St John's College Oxford
Professor Alan Strathern

Professor Alan Strathern

Associate College Lecturer in Early Modern History


I teach primarily early modern European and World History, with a particular interest in the wide-ranging so-called ‘General History’ papers. For Prelims (the first year) this means General III, (1400–1650), and  for finals General VIII (1500-1618). Both of these papers are mainly focussed on Europe but I am also involved in creating a new General History paper on the early modern world, which will have its heart in Asia. I also teach General 18, Imperial and Global History 1750-1914, which adopts a more global focus on the modern period.

Given the inter-disciplinary nature of my research (see below) I have a particular interest in teaching Anthropology and Sociology for Approaches, and for demonstrating the huge intellectual gains to be gained from comparative history in the Finals Disciplines of History paper.

For prelims I also teach an Optional Subject on Spanish encounters with the societies of the New World in the sixteenth century. At a graduate level I teach a course on the theory and methods of history, and a course on the early modern world, which ranges from the North American Comanches to Neo-Confucianism in Song China.

I welcome research students in early modern world history, particularly cultural and religious encounters in Asia, and in Sri Lankan history.

Research Interests

I initially specialized in the history of Sri Lanka c.1500-1650, when the island first encountered European imperialism in the shape of the Portuguese, although I have written more widely on Sri Lankan history and such themes as origin myths, ethnic consciousness, and sacred kingship.  My work has increasingly adopted a more comparative and inter-disciplinary approach, drawing on anthropology and the sociology of religion.

My main research project at the moment is a comparative analysis of elite conversions to monotheism across the world 1450-1850, which draws on case studies from Central Africa, Southeast Asia, Polynesia and Japan. This will help us understand why the religious map of the world today looks the way it does. Why did some parts of the world become Christian or Muslim and others did not? Underlying most of my work is an attempt to understand the relationship between religion and politics in global history, and this is also the main theme of a second project which considers the extent to which the non-European world can be understood to have participated in an ‘early modern’ phase of development.