Professor Geoffrey Samuel

Professor Geoffrey Samuel

Emeritus Professor

Research Interests

Geoffrey Samuel’s research extends over a number of interrelated areas within religious studies, social anthropology, comparative sociology, and cognate disciplines. Theoretically, his interests centre around an understanding of cultural processes and their effects on human behaviour, in terms which recognise the embodied character of human existence and which give proper weight to both human consciousness and biology. He is particularly interested in religion (including ‘shamanism’) in relation to healing, gender and ecology, including the ways in which these issues manifest in contemporary societies.

His main ethnographic focus has been on religion in Tibetan societies. His work on Tibetan religion has also extended into the social history of Indic religions more generally. Other research topics include Tibetan medicine and health practices, the anthropology of music, research on Buddhism and other new religious movements (paganism, shamanism, esotericism) in the UK and Australia, and research into Islam in the UK and Bangladesh. He has carried out extensive field research over many years in India, Nepal, Tibet, and other Asian and Western societies.

His recent research, organised through the Research Group on the Body, Health and Religion (BAHAR), focusses on the understanding of healing processes in a variety of contexts: folk healing practices in Asian societies, ‘traditional’ Asian medical and yogic practices aimed at healing, and Western adaptations and developments of such practices within the field of complementary and alternative medicine. This research has included two major externally-funded projects under his direction, an AHRC-funded project on Tibetan longevity practices (with Cathy Cantwell and Rob Mayer) and a Leverhulme Trust-funded project on Tibetan medicine in the Bon tradition (with Colin Millard). Currently he is involved in a Templeton Foundation-funded project on meditation-derived compassion training for nurses and other health staff in Sydney, NSW.

In 2008-11, he also took part in an ESRC-funded project on young Bangladeshis, marriage and the family in Bangladesh and the UK directed by Dr Santi Rozario.

Education and qualifications

  • Leeds Grammar School, 1954-1963
  • University College, Oxford, 1964-1967
    • BA, Natural Science (physics), Oxford 1967
  • Trinity Hall, Cambridge, 1967-75.
    • Part III, Mathematical Tripos (theoretical physics), Cambridge 1968
    • Certificate in Social Anthropology, Cambridge 1969
    • PhD, Social Anthropology, Cambridge 1975
  • University of Newcastle, NSW, 1983-84 (part-time)
    • Postgraduate Diploma of Computer Science, University of Newcastle, NSW, 1985

Career overview

Geoffrey Samuel’s academic background is in physics, social anthropology and Buddhist studies. His PhD (Cambridge 1976) was on Tibetan religion and society, and based on field research with Tibetans in Nepal and India in 1971-72. Subsequent fieldwork, focussing on religion and on medical and health practices, has included several further research trips to India, Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan, and shorter visits to other Asian societies. His academic career has included periods in UK, New Zealand and Australia. He is currently President of the International Association for the Study of Asian Traditional Medicine (IASTAM) and was joint editor of the Association’s journal, Asian Medicine: Tradition and Modernity from 2007 to 2012.

He was appointed to a Professorial Fellowship at Cardiff in 2007, later converted to a standard Professorial position. He retired at the end of 2014 and now lives in Sydney, Australia, where he continues to write, carry out research and supervise postgraduate students.

Honours and awards

  • Wilde Lectureship in Natural and Comparative Religion, University of Oxford, 2002-3
  • Leverhulme Visiting Professorship, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 2003-4
  • University Buddhist Education Foundation Visiting Professor in Buddhist Studies, University of Sydney, 2010
  • Tung Lin Kok Yuen Visiting Professor in Buddhist Studies, Department of Humanities, University of Toronto Scarborough, 2012-13
  • Numata Visiting Professor in Buddhist Studies, McGill University, Montreal, Canada, 2017.

Professional memberships

  • International Association for the Study of Traditional Asian Medicine (IASTAM), President
  • International Association for Tibetan Studies (IATS), Board Member
  • Royal Anthropological Institute
  • Association of Social Anthropologists (U.K.)
  • Australian Anthropological Society
  • American Anthropological Association
  • American Academy of Religion