Professor Ramon Sarró

ramon sarro web

Professor of Social Anthropology

Fellow of St Antony's College

(PhD, London 1999, Habilitação, Lisbon 2010) 

Ramon Sarró studied anthropology at UCL (MSc 1989, PhD 1999) and worked at UCL and the LSE before being the Ioma Evans-Prichard Junior Research Fellow at St Anne’s College in 2000-2002. Between 2002 and 2012, Sarró was Senior Researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon, as well as a lecturer of Anthropology at the Humanities Department of University Pompeu Fabra of Barcelona. He was a Fellow of the Program for Agrarian Studies at Yale in 2010-11, before joining Oxford in 2012. Since 2009 he has also been a member of the French network REASOPO (Réseau européen d’analyse de sociétés politiques).

Sarró has conducted field research in Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Portugal (among African diasporas), Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is the author of the award-winning The Politics of Religious Change on the Upper Guinea Coast: Iconoclasm Done and Undone (International African Institute 2009) and co-editor, with A. Pedroso de Lima, of Terrenos Metropolitanos: Desafios Metodológicos (ICS 2007), with D. Berliner of Learning Religion: Anthropological Approaches (Berghahn 2007), and with R. Blanes and M. Balkenhol of Atlantic Perspectives: Places, Memories and Spirits (Berghahn, 2020). 

He has directed the EU (NORFACE) programme "Recognizing Christianity: How African Migrants Redefine the European Religious Heritage” (2007-2010), and has been the British PI of the programme “Currents of Faith, Places of Memory”, an EU (HERA) consortium (2013-1016), for which he conducted 9 months of fieldwork in Angola. In 2010, together with Simon Coleman (Toronto), he created the annual review Religion and Society: Advances in Research (Berghahn). 

Sarró has worked on the religious and political dimensions of social change in Africa and the diaspora, as well as on the manifestations of prophetic imagination and on material culture (including its iconoclastic destruction). His interest in the creative aspects of prophetic imagination led to a decade of research on the invention of the Kongo prophetic alphabet known as “Mandombe” and collaborations with its inventor, the late Wabeladio Payi. A book on Wabeladio Payi and his invention of Mandombe is now available (The Invention of an African Alphabet: Writing, Art, and Kongo Culture in the DRC, Cambridge UP 2023). 

Following up his long engagement with Baga-speaking communities of coastal Guinea, Sarró has recently been the PI of the international project “Mangroves and Aluminium”, funded by the John Fell Fund large grants award scheme (2018-21), in which team of researchers from Europe and Guinea (Conakry) have been assessing the impact of aluminium mining upon the mangrove-rice farming communities of the Guinean coast (Baga and beyond Baga), a region he has been familiar with since 1992. In the neighbouring country of Guinea-Bissau, Sarró has been involved in the revitalization of the Ethnographic National Museum of Bissau, an institution created in 1987 but that had disappeared during the civil war of 1998-99. Based on old photographs, Sarró and a team of researchers have reconstructed the history of the museum and managed to re-create it in the capital of the West African country. A book in Portuguese, funded by the Gulbenkian Foundation, narrates the research and shows the images digitally recuperated (O Museu Nacional Etnográfico da Guiné-Bissau: Imagens para uma História, Porto 2018).

In between 2012-2014, together with Dr Marina P. Temudo (University of Lisbon), Sarró directed a research project (‘The prophetess and the rice farmer’) in which for several years they conducted research on the prophetic movement Kyangyang (‘shadows’) in Guinea-Bissau. Based on their project, film maker and anthropologist Roger Canals (University of Barcelona) directed the film “Chasing Shadows: the revitalization of a prophetic movement in Guinea-Bissau” (2019), which captures the material works of prophetic imagination among mangrove rice famers. The film is available in the Journal of Anthropological Films.

In 2021 Sarró had the twin honour of being invited to deliver the ‘Lévi-Strauss Lecture’ at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris and the “Jorge Dias Memorial Lecture” at the University of Lisbon. Both are now available and deal with different aspects of his interest in prophetic imagination.

Currently, Sarró is on research leave conducting field and archival research for the project “Kongo Prophets and UNESCO Technocrats: Ruins, Forests, and Heritage in Northern Angola”, funded by the Leverhulme Trust (2022-24). He is also on the advisory board of the EU-funded project  ‘Mangrove, mangrove rice and mangrove people’ (aka malmon, ‘black rice’), directed by M.P. Temudo.




Current DPhil students


2023 Inventing an African Alphabet: Writing, Art and Kongo Culture in the DRC, Cambridge: CUP for the International African Institute.

2020 Co-editors Ruy Blanes and Markus Balkenhol. Atlantic Perspectives: Places, Spirits and Heritage, Oxford and New York: Berghahn books.

