Professor David Gellner

David Gellner

Professor of Social Anthropology

Fellow of All Souls College

Anthropology of South Asia, East Asia, Buddhism, Hinduism, cities, ritual, politics, ethnicity, activism, borderlands, class formation and cultural change.

David Gellner was Head of the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography from 2009-2012 and again from 2016-2018. His doctoral research (1982-4) was on the Vajrayana Buddhism of the Newars and on Newar social organization, in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. He has carried out fieldwork in Nepal on many subsequent occasions, broadening his interests to include politics and ethnicity, healers, mediums, and popular approaches to misfortune, religious change, activism of all sorts, democratization, elections, borderlands, Dalits, and class formation. 

Professor Gellner is retiring in September 2024. Therefore, he is not accepting any new DPhil students.


Telephone: +44 (0)1865 274674

Teaching and research interests

David Gellner has carried out fieldwork in the Kathmandu Valley and elsewhere in Nepal on many subsequent occasions, broadening his interests to include politics and ethnicity, healers, mediums, and popular approaches to misfortune, borderlands, and cultural and religious change. In 1991 he did three months’ exploratory fieldwork on Buddhist priests in Japan. For eight years he taught at Brunel University, west London, the first British university to introduce a Master’s course in medical anthropology. For three years from 2002-5 he held a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship for research into the social history and practice of activism in Nepal (for the academic year 2003-4 he combined this with a Visiting Professorship at the Research Institute for Cultures and Languages of Asia and Africa, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies). Between 2002 and 2008 he was the University Lecturer in the Anthropology of South Asia, the position formerly held by M.N. Srinivas, Louis Dumont, David Pocock, Ravi Jain, and Nick (N.J.) Allen.

From 2004 to 2007 he was also involved in coordinating the MIDEA project on democratization in South Asia.

He gave his inaugural lecture as Professor of Social Anthropology on May 15th, 2009.  A pdf of the text is available here. You can also view photos of the event.

Professor Gellner has been the PI on a series of research projects: the AHRC-ESRC-funded Vernacular Religion (2009-2012), the ESRC-funded Caste, Class, and Culture: Changing Bahun and Dalit Identities in Nepal (2013-2017), and the British Academy-funded The Dalit Search for Dignity: State, Society, and Mobilization from Below in Far West Nepal (2019-2023).

For two other research projects in which he was involved, please see Democratic Cultures (PI Lucia Michelutti, UCL) and Alchemists of the Revolution (PI Craig Jeffrey, Geography, Oxford). A major output of the Democratic Cultures project was a co-authored paper on the political history of Gorakhpur and the background to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, 'Politics in Gorakhpur since the 1920s: The Making of a Safe "Hindu" Constituency'.

For a lecture that he gave at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Goettingen, on June 10, 2010, on 'Building Theravada Networks in Nepal and Beyond', please click here. To listen to a seminar on 'Can there be an anthropology of Hinduism?', given on 5 December 2014, please click here, and for a video of a lecture, 'Lumley's Children? The Nepali Community in Britain', given as part of Oxford University's Alumni Weekend in September 2014, please click here. For a lecture, 'Visions of Modernity: How Activists Restructured Nepali Society' given on 16/2/17 in Konstanz, Germany, as the keynote address at a conference on 'Activism, Anthropologically Speaking', click here (and scroll down). Watch an interview with Dalit Lives Matter Nepal.

On 16 September 2020 he gave the RAI’s Henry Myers Lecture on ‘The Spaces of Religion: A View from South Asia’.

He is the editor, with colleagues David Parkin and Nayanika Mathur, of the Berghahn Books series, Methodology and History in Anthropology.

Four recent edited books are (1) on borderlands in Northern South Asia, (2) on Religion, Secularism, and Ethnicity in Contemporary Nepal, (3) on Nepali diaspora populations around the world, and (4) on research among Nepalis in the UK and BelgiumBorderland Lives in Northern South Asia is available for free open access download.

The Hodgson Collection Catalogue.

Current DPhil students
Selected past DPhil students

Mai Misaki (2022) Mai's webpage

Melyn McKay (2020) Melyn's webpage
A Good Woman:  Gender and Self-fashioning in the Margins of Burmese Buddhist Nationalism

Akanksha Awal (2019) Akanksha's webpage
Youth and Social Change in Northwest Uttar Pradesh

Catherine Hardie (2019) Cat's webpage
Lay-Monastic Relations in Buddhism in China

Jennifer Hough (2017) Jennifer's webpage
North Koreans in South Korea: Humanitarian Subjects and Neoliberal Governance 

Giyani Venya De Silva (2016) Giyani Venya's webpage
The Malevolent Benefactor? Urban Youth in Sri Lanka and their Experiences of the Sri Lankan State

Uma Pradhan (Development Studies) (2016) Uma's webpage
Ethnicity, Equality, and Education: A Study of Multilingual Education in Nepal

Ian Gibson (2015) Ian's webpage
Christianity and Social Change in Bhaktapur, Nepal

Andrea Koelbel (School of Geography and the Environment) (2015) Andrea's webpage
Upward and Away: Students’ Aspirations and Realities in Kathmandu

