Dr Philip Fountain

Teaching in 2020


PhD (ANU); BA, MSc (VUW)

Research specialties

I am a cultural anthropologist specialising in the study of religion. My research examines the ways in which religion intersects and is entangled with potent and contested modern political issues and formations. Geographically, I work on Asia, the Pacific, New Zealand and North America. Before joining Religious Studies at Victoria, I was a Senior Research Fellow in the Religion Cluster at the National University of Singapore’s Asia Research Institute.

I have long-standing and enduring research interests in the relationships between religion and international aid and development, including disaster relief and humanitarianism, community development, NGOs, human rights, peacebuilding, missionaries, advocacy, and fundraising. In 2015-2018, I helped lead a team based at the Asia Research Institute which undertook innovative research on Religion and NGOs in Asia, with support from the Henry Luce Foundation. The Mission of Development (edited with Catherine Scheer and R. Michael Feener) and Religion and the Politics of Development (edited with Robin Bush and R. Michael Feener) opened new spaces for analysis on these themes.

As part of my work on religion and development, I conducted almost two years of ethnographic research on the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a North American Christian NGO in the Mennonite/Anabaptist tradition. My study of MCC explored how the organisation enacted and translated Mennonite theologies of service within the context of Indonesia. My manuscript, which comes out of this research, is entitled The Service of Faith: An Ethnography of Mennonites and Development. I have also carried out ethnographic research on the disaster relief work carried out by Christian churches in Papua New Guinea.

Together with Geoff Troughton, I have begun a new research project examining ‘Christian Activism in Aotearoa New Zealand’. This project includes historical and ethnographic research on religious activists, protestors, radicals and agitators. Pursuing Peace in Godzone, our first book on this theme, examined Christianity and the peace tradition in New Zealand since the Second World War. More about the book, including eight short videos, can be found at pursuingpeace.nz. In 2019 we are planning a range of scholarly activities to further this research.

The flourishing literature in the anthropology of Christianity has raised significant questions about the relationships between theology and the social sciences. I have sought to interrogate these relationships through a critical examination of the limits and opportunities afforded by the encounter between anthropology and theology. These themes were explored in the special issue on ‘Anthropological Theologies: Engagements and Encounters’ (edited with Sin Wen Lau and published in The Australian Journal of Anthropology). I am further contributing to the anthropology of Christianity through organising a conference on Anthropology and Mennonites (convened together with Royden Loewen) which will take place at the University of Winnipeg in October 2019.

Research supervision

I warmly welcome enquiries from prospective graduate students on any topic relating to my research interests, including: religion and development, religion and disasters, religion and peace, religious NGOs, activist religion, anthropology of Christianity, theology and the social sciences, political theology, secularity, and lived religion in Asia and the Pacific.

Recent publications

For a full list of publications, see my Curriculum Vitae

Edited Books and Special Issues

Fountain, Philip and Geoffrey Troughton (eds). (2019). Special Issue: Christianity and Development in the Pacific. SITES: A Journal of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies 16:1.

Scheer, Catherine, Philip Fountain, and R. Michael Feener (eds). (2018). The Mission of Development: Religion and Technopolitics in Asia, Leiden: Brill.

Troughton, Geoffrey, and Philip Fountain (eds). (2018). Pursuing Peace in Godzone: Christianity and the Peace Tradition in New Zealand, Wellington, Victoria University Press.

Fountain, Philip, Levi McLaughlin, R. Michael Feener, and Patrick Daly (eds). (2016). Special Issue: Salvage and Salvation: Religion and Disaster Relief in Asia, Asian Ethnology, 75:1.

Fountain, Philip, Robin Bush, and R. Michael Feener (eds). (2015). Religion and the Politics of Development, International Political Economy, Hampshire & New York; Palgrave McMillan.

