Professor Michael Allen

Professor Michael Allen

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I was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1928 and in 1950 graduated from Trinity College Dublin with an honours degree in Philosophy. In 1965 I received my PhD in Social anthropology from the Australian National University. I was appointed to a lectureship in the Department of Anthropology, the University of Sydney in 1964 and retired as Professor in 1993. I have been an Overseas Fellow in Churchill College, Cambridge University (1978) and a Visiting Professor at the University of California, San Diego (1982), The National University of Ireland, Maynooth, Dublin (1990) and James Cook University, Townsville (1994/1995). In 1984 I was elected a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia. I was the Editor of The Australian Journal of Anthropology from 1992 to 2005 and the Production Manager from then until 2008.

Since I first began anthropological research in 1958 I have had as my primary focus of interest the understanding of the religious dimension of social life, especially the various complex ways in which religion inter-relates with other dimensions. Perhaps not surprisingly, since I was raised as a middle-class Protestant in the almost wholly working-class and Catholic population of the Republic of Ireland, I was from an early age acutely aware that religion was somehow bound up with the past, politics, social inequality, gender and sex.

Armed with such a perspective I initially turned my attention to Melanesia and as a PhD candidate I spent two years carrying out fieldwork in Ambae island, north Vanuatu, an area especially noted in the ethnographic literature for the extreme elaboration given to male ritual activity. However, by the mid-1960s I had begun to feel that I was seriously constrained in my analytical efforts through the paucity of historical data for north Vanuatu - and this caused me concern, not only through my growing disillusionment with the a-historicism of the structural-functional mode of analysis, but also because the area in which I carried out research had in fact been radically transformed over the previous hundred years of colonialism.

It was then, in part, a desire to escape the constraints of little or no recorded history, but also to broaden my understanding of religion in general, that in 1967 I began a second major field project studying the relationship between religion and politico-economic behaviour amongst the Newars of Kathmandu valley, Nepal. However, here again, despite the great antiquity of Newar culture, with religious texts that date back over a thousand years and stone inscriptions from as early the fifth century AD, I still found it very difficult, mainly through my inability to gain a sufficient knowledge of the numerous relevant languages, to give much historical depth to my analyses of religious phenomena.

It was for this reason, but also because I had for long nurtured a desire to carry out research in Ireland, that in 1988 I turned my attention to an investigation of a remarkable outbreak of Marian visionary activity in County Cork that began in 1985 and still continues today, though with steadily diminishing support.


The following is a select list of my publications based on research in these three regions:

  • Vanuatu
    1967. Male Cults and Secret Initiations in Melanesia. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.
    1981. (Editor) Vanuatu: Politics, Economics and Ritual in Island Melanesia. Sydney: Academic Press.
    1998. Male cults revisited: the politics of blood versus semen. Oceania 68(3):189-99.
  • Nepal
    1975. The Cult of Kumari: Virgin Worship in Nepal. Kathmandu: Tribhuvan University Press. (Revised editions published by Mandala Book Point, Kathmandu, 1986 and 1996).
    1981. (Joint editor with S. N. Mukherjee) Women in India and Nepal. Canberra: Australian National University. (Reissued by Sterling Publication, New Delhi, 1990).
    1994. (Editor) The Anthropology of Nepal: Peoples, Problems and Process. Kathmandu: Mandala Book Point.
  • Ireland
    2000. Ritual, Power and Gender: Explorations in the Ethnography of Vanuatu, Nepal and Ireland. New Delhi: Manohar.
    2000. From ecstasy to power: Marian apparitions in contemporary Irish Catholicism. Anthropological Journal on European Cultures. 9(1):11-36.

Recent publications

2006. Anthropology and the Orientalist Debate: The Evidence from Nepal. Journal of the Oriental Society of Australia 38:43-59.

2006. Kumari Puja: Virgin Worship in Newar Tantric Ritual in Kathmandu Valley. The Journal of the Asian Arts Society of Australia. 15(1): 14-15.

In Press. (Editor and Annotator). The Dasakarma Vidhi: Fundamental Knowledge on Traditional Customs of Ten Rites of Passage Amongst the Buddhist Newars of Nepal. Vol, 1 in English, Vol. 2 in Nepal Bhasa. By Pandit Vaidya Ashakaji Bajracharya. Kathmandu: Mandala Book Point.