Shrochis Karki (Development Studies) (2015) Shrochis's webpage
Education and Social Change in Nepal

Ina Zharkevich (Development Studies) (2014) Ina's webpage
An Ethnography of Social Change in the Maoist Base Area, Nepal

Florence Gurung (Theology and Religious Studies) (2014) Florence's webpage
Religion and Identity among the Nepali Diaspora in the UK

Insa Koch (2013) Insa's webpage
Intimate States: The Politics of Governance and Sociality on a Council Estate in England

Ivan Costantino (2012) Ivan's webpage
Becoming Urban: Space, Identity and Mobility amongst Tibetan Migrant Youths in Lhasa

Stephen Robertson (2012) Stephen's webpage
Shōbōdan: An Ethnographic Analysis of Japan’s Community Fire Brigades

Amanda Gilbertson (2012) Amanda's webpage
Within the Limits: Gender, Social Mobility and Social Change in Middle-class Hyderabad

Anastasia Piliavsky (2011) Anastasia's webpage
Theft, Patronage and Society in Western India

Jessamine Dana (2011) Jessamine's website
Muktinath: An Analysis of a Multi-faith Pilgrimage Site in Nepal

Radhika Gupta (2011) Radhika's webpage
Piety, Politics, and Patriotism in Kargil, India

Ian Fitzpatrick (2010) Ian's webpage
Cardamon, Class, and Change in a Limbu Village in East Nepal

Nicholas Farrelly (Development Studies) (2010) Nicholas's webpage
Spatial Control and Symbolic Politics at the Intersection of China, India and Burma

Roz Evans (Development Studies) (2009)
Inheriting the Past and Envisioning the Future: Young Bhutanese Refugees' Political Learning and Action

Naomi Appleton (Oriental Institute) (2008) Naomi's webpage
Biography and Buddhahood: Jataka Stories in Theravada Buddhism

Mallika Shakya (DESTIN, LSE)(2008) Mallika's webpage
Cultural Capital and Entrepreneurship inNepal: The Readymade Garment Industry as a Case Study

Jill Sudbury (2007)
An Enigmatic Renaissance: The Revival of the Bodongpa Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism

Devi Sridhar (2006) Devi's webpage
The Art of the Bank: Nutrition Policy and Practice in India

Gabriele Alex (Brunel University) (2003) Gabi's webpage
Children and Childhood in Rural Tamil Nadu

Anil Sakya (Brunel University) (2000) Anil's webpage
Newar Marriage and Kinship in Kathmandu, Nepal

Selected publications


2013, David N. Gellner, C. Laksamba, K.P. Adhikari and L.P. Dhakal
British Gurkha Pension Policies and Ex-Gurkha Campaigns: A Review, 2013, Reading: Centre for Nepal Studies UK (available at

2005, David N. Gellner and Sarah LeVine
Rebuilding Buddhism: The Theravada Movement in Twentieth-Century Nepal, 2005, Harvard University Press: Cambridge MA and London.

2001, David N. Gellner
The Anthropology of Buddhism and Hinduism: Weberian Themes, 2001, OUP: Delhi.

1992, David N. Gellner
Monk, Householder, and Tantric Priest: Newar Buddhism and its Hierarchy of Ritual, 1992, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Edited books

2018, David N. Gellner and Sondra L. Hausner (eds)
Global Nepalis: Religion, Culture, and Community in a New and Old Diaspora. Delhi:  OUP.

2016, David N. Gellner, S.L. Hausner and C. Letizia (eds)
Religion, Secularism, and Ethnicity in Contemporary Nepal, 2016, Delhi: OUP.

2013, David N. Gellner
Borderland Lives in Northern South Asia, 2013, Durham, US: Duke University Press.

2010, David N. Gellner
Varieties of Activist Experience: Civil Society in South Asia, 2010, Sage: Delhi.

2009, David N. Gellner
Ethnic Activism and Civil Society in South Asia, 2009, Sage: Delhi.

2008, David N. Gellner and Hachhethu Krishna
Local Democracy in South Asia: The Micropolitics of Democratization in Nepal and its Neighbours, 2008, Sage: Delhi.

2008, David N. Gellner
Nationalism and Ethnicity in Nepal, 2008, Vajra Books: Kathmandu.

2007, David N. Gellner
Resistance and the State: Nepalese Experiences (2nd edition), 2007, Berghahn.

2007, David N. Gellner, H. Ishii and K. Nawa
Nepalis Inside and Outside Nepal: Social Dynamics in Northern South Asia Vol. I, 2007, Manohar: Delhi.

2007, David N. Gellner, H. Ishii and K. Nawa
Political and Social Transformations in North India and Nepal: Social Dynamics in Northern South Asia Vol. 2, 2007, Manohar: Delhi.

2003, David N. Gellner
Resistance and the State: Nepalese Experiences, 2003, Social Science Press: Delhi.

2001, David N. Gellner
Inside Organizations: Anthropologists at Work, 2001, Berg: Oxford.

