft.  The book received Honorable Mention of the Clifford Geertz Prize in the Anthropology of Religion (2015)


When I am not teaching, I am:

  • Editor-in-Chief (with Mark Graham) of Ethnos, an international, peer-reviewed journal of anthropology.  Ethnos is included in the Social Citation Index and has recently been ranked No.44 in the Thompson Citation Report for anthropology as one of the highest-ranking journals in Europe.  For more information see here.
  • Local researcher-in-charge for the project AURA (Aarhus University Research on the Anthropocene) headed by Niels Bohr Professor Anna Tsing.  The project will establish AURA, Aarhus University Research on the Anthropocene, and establish an international research platform for the trans-disciplnary study of how humans and other species co-create un-anticipated landscapes together in the anthropocene. The project is funded until 2018 by the Danish Research Foundation.  See more here.
  • Participant and member of the management committee of the EU COST project “Comparative Analysis of Conspiracy Theories (COMPACT)”.  See more here:


Recent and forthcoming publications that I am quite happy with include: 

(2017) Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet (University of Minnesota Press) (co-edited with med Anna Tsing, Heather Swanson and Elaine Gan)

  • An eksperimental and transdisciplinary exploration of cursiosity towards more-than-human worlds as the basis for a deeper understanding of what it means to be human and for the possibility of co-species survival in the Anthropocene.

(2016) "From Head-hunter to Organ-thief: Verisimilitude, Doubt, and Plausible Worlds in Indonesia and Beyond" in: Oceania (electronic pre-print)

  • The article follows the historical change of mythical head-hunters in Indonesia into organ-theives, arguing that this transformation entails a change in the verisimilitude of these figures that, in turn, requires an analytical re-orientation of rumour away from a representational to a "more-than-representational" approach.

(2015) ‘The Dark Side of Empathy: Mimesis, Deception, and the Magic of Alterity’ Comparative Studies in Society and History. (with Rane Willerslev)

  • A comparative study of hunting in Siberia and violence in Indonesia that focuses on what we term 'strategic empathy'. Strategic empathy refers to the acts of the imagination that one performs when placing oneself in the shoes of another, not to help or understand this other but to harm, deceive or kill the other. Arguing that strategic empathy has been unduly ignored in empathy research so far, the article suggests that a focus on strategic empathy may reveal new insight into human sociality, its evolution as well as its modern conditions of possibility.

(2015) 'Trust in an Age of Inauthenticity: Power and Indonesian Modernity' in Trust and Hope. Dialogues between Anthropologists and Philosophers (Berghahn Press)

  • Based on two examples – theme parks and forgeries – this piece explores how trust works and fails in Indonesia. Trust in Indonesia exists, so I suggest, through a widespread cultivation of inauthenticity rather than through a precarious trust in the authenticity of power. The ethnography of trust establishes in that way a counter-example to conventional narratives about trust in contemporary modernity. The chapter argues that trust, far from being a universal phenomenon, arises out specific ontological contexts and is reproduced within specific epistemologies of power and politics.

(2011) Experiments in Holism. Theory and Practice in Contemporary Anthropology. Ed. Ton Otto and Nils Bubandt. Oxford: Wiley/Blackwell

  • A theoretical book with contributions from 12 eminent anthropologists who offer their analyses of the state-of-the-art of contemporary anthropology through a reflection on the current utility of holism in anthropology.  See more here.


I am currently tinkering with:

1. A book on corals, conservation and the Second Coming of Christ

2. A special issue of "Journal of Ethnobiology" on weedy landscapes and brown coal anthropology (co-edited with Anna Tsing)

3. An article about stones, geology and spirits in the Anthropocæne.

4. A special issue of the journal "Contemporary Islam" on Islam and (in)visibility (co-edited with Mikkel Rytter and Christian Suhr)

5. A journal article about Portuguese wildmen in the Eastern Indonesian jungle

6. A symposium on the anthropology of the Anthropocæene

7. An exhibition on the challenges of life in the Anthropocene.


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