Fountain, Philip, Robin Bush, and R. Michael Feener (eds). (2015). Special Issue: Religious Actors in Disaster Relief in Asia, International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, 33:1

Fountain, Philip, and Lau Sin Wen (eds). (2013). Special Issue: Anthropological Theologies: Engagements and Encounters, The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 24:3

Selected journal articles and book chapters

Fountain, P., & Troughton, G. (2019). Christianity and Development in the Pacific: An Introduction. Sites: a Journal of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies, 16(1), 1-23

Fountain, Philip, and Marie Juul Petersen. (2018). NGOs and Religion: Instrumentalisation and its Discontents. In Aynsley Kellow and Hannah Murphy-Gregory (eds), Handbook of Research on NGOs. Cheltenham, Edward Elgar, 404-432

Fountain, Philip, and Laura Meitzner Yoder. (2018). Quietist Techno-Politics: Agricultural Development and Mennonite Mission in Indonesia. In Catherine Scheer, Philip Fountain and R. Michael Feener (eds), The Mission of Development: Religion and Techno-Politics in Asia. Theology and Mission in World Christianity 10. Leiden, Brill, 214-242

Fountain, Philip, Douglas Hynd, and Tobias Tan. (2018). Theology, anthropology, and the invocation to be Otherwise. In Jeannette Matthews and Matt Tomlinson (eds), Special Issue: Anthropology, Theology, and History in Conversation, St Mark’s Review 244, 9-20

Fountain, Philip and R. Michael Feener. (2017). Navigating a World of Religious NGOs: Ethnography, Abstraction, and Views of the HorizonGeography Compass 11:10, 1-11

Fountain, Philip. (2017). Creedal Monologism and Theological Articulation in the Mennonite Central Committee. In Matt Tomlinson and Julian Millie (eds), The Monologic Imagination, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 203-230

Fountain, Philip. (2016). Mennonite Disaster Relief and the “Interfaith” Encounter in Aceh, Indonesia. Special Issue: Salvage and Salvation: Religion and Disaster Relief in Asia, Asian Ethnology 75:1, 163-190

Fountain, Philip. (2015). Proselytising Development. In Emma Tomalin (ed), The Routledge Handbook of Religions and Global Development, London & New York: Routledge, 80-97

Fountain, Philip. (2014). Development Things: A Case of Canned MeatSites: A Journal of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies 11:1, 39-73

Fountain, Philip. (2013). Toward a Post-Secular AnthropologyThe Australian Journal of Anthropology 24:3, 310-328

Fountain, Philip. (2013). The Myth of Religious NGOs: Development Studies and the Return of Religion. International Development Policy: Religion and Development 4, 9-30

Six must-read books

One of the things I most enjoy doing when I visit another academic’s office is to glance through their bookshelf to catch a glimpse of what they are reading. You can learn something about a scholar, I think, by attending to the company they keep. As a form of confession, therefore, here are a few of my favourite books.

  • Erica Bornstein, The Spirit of Development: Protestant NGOs, Morality, and Economics in Zimbabwe (Stanford University Press, 2005).

Bornstein’s anthropological account of Christian NGOs in Zimbabwe broke new ground in the study of religion and development. A wonderfully rich and evocative study.

  • Michael Barnett, Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism (Cornell, 2011)

This accessible and highly readable history of humanitarianism locates its origins in the religious reform movements of eighteenth century evangelicalism. Indeed, for Barnett, all humanitarianism is still “a matter of faith.”

  • Vincanne Adams, Markets of Sorrow, Labors of Faith: New Orleans in the Wake of Katrina (Duke, 2013).

This critical ethnography of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina does a brilliant take-down on the failures of the neoliberal marketisation of disaster relief. It also provides insightful analysis on the large-scale relief efforts carried out by religious groups in the aftermath of the disaster.

  • Nancy Davis and Robert Robinson, Claiming Society for God: Religious Movements & Social Welfare (Indiana University Press, 2012)

This highly-engaging book provocatively argues that fundamentalist religion is frequently also deeply compassionate. Drawing on a communitarian logic, conservative religious movements have built some of the most successful social movements in the world today.

  • Michael Feener, Shari’a and Social Engineering: The Implementation of Islamic Law in Contemporary Aceh, Indonesia (Oxford, 2013).

A brilliant contribution to the study of religion and disasters. Feener paints a perceptive picture of Aceh after the Indian Ocean Tsunami where humanitarian projects of reconstruction and attempts to implement Islamic law merge together with far-reaching effects.

  • Michael Banner, The Ethics of Everyday Life: Moral Theology, Social Anthropology, and the Imagination of the Human (Oxford, 2014)

Banner argues, quite rightly, that theologians should learn to engage with social anthropology as a primary conversation partner so as to be better equipped to engage in an enquiry into the everyday ethics.

Teaching in 2020