1997, David N. Gellner
Nationalism and Ethnicity in a Hindu Kingdom: The Politics of Culture in Contemporary Nepal, 1997, Harwood: Amsterdam.

1995, David N. Gellner
Contested Hierarchies: A Collaborative Ethnography of Caste among the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal, 1995, Clarendon: Oxford.

Selected articles

2023 (with Krishna Adhikari). ‘Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Dalit Experiences of Primary and Secondary Education in West-Central Nepal’ in K. Valentin & U. Pradhan (eds) Educational Transformation and Avenues of Learning: Anthropological Perspectives on Education in Nepal. Delhi: OUP.

2022. ‘Foreward’ to J. Pfaff-Czarnecka Belonging in Motion: Contested Social Boundaries in South Asia, pp. vii-ix. Kathmandu: Social Science Baha.

2022. ‘Ernest Gellner and Populism’ in P. Skalnik (ed.) Ernest Gellner’s Legacy and Social Theory Today, pp. 185–95, 201–3. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

2022. ‘Comments on Ian Jarvie’s “The Persistence of the Individualism Debate Today”’, in P. Skalnik (ed.) Ernest Gellner’s Legacy and Social Theory Today, pp. 66–72. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

2020, ‘Guarding the Guards: Education, Corruption, and Nepal’s Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA)’ (with Krishna Adhikari), Public Anthropologist 2(2): 177-200.

2019, (with C. Letizia) 'Hinduism in the Secular Republic of Nepal’ in T. Brekke (ed.) Modern Hinduism, pp. 275–304. Delhi: OUP.

2019, 'Politics in Gorakhpur since the 1920s: The Making of a Safe "Hindu" Constituency'

2019, 'Masters of Hybridity: How Activists Reconstructed Nepali Society'

2018, ‘Politics of Buddhism in Nepal’ Economic and Political Weekly 53(3): 17–20.

2018, 'A Heritage Flashpoint' (Op-ed), Kathmandu Post (January 1)

2017, (with A. Snellinger) ‘Source Force’ South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 40(2): 397–9. ( 

2016, (with Sondra L. Hausner, Chandra Laksamba, and Krishna P. Adhikari) ‘Shrines and Identities in Britain’s Nepali Diaspora’ Diaspora 19(1)(2010): 116–47

2016, (with Krishna P. Adhikari) 'New Identity Politics and the 2012 Collapse of Nepal's Constituent Assembly: When the Dominant becomes "Other"'Modern Asian Studies, available on CJO2016. doi:10.1017/S0026749X15000438

2014, 'From Kathmandu to Kent: Nepalis in the UK’Himal Southasian 27(4): 38-51

2012, 'Uncomfortable Antinomies: Going Beyond Methodological Nationalism in Social and Cultural Anthropology'AAS Working Papers in Social Anthropology 24, 2012, pp. 1-16.

2012, 'Fluidity, Hubridity, Performativity: How Relevant are Social Scientific Buzzwords for Nepal's Constitution Building?', In C. Mishra and O. Gurung (eds) Ethnicity and Federalization in Nepal, Kathmandu: Central Dept of Sociology/Anthropology, Tribhuvan University, 2012, pp. 91-102

2009, ‘The Awkward Social Science? Anthropology on Schools, Elections, and Revolution in Nepal’ JASO-online (NS) 1(2): 115-40

2009, ‘The Uses of Max Weber: Legitimation and Amnesia in Buddhology, South Asian History, and Anthropological Practice Theory’, In Peter Clarke (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of the Sociology of Religion, Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 48-62.

2008, ‘Democracy and Ethnic Organizations in Nepal’ (with Mrigendra Karki) in D.N. Gellner & K. Hachhethu (eds) Local Democracy in South Asia: The Micropolitics of Democratization in Nepal and its Neighbours, pp. 105-27. Delhi: Sage.

2007, ‘The Sociology of Activism in Nepal: Some Preliminary Considerations’ (with Mrigendra Karki) in Ishii et al. (eds) Political and Social Transformations in North India and Nepal (Social Dynamics in Northern South Asia Vol. 2), pp. 361-97. Delhi: Manohar.

2007, ‘Democracy in Nepal: Four Models’ Seminar 576: 50-6.

2007, (with S. LeVine) ‘All in the Family: Money, Kinship, and Theravada Monasticism in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal’ in R.B. Chhetri & L.P. Uprety (eds) Observations on the Changing Societal Mosaic of Nepal (Occasional Papers in Sociology and Anthropology, Vol. 10) , pp. 141-73. Kathmandu: Central Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Tribhuvan University.

2007, ‘Caste, Ethnicity and Inequality in Nepal’ Economic and Political Weekly 42(20): 1823-8.

2007, ‘Nepal and Bhutan in 2006: A Year of Revolution' Asian Survey 47(1): 80-6

2005, ‘The Emergence of Conversion in a Hindu-Buddhist Polytropy: The Kathmandu Valley, Nepal, c. 1600-1995' Comparative Studies in Society and History 47(4): 755-80.

2004, ‘Children's Voices from Kathmandu and Lalitpur, Nepal' Journal of Asian and African Studies 68: 1-47.