2019 Co-authors Albano Mendes and Ana Temudo. O Museu Etnográfico de Bissau: Imagens para uma história. Porto: Greca

2014 Co-editor Michael Houseman. De l’Africa a l’antropologia: assaigs en homenatge a Lluis Mallart. Girona: Publicacions de la Fundació Catalana del Patrimoni.

2009 The   Politics   of   Religious   Change   on   the   Upper   Guinea   Coast:   Iconoclasm   Done   and Undone. Edinburgh: EUP for the International African Institute.

2007 Co-editor  David Berliner. Learning Religion:  Anthropological Approaches. Oxford and New York: Berghahn books.

2006 Co-editor Antónia Pedroso de Lima. Terrenos Metropolitanos: Ensaios sobre produção etnográfica. Lisbon: ICS.

Articles and chapters (selection)

Forthcoming ”The way of the Prophets: History, Structure, Imagination” (the “Lévi-Strauss Lecture”, English version) HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory.

2023 ”The Inversion of Tradition: Generational Transformations on a Mining Frontier” Politique Africaine 169 : 79-98.

2023 “La Voie des Prophètes : Histoire, Structure, Imagination“ (the « Lévi-Strauss Lecture », French version) L’Homme 246 :83-112.

2022 ‘1921: crise, etnografia e profecia’ (the Jorge Dias Memorial Lecture), Etnográfica, 26 (3): 855-869.

2022 ‘A casa como paradoxo e como perspectiva’, Pp 39-45 in Pedro Pereira and Jose C. Loureiro (eds) O qué é uma casa? Porto: Centro de Estudos Regionais.

2022 ‘Crisis, Prophecy, and Ethnography: Living and Dying in the Waste Land, Then and Now’ Pp. 57-68 in David Gellner and Dolores Martinez (eds). Re-Creating Anthropology: Sociality, Matter, and the Imagination. Abingdon: Routledge (ASA monograph series)

2021 (with Ana Temudo) “The Lives and Deaths of an Ethnographic Museum: History, Violence, and Curatorial Entanglements in Guinea-Bissau”. Museum & Society 19 (3): 369-381.

2021 ‘True brujos and imitators: a reading of Fernando Ortiz’s Los Negros Brujos (1906)’. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 11 (1).

2020 ‘Further thoughts on iconoclasm’ (contribution to the Colloquium ‘Iconoclasm, Heritage, Restitution’). HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 10 (3).

2020 ‘How to do things with secrets: secrecy and historical imagination among the Baga of Guinea’, Ethnos, DOI: 10.1080/00141844.2019.1710547

2020 (with Marina P. Temudo) ‘The shade of religion: the works of prophetic imagination in Guinea-Bissau’. Social Anthropology 28 (2): 451-465.

2020 (with Ana Temudo). ‘Blow-Up in Bissau: photography and museum revival in West Africa’. Friends of the Pitt Rivers Museum Magazine, 98: 8-9.

2019 (with Marina P. Temudo). ‘Prophetic enclaves: memories, heritage and environment in Mbanza Kongo, Angola’. In Balkenhol, M., R. Blanes and R. Sarró (eds). Atlantic Perspectives: Places, Spirits and Heritage. Oxford and New York: Berghahn Books.

2019 ‘From an Atlantic point of view: some final thoughts’, Pp. 264-268 in Balkenhol, M. R. Blanes and R. Sarró (eds). Atlantic Perspectives: Places, Spirits and Heritage. Oxford and New York: Berghahn Books.

2019 ‘Writing as rupture: on prophetic invention in Central Africa’, pp. 140-156 in M. Holbraad, B. Kapferer and Julia F. Sauma (eds) Ruptures: Anthropologies of Discontinuity in Times of Turmoil. London: UCL Press.

2018 ‘Entre Art et Écriture: l´invention du Mandombe en pays Kongo’. Terrain: Anthropologie et Sciences Humaines, 70: 104-125.

2018 ‘Religious pluralism and the limits of ecumenism in Mbanza Kongo, Angola’. Journal of Southern African Studies 44 (2):239-251

2018 ‘Prophecy’ in H. Callam (ed.) Wiley International Encyclopaedia of Anthropology. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.

2018 ‘El retorno del eterno retorno: notas sobre la copia, la participación y la historia’. Revista Pós Ciências Sociais: 19-28.

2017 (with Anne Mélice) ‘Kimbanguism and Kongo prophetism: messianic tradition in Kongo religion’. Pp. 151-164. In J. Volper (ed), Du Jourdain au Congo: Art et Christianisme en Afrique Centrale. Paris: Flammarion.

2016 ‘Silas Marner: Un ensayo sobre la relación’. In C. de Mármol, X. Roigé, J. Bestard and J. Contreras (eds), Compromisos etnográficos: Un homenaje a Joan Frigolé. Barcelona: Edicions Universitat de Barcelona.

2016 ‘Afterword. Island and mountain: reflections on utopia as a point of view’. JASO: Journal of the Anthropology Society of Oxford 8(2): 274-282.

2015 (with Miguel de Barros) “History, mixture, modernity:  religious pluralism in Guinea- Bissau today” In Green, Toby (ed.) Guinea-Bissau: From Colony to Narco-State. London: Hurst.

2015 ‘Hope, margin, example: the Kimbanguist diaspora in Portugal’ in J. Garnett and Sondra Housner (eds) Diaspora in Religion: Cultures of Citizenship. MacMillan.

2015 (with  Ruy  Blanes). ‘Geração, presença e memória: a Igreja Tocoista em Angola’. Etnográfica 19 (1): 169-187.

2014 (with Anne Mélice) “Le renversement du monde dans le message de Simon Kimbangu”, in Elikia M'Bokolo et Kivilu Sabakinu (eds), Simon Kimbangu: le prophète de la libération de l'homme noir, Paris: L'Harmattan, Vol 2, pp. 21-26.

2014 ‘Què mengen els bruixots?’ in Michael Houseman and Ramon Sarró (eds), De l’Africa a l’antropologia: assaigs en homenatge a Lluis Mallart. Girona: Publicacions de la Fundació Catalana del Patrimoni.

2012 (with Anne Mélice). ‘Kongo et Lisbonne: dialectique du centre et de la périphérie dans l’Eglise Kimbanguiste’, Canadian Journal of African Studies 46(3): 411-427.

2012 ‘Postscript: the love boat, or the elementary forms of charismatic life’, Journal of Religion in Africa 42 (4): 453-459.

2011 (with   Joana  Santos)   ‘Gender  and   return  in   the   Kimbanguist  Church   of Portugal’, Journal of Religion in Europe 4(3): 369-387.

2010 ‘Map and territory: The politics of place and autochthony among Baga Sitem (and their neighbours)’. Pp. 231-252 in Knörr, J. and W. Trajano Filho (eds) Conflict and Integration in the Upper Guinea Coast. Leiden: Brill.

2010 ‘Art as connection, the artist as trickster’ in Negreiros e Guaranis, catalogue of exhibition by Portuguese artist José de Guimarães, pp. 52-60.

2010 (With  Ruy  Blanes)  ‘Profetas  e  missionários:  reflexões  sobre  as  igrejas angolanas em Lisboa’ in Vilaça, H. and E. Pace (eds), Religião em Movimento: Imigrantes e Diversidade Religiosa em Portugal e Itália. Porto: Estratégias Criativas, pp. 141-154.

2008 (wtith Fátima Viegas and Ruy Blanes) ‘La guerre dans la paix : ethnicité et angolanité dans l’église kimbanguiste de Luanda’. Politique Africaine 110 : 84-101.

2008 ‘Elders’    cathedrals    and    children’s    marbles:    dynamics    of    religious transmission among Baga of Guinea’ in Pine, F. and J. Pina-Cabral (eds) On the Margins of Religions. Oxford and New York: Berghan Books, pp. 187-203.

2007 ‘Demystified memories: the politics of heritage in post-socialist Guinea’ in de Jong, F. and M. Rowlands (eds) Reclaiming Heritage: Alternative Imaginaries of Memory in West Africa. Walnut Creek (CA): Left Coast Press, pp. 215-229.

2007 (with David Berliner) ‘On learning religion: an introduction’ inBerliner, D. and R. Sarró (eds) Learning Religion: Anthropological Approaches. Oxford and New York: Berghahn Books, pp. 1-19.

2007 ‘Hermetic huts and modern state: the politics of iconoclasm in West Africa’ in Boldrick, S. and R. Clay (eds) Iconoclasm: Contested Objects, Contested Terms. Aldershot: Ashgate, pp. 261-277.

2002 ‘The iconoclastic meal: destroying objects and eating secrets among the Baga of Guinea’ in Latour, B. and P. Weibel (eds) Iconoclash: Beyond the Image Wars in Science, Religion, and Art. Cambridge (Mass) and London: The MIT Press, pp. 227–230.

1999 ‘Footbal et mobilisation identitare : la ‘réivention’ des traditions par les jeunes Baga de Guinée.’ Politique Africaine 74 : 153-161.

1997 (with Marie-Yvonne Curtis) ‘The Nimba headdress: art, ritual and history of the Baga and Nalu peoples of Guinea’. Museum Studies 23(2): 